In 1900 Pablo Picasso was still only 18 years old  but his prodigious talent was already acknowledged so much so that he was selected to represent Spain at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. This was also the year Picasso made his first trip to Paris and between 1900 and 1904 he moved between both Paris and Spain until in 1904 he finally decided to settle in Paris. These years, together with the subsequent two, saw many developments and changes in his style and the exhibition Picasso:Blue and Rose at the Musée D’Orsay is a unique opportunity to follow this evolution. The exhibition brings together a dazzling array of masterpieces from all around the globe giving the visitor a fascinating overview of Picasso’s experimental journey over this six year period.

The changes in styles over the period were radical and the exhibition cleverly presents at the outset three self portraits, below, each reflecting Picasso’s style at the time of their creation.

The first self portrait which he signed Yo, Picasso (I, Picasso), shows a confident, almost arrogant, Picasso at the time of his second trip to Paris in 1901 when he had his first exhibition at the gallery of the influential art dealer Ambrose Vollard and where this self portrait was presented. The second self portrait is clearly a product of his famous Blue Period. This period was influenced by the suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas which began late in 1901 and lasted until 1904. Picasso’s Rose Period followed and by the end of 1906 he was working with a reduced ochre palette and creating more simplified forms where facial features were reduced to mask like shapes as reflected in his own self portrait of the same year.

La Naine (or Dwarf – Dancer), 1901, Picasso Museum, Barcelona

In the run up to the Vollard exhibition Picasso was producing a body of work dominated by vibrant colours. Much of his subject matter was taken from Parisian night life but he also harked back to the works of Spain’s Old Masters which he had studied as a teenager in Madrid. In his painting La Naine (or Dwarf Dancer), painted in 1901, Picasso shows his debt to Velazquez (1599-1660), by his choice of subject matter as Velazquez regularly painted the dwarfs at the Court of King Philip IV.  However, by 1901, Picasso had freed himself from academic restraints and in La Naine one also sees the influences of the great artists of the modern era such as Degas, Van Gogh and Toulouse Lautrec.  La Naine (or Dwarf Dancer) depicts a ballet dancer, a favourite theme of Degas, in a red tutu who Picasso has set against a dazzling background of  yellows, greens and blues executed in broken brush strokes giving an energy to the image despite the somewhat static stance and harsh expression of the dancer.

Another reworked theme by Picasso around this time, and one which had previously been explored by Degas, Toulouse Lautrec and Van Gogh, is the café-goer, either alone or as a couple sitting at a table. In many of his paintings, Picasso showed the café-goer as an absinthe drinker such as the one below, absinthe being a very popular drink in France at the time. In The Absinthe Drinker, 1901, Picasso has chosen to depict the moment when this solitary looking drinker is about to add a cube of sugar to the absinthe drink which sits before her on the table. She appears all dressed up wearing a bright red scarf with matching coloured lipstick yet she cuts a lonely image as she sits alone appearing engrossed in her her own thoughts.

Above from left to right : The Absinthe Drinker, 1901, Private Collection and Seated Harlequin, 1901, The Metropolitan Museum, New York.

The Harlequin character was a well known figure in  popular culture in Paris in 1901 and in Seated Harlequin, Picasso has placed him in the café going culture of the time. His Harlequin poses elegantly on a green couch with one hand resting on the seat and the other  with elbow resting on the table with fingers posed on his face. His costume is painted in blue and black squares set off with white ruff-like cuffs and collar. Harlequin’s white painted face is turned away from both the table and the viewer and gazes pensively downwards giving a theatrical feel to the image.

Picasso’s exhibition at Vollard’s was considered a success with reviews such as the one in La Justice describing Picasso as ‘offering something novel’ and having ‘gifts of very rare originality’. However, all was not well with Picasso and the suicide of his friend Casagemas in the spring of 1901 haunted him until finally by the autumn he began painting in blue.

The Death of Casagemas, 1901, Picasso Museum, Paris

Picasso continued painting with a monochromatic palette of shades of blue and blue-green until 1904 reflecting his melancholy at Casagemas death and also the poverty stricken circumstances that he now found himself in. During his Blue Period, Picasso painted scenes of poverty, alienation and misery as is evidenced by the selection below of  Blue Period works on show at the exhibition. The viewer cannot but be touched by the sadness of these evocative paintings which Picasso has brilliantly composed.


