Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy

Dario Colajanni 19 May 2018

Art is one of the greatest gifts we are given. If one has the possibility to see art and is lucky enough to appreciate it, then s/he is able to grasp part of the sense of our life. Last week, taking a break from my essays – which, luckily indeed, are often about literary art –, I went to London in order to visit the exhibition on Picasso at Tate Modern. It was the occasion to appreciate great Art (the capital A is not casual) and deepen my knowledge about one of my favourite artists. I am not embarking on the difficult task to write a review of this exhibition. However, art is meant to leave something at all levels: an expert can appreciate details and stylistic features, a profane visitor maybe can’t, but is not less affected by what s/he has seen. Picasso 1932 has already received astounding reviews by experts on the most popular newspapers of the UK and beyond.

As the title itself suggests, the exhibition shows more than one hundred paintings of which the majority were made in 1932. From January to December, this exhibition narrates the story of one year in Picasso’s life, where Love, Fame and Tragedy (the subtitle of the exhibition) merge in a mix of furious creativity. The visitor is guided on a path which takes the shape of a movie, whose scenes are the months of the year. There is a plot, of course, which does not escape an attentive eye. Maybe even two plots, which finally collide. One regards Picasso himself, he is 50 and lives in France with his wife Olga and his son Paulo; the other develops into the pictures. Everything starts in an absolute calm: the first paintings, simply and anonymously named The Dream or The Reading, show a woman relaxing on the armchair, while reading or sleeping. The figure of this woman is recurrent: we see her both in the cold January, at home, relaxing and in the hot months of summer, sunbathing on the beach. She is Marie-Therese Walter and Picasso is in love with her: Marie-Therese becomes his secret lover. Her face is unmistakably recognizable in every painting and statue (there are a few ones), her peculiar prominent nose is omnipresent and her short blond hair are the fil rouge which links the pictures together.

All the calm is broken by the overwhelming love passion: the undulating lines are the fruit of countless attempts and the balance, which the visitor may find in the pictures, was probably never found by Picasso, both in his drawings and in his life, during that period. Half-way through the path of the exhibition, there is a room dedicated to black and white. In this room we find some of the preliminary drawings of the paintings we have seen: they appear as a tangle of lines drawn and deleted several times and the final version is the outcome of Picasso’s surrender. Marie-Therese is an obsession, she is everywhere, the artist’s world is shaped though her. She was a weakness: for everyone has weak points. But Picasso does not try to cover it, he rather abandons himself to such passion, to the point of alienation. Alienation is the word that came up in my mind after seeing a series of pictures, all showing Marie-Therese sunbathing at the seaside. In the first ones her body still retains human features, in the last one, instead, all is shaped in triangles and other purely geometric forms.

We come to the autumn, when Picasso, as he says, fascinated by Matthias Grunewald’s Renaissance masterpiece The Isenheim Alterpiece, starts a work of deconstruction of this crucifixion. The artist changes register, he shifts to sacred love, maybe to redeem himself from the passion of his profane love. It is the beginning of the Tragedy, which, irony of fate, comes down like the winter. The last paintings of the exhibition, all made in December, follow the theme of the ‘rescue’. The shadow of Fascism is haunting Europe (Hitler is elected Chancellor in 1933) and Picasso is quite concerned about the political situation of the Continent. Some experts have tracked in these paintings on ‘rescue’ some elements which the artist will employ in his famous Guernica. His sentimental life is not less troubled though: in 1935 Marie-Therese gets pregnant of Picasso, Olga discovers her husband’s secret love affair and they break up: the two however do not divorce.

This is the end of the film, but not the end of the story. Who knows, maybe they are already working on the sequel.