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Picasso and the Avant-Garde in Paris

February 24–May 2, 2010

Internationally recognized as one of the most innovative and influential artists of the twentieth century, Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973) was at his most ferociously inventive between 1905 and 1945. Picasso and the Avant-Garde in Paris surveys his work during these crucial decades, when he transformed the history of art through his innate virtuosity and protean creativity. The exhibition follows the trajectory of Picasso's career from his early experiments with abstraction to his pioneering role in the development of Cubism, as well as his dialogue with Surrealism and other important art movements in the ensuing decades. The exhibition will also explore the important role that the city of Paris played in the history of modern art during the first half of the twentieth century, when artists from around the world followed Picasso's example and moved to the French capital. It will include works by expatriate artists like Marc Chagall, Jacques Lipchitz, Patrick Henry Bruce, and Man Ray, who collectively formed a vibrant, international avant-garde group known, for posterity, as the School of Paris. Drawn from the Museum's extraordinary collection of paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings by Picasso, with additional loans from private American collections, this exhibition provides a unique opportunity to reconsider the cross-fertilization of ideas that took place in Paris during one of the most experimental and creative periods in Western art. Two-hundred fourteen paintings, sculptures, and works on paper will be on view, including Picasso's Three Musicians (1921), a grand summation of the artist's decade-long exploration of Synthetic Cubism in which the artist seems to cast himself and his poet friends Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacob as players in a radical form of Cubist concert.

Behind the Scenes

The Americans in Paris gallery

The Salon Gallery - part 1

The Salon Gallery - part 2

Dream and Lie of Franco

Picasso's Three Musicians

Picasso's Drawing for Lysistrata

Brancusi's Mademoiselle Pogany [III]

Chair with Gladiolas

Collage and Papier Collé gallery

Picasso's Self-Portrait with Palette

Picasso's Man with a Lamb

Georges Braque's Violin and Newspaper

Picasso's Woman with Loaves

Fernand Léger's The City

Juan Gris' Still Life before an Open Window, Place Ravignan

Virgil Marti, artist and designer of the Sigmund pouf

Timothy Rub, George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer

Michael Taylor, The Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art

Suzanne Penn, Conservator of Paintings

Jack Schlechter, Installations Designer

Marla K. Shoemaker, The Kathleen C