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Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy review

  • Art, Painting
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

He knew how to paint thighs, did Pablo Picasso. And in this show – the first solo exhibition Tate Modern has ever held for the Spanish master – those voluptuous stretches of flesh appear everywhere, from reclining nudes to portraits of a woman seated in a chair. And they nearly always belong to one specific woman, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Picasso’s long-term mistress.

The exhibition focuses entirely on 1932, a pivotal and prolific year for Pablo. In its summer, a major retrospective of his work was held, but instead of feeling like he’d made it,  he fretted about being past it.

‘Obsession’ characterises a good two-thirds of the paintings on display here. The plaques call Pablo and Marie-Thérèse’s relationship ‘secret’, but he can’t have been all that fussed about hiding it, as Walter’s image appears over and over, his infatuation so clear he might as well have bellowed it through a megaphone.

Along with Walter’s handsome, statuesque face, other themes repeat. A light lavender or mauve is the colour of Picasso’s 1932, sometimes paired with sherbet yellows and spearmint. There’s also a constant fascination with water, either in pictures of women on the beach, women morphing into sea creatures, or women being rescued from drowning.

But Tate Modern’s show isn’t called ‘women and water’, it’s about one year in the life of Pablo. Does it work as an exhibition? Yes and no. There’s been an attempt to complicate the month-by-month chronology by splicing in rooms dedicated to, for example, a bunch of Georges Brassaï photos of Picasso’s summer home, and the 1932 retrospective. It would probably have worked better had it stuck to the chronological format.

It’s a slow burn of show, but there are some truly beautiful artworks on display, such as ‘Rest’ and ‘Woman Sleeping’ – two surprisingly tender, intimate portraits counterbalancing the rows of sexed-up, spot-the-hidden-phallus paintings.

But best of all is the way that, even within a year’s work, Picasso blindsides with his inventiveness. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on this twelve-month period, he throws into the mix of purple bodies and coastal hedonism a brutal sequence of monochrome crucifixion scenes. If you start to get thigh-staring fatigue, try resting your eyes on those dark and sombre pieces of brilliance instead.

The abrupt intermission of ink-on-paper Christ figures shows how Picasso was basically incapable of remaining fixated on one thing for long. In fact, you could view 1932 as a template for his whole career: an intense, borderline manic obsession followed by suddenly veering off in a direction no one watching expected. And he did that repeatedly, leaving behind a megaton impact on modern art in the process.

Written by
Rosemary Waugh


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