Above from left to right, 1. The Crouching Woman, Art Gallery Of Ontario, Canada  2The Blind Man’s Meal, Metropolitan Museum Of Art, New York, 3. Mother and Child by the Sea, Palo Museum of Art, Japan, and 4. The Soup, Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada.

The culmination of the Blue Period brings us to the monumental canvas of La Vie, painted by Picasso in 1903 in Barcelona. X-rays have shown that it was painted over Last Moments, the painting Picasso exhibited in 1900 at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. No one is sure of its meaning but it has been suggested that it represents the cycle of life with the pregnant woman portraying life and the crouching man in the centre portraying death. The standing man is Casagemas, who by now has been dead for two years, and the cloaked woman on the right appears in many blue period paintings. Does she hold the child that might have been Casagemas’? Whatever the meaning of the painting, it was well received and fortunately for Picasso, who was having little financial success, found an immediate buyer.

La Vie, 1903, Cleveland Museum of Art

In early 1904 Picasso decided to settle in Paris and he took up residence in the Bateau Lavoir in Montmartre. The Bateau Lavoir was a run down ramshackle old building but it became an artistic hub attracting painters and poets alike. In this bohemian enclave, the clouds started to lift and Picasso’s palette began to expand to include shades of pink, hailing the dawn of the Rose Period. Also around this time he started a relationship with a model known as Madeline who is the subject matter of Girl in a Chemise, which although dated 1905 was begun in 1904.

Girl in a Chemise, 1905

Here one can clearly see the blurring of the Blue and Rose Periods with the blue background including shades of brown and the model’s flesh and lips tinged with pink. Over the next two years not only would Picasso switch from predominantly painting in shades of blue to pink, he would also move away from the sombre themes of the Blue Period, to lighter ones mainly that of the circus. These circus scenes generally captured not the moment of performance but rather the private introspective moments of the lives of the performers as can be noted in the two images below Family Of Acrobats with Monkey and Young Acrobat balancing on a Ball.

Boy Leading a Horse, 1905-1906, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

As 1905 became 1906, there was a further shift in Picasso’s work with his figures becoming more sculptural. This nod to ‘classicism’ was probably inspired by Ingres whose work had appeared at the Salon d’Automne of 1905.  Boy Leading a Horse is a wonderful example of this new shift to a modern vision of classicism, a painting whose meaning is unclear but whose impact is striking. Other influences began to pervade Picasso’s work such as the archaic Iberian sculpture he saw in the Louvre as well as his interest in primitive art. Cezanne’s influence also becomes apparent especially his stocky figures from his Bathers series.  Picasso’s palette also began to shift with a move towards ochre tones particularly following his four month trip from May to August 1906 to Gosol, a remote  village in the Catalan Pyrenees. Here, away from Paris, he began to truly experiment in a quest for a new pictorial vision and he drew on these influences to create a radical change in style. He also drew inspiration from his girlfriend Fernande Olivier who accompanied him on the trip and who appears in many of his paintings of this period.

Two Nudes, 1906, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

The exhibition ends with Two Nudes which was painted in the autumn/winter of 1906 after Picasso’s return from Gosol and demonstrates the ground breaking results of Picasso’s experiments over the previous six years. Here the monumentality of the figures, inspired by the stocky figures of Cezanne’s bathers, compares sharply with the waif like figures of earlier works.  The facial features of the nude on the left have taken on the form of a mask as inspired by Picasso’s interest in primitive art. The figure on the right is strange with her breast oddly positioned. Again, the meaning of the painting is not known but with it Picasso heralds his new pictorial vision and is on his way to becoming one of the greatest artist of the twentieth century. He is only 25 years old.

This truly is an amazing exhibition giving the viewer a rare opportunity to see some of Picasso’s best works over this six year period. The images included here do not do justice to the works and for a true appreciation of these masterpieces a visit to the exhibition is a must. It runs until the 6th January 2019 at the Musée D’Orsay, Paris and then it moves to Foundation Beyeler, Riehen, Switzerland from 3rd February until 26th May 2019.

