Students and tutors assembled at Tate Britain to see ‘Picasso and Modern British Art’, the latest must see exhibition in London which is generating interest among discerning visitors. This exhibition looks at a selection of British artists who had been influenced or inspired by the work of Picasso and in so doing provides us with one of the best Picasso exhibitions to be seen in Britain for some time.
The downside is that we have a great exhibition of Picasso’s paintings and sculptures with a sideshow of British Artists who are made to look second rate by comparison. Although not without interest, the historical and educational value of this exhibition is diminished by the narrowness of the selection.
Most of the artists involved have had recent exhibitions – Wyndham Lewis, Ben Nicholson, David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Henry Moore and even Graham Sutherland (the weakest of the artists on display) has just been shown at the Museum of Modern Art Oxford. It is interesting to speculate whether or not, with the exception of Hockney, they would have wanted to be in a show where there work would be subjected to such cruel comparisons?
When Tate Britain took on the role of showing and promoting British art and Tate Modern’s role became showing the work of International artists, the expectation was that here was an opportunity to see and assess the work of British artists who have not had the opportunity of a major retrospective in a National Gallery. If this is not happening, is it because lesser-known names would not bring in the crowds, and would not generate much in the way of income?
However, back at the Picasso show, a route round the exhibition could take in five Picasso pictures painted in 1901. This was his second visit to Paris and at the age of 20 he was trying out various styles derived from Toulouse Lautrec, Van Gogh and Gauguin. This was to lead onto his famous Blue period which in the show is represented by the well known ‘Girl with a Dove’1901 and the Tate gallery’s own ‘Girl in a Chemise’ 1904.
It is not often that Picasso’s designs for the Ballets Russesare shown and the star of this display is the Chinese Conjurer’ 1919. Cubist paintings were well represented and the development of this movement and its change of styles were easy to follow and could be seen influencing the work of the British Artists.
Then, In 1927 Picasso met his mistress Marie -Therese Walter and an erotic charge enters his work. ‘Nude woman in a Red Armchair’ 1932 the poster work for this exhibition is joined by the equally sensual ‘Nude, Green Leaves and Bust’ 1932 bought last year for £66million by a mystery buyer and now on loan to the Tate Gallery. Two great etchings could be viewed, his early ‘The Frugal Meal’ of 1904 and the 1935 ‘Minotauromachy’, which lead up to the preparatory work for Guernica, here represented by a half sized photograph and the great ‘Weeping Woman’ 1937.
The 1950s saw Picasso pitting himself against Delacroix with his version of the ‘Women of Algiers’ and Velasqueth’s‘Las Meninas’ and failing miserably.By this time Picasso had achieved so much there was no need to do variations of and stamp his signature across other artists work.
The work of the British Artists was not without interest. Wyndam Lewis came across well with his selection, his determination to forge Vorticism as an English alternative to cubism steered him away from Picassos influence. Ben Nicholson clearly was more influenced by Braque and then soon switched his allegiance to Mondrian. Duncan Grant dabbled a little with cubism and abstraction. Francis Bacon was directly influenced and is here represent by pictures that seemed to have escaped his need to destroy early work. Henry Moore learned from Picasso and went on to forge is own successful career. Graham Sutherland veered back and forth in his admiration while Hockney having never met his idol showed his admiration through etchings, redoing designs for Eric Satie’s ‘Parade’(which Picasso had originally done in 1919) and in the cubist inspired photo joiners.
To the OCA student starting out on their courses this show was stimulating and educational, it increased their knowledge of British painters, outlined Picasso’s career and showed how his ideas were influential to the development of Modern art in Britain in the 20th Century.