DMA Insight

DMA Acquires Two Picassos

The following essay is from the__ _Dallas Museum of Art Bulletin, Summer 1988._

Dr. Steven A. Nash, Acting Director and Chief Curator, announced last December that the Dallas Museum of Art has acquired two outstanding paintings by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). These are the first paintings by the great 20th-century master to enter the Museum's permanent collection.

The first work, Bust (1987.399.FA), an oil study from 1907-08 of a half-length figure with upraised arms, was purchased by the Foundation for the Arts through its general acquisitions fund. This painting was part of the Picasso Estate and passed by inheritance to the artist's granddaughter, Marina Picasso. It was acquired from a private dealer in Switzerland. The second work, entitled The Guitarist (1987.371), is a large and brilliant example of Picasso's late style. Painted in 1965 when the artist was 84 years old, it depicts a strolling musician or troubadour in 17th century Spanish garb juxtaposed with a small self-portrait and displays all the exuberance of handling that marks the best of Picasso's later work. It was purchased by the Museum League Fund from a private Norwegian collection through a European dealer.

Together, these works represent one of the most important acquisitions in the Museum's recent history. As Steven Nash noted, "We have long considered Picasso a top priority for our acquisition's program and have looked for several years for the right work. To locate and be able to purchase not one but two outstanding paintings from different periods in Picasso's life, showing two radically different styles, is a great coup. Because of Picasso's never-ending creativity, and the many different stylistic transformations through which his work passed, it is impossible to 'represent' him with just one painting or sculpture. The combination of these two works will provide some historical perspective and allow greater understanding of Picasso's genius."

Irvin Levy, Chairman of the DMA's Acquisitions Committee, characterizes the acquisition as "one of the most exciting we have ever made. These two works will greatly enhance our important modern holdings and provide a wonderful educational experience. We are delighted to bring them to Dallas."

Susan D. Cuellar, President of the DMA League, states, "The DMA League and the Professional Members League are pleased and honored to purchase this very significant work, The Guitarist, with monies raised by the Beaux Arts Ball, the DMA cookbook, and many other fundraising activities during the last four years. It is a tangible reminder of the talent, dedication, and hard work of all League volunteers."

An oil on canvas measuring 17 by 17 inches, Bust depicts a type of figure that appears in several of Picasso's larger paintings from about 1907-08, a nude with arms raised in a traditional pose of erotic beauty. Unlike the serene classicism of the figures in his slightly earlier Rose Period, however, these have a new expressively harsh and bold quality, partly influenced by archaic sculpture and African art. The most famous example of this new "primitive" style is the great Les Demoiselles d 'Avignon of 1907 (New York, Museum of Modern Art), generally considered to have been Picasso's first major step toward Cubism.

The Dallas painting relates closely to this work in its bold, simplified, and distorted rendering of anatomy, the flattened and more abstract quality of form, the restrained bluntness of color, and the influence of African masks on the face. Paintings from this period of Picasso's development, when his work broke radically from the past and changed forever the course of modern art, are exceedingly rare. Although small in scale, Bust has a visual and intellectual strength that belies its size and captures the essence of this innovative period and was retained by Picasso throughout his life. After his death, it appeared in several exhibitions and publications on the Marina Picasso Collection.

The early origins of this work are balanced by the relatively late date of The Guitarist, completed eight years before Picasso's death in 1973. Typifying his later work, it has a mixture of stylistic ingredients from earlier periods, which are reinterpreted with a new physical and emotional energy. The theme of music, and the guitar in particular, had been important to Picasso throughout his life. In this large and dramatically painted picture, a somewhat comical strolling troubadour playing a guitar with a broken string is shown in 17th century Spanish costume —a quixotic reference to the art of Diego Velázquez, who, along with Rembrandt van Rijn and Édouard Manet, was a particularly powerful influence on Picasso in his later years. The figure stands wide-eyed, monumental, and frontal. It seems to be a nighttime scene, with a generally shadowy atmosphere and background, but with a spotlighting of the figure's face, hands, and instrument against his dark costume. Picasso's later work is characterized by a bold, painterly quality, but here the brushwork and handling of texture is particularly rich. Thick, dynamic strokes weave through and around the figure as part of a complex interplay of form and color. Double stripes of green and pink divide the face, suggesting the Cubist device of double profile. The angular outline of the figure looks back, in turn, to the more Surrealistic work of the late 1930s.

A particularly intriguing aspect of this work is the insertion at the lower left of a painting within a painting —a self-portrait bust which serves as a type of signature. This small image shows Picasso as an aged, antique figure in the mode of a Roman bust, and interjects a contemplative theme. The self-portrait clearly is meant to compare with the head of the musician in a juxtaposition of old age and youth, the immortal and the temporal, the artist as icon and the artist as comical entertainer. On the levels both of painterly excellence and deep personal meaning, The Guitarist stands out as one of the finest of Picasso's late works. One year after it was painted, The Guitarist appeared in an exhibition in Paris entitled Hommage a Picasso. Soon after, it went into a private collection in Norway. Its recent reappearance marks something of a rediscovery.

Pablo Picasso was born in 1881 in Málaga, Spain. His achievements as a painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and stage designer make him the most renowned artist of the 20th century. His Bust and The Guitarist join an important series of Cubist paintings by Fernand Léger and Robert Delaunay on view in the DMA's European Galleries on the Museum's second floor.

Excerpt from

DMA Staff, "DMA Acquires Two Picassos," Dallas Museum of Art Bulletin (Summer 1988), 4-5.

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