Claude Monet’s ‘Haystacks’ dazzle at the Musée D’Orsay

Haystack, Sunset, 1891, by Claude Monet, Boston Museum of Fine Art

Between 1890 and 1891 Claude Monet (1840-1926), the famous Impressionist artist, painted his haystack series in the environs of his home at Giverney which resulted in 25 canvases with the haystack as it’s motif. However, it was not the mundane haystack that interested Monet so much as the effect of climatic change and light on it. Two paintings from this series, ‘Haystack, Sunset’, 1891, Boston Museum of Fine Art and ‘Stacks of Wheat, Sunset, Snow Effect’, 1890-1891, Art Institute of Chicago open the current exhibition at the Musée D’Orsay and hanging side by side, the viewer can marvel at the light created in these stunning paintings.

Stacks of Wheat, Sunset, Snow Effect, 1890-1891 by Claude Monet, Art Institute of Chicago

As the viewer continues to gaze at these works, the haystack fades more and more into the background with the effect of the light dominating the scene. These paintings can almost be viewed as abstract works and are considered by some as precursors to Abstract Expressionism.

The exhibition entitled ‘Beyond the Stars : The Mystical Landscape from Monet to Kandinsky’ looks at how mysticism influenced landscape painting at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. The exhibition is divided into seven rooms aiming to show how different artists conveyed their spiritual quests in response to or through nature using a wide variety of artistic styles.

Vision after the Sermon, 1888 by Gauguin

For example, in the room ‘The Divine in Nature’ hang two paintings by Paul Gauguin dealing with religious subjects in natural settings. The first ‘Vision after the Sermon’, 1888, National Gallery of Scotland, is one of the most famous paintings by Gauguin. The canvas is split in two by a slanting tree placed diagonally through the centre of the painting. In the foreground are a crowd of woman dressed in traditional Breton costumes and they face the upper right hand corner of the painting where their vision of the biblical scene of Jacob wrestling with an angel is taking place.

Christ in the Garden of Olives, 1889, by Paul Gauguin,  Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida

The second painting ‘Christ in the Garden of Olives’ is Gauguin’s interpretation of another biblical scene depicting a red haired Christ in the Agony in the Garden on the eve of his arrest and although some of his disciples are in the background, Christ’s sense of loneliness and pain is evident. In this painting Gauguin interprets a religious subject matter in a highly personal way as it is in fact a self portrait with Gauguin as Christ.

Vincent Van Gogh also features in the exhibition with his masterpiece ‘Starry Night’, 1888 taking centre stage in Room 5 ‘Night’ . Van Gogh was brought up in a religious household, his father being a Minister, and Vincent himself became quite religious even wanting for a time to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Starry Night, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh, Musée D’Orsay

In 1888, two years before his suicide, and while living in Arles, Van Gogh while referring to ‘Starry Night’ wrote to his brother Theo saying ‘ it does not prevent me from having a terrible need of…religion…then I go outside in the night to paint the stars’.

Isolation Peak, 1930, Lawren S Harris

Given that the exhibition was organised in partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario, it is no surprise that it features a significant body of work from Canadian artists. At the beginning of the 20th century, a group of artists known as the Group of Seven believed that a distinct Canadian art could be developed by direct contact with nature and devoid of human presence. Lawrence S Harris was a member of the group and his seminal work The Isolation Peak, 1930, Hart House Art Collection, Toronto is an example of this ideal featuring a mountain as a simple triangle. It is a powerful almost surreal painting.

There are so many other wonderful works on display at this exhibition such as ‘The Sower’, 1889 by Vincent Van Gogh, ‘Madeline in the Bois d’Amour’, 1888 by Émile Bernard,  ‘Dance on a Beach’, 1899-199 by Edvard Munch, and ‘Black Cross with Stars and Blue’,1929, Georgia O’Keeffe, just to mention a few and images of which are below.

Evening, Achill, 1912, Grace Henry

However, being Irish my final mention goes to a work on loan from the Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane called ‘Evening, Achill’, 1912 by Grace Henry. Although Grace Henry was born in Aberdeen, she married an Irish artist, Paul Henry, and as a result spent most of her career painting in Ireland. Grace and Paul Henry visited Achill, an island off the west coast of Ireland for a two week holiday in 1910 but ended up living there until 1919. During her stay here, Grace painted numerous night scenes and the painting displayed at the exhibition is one of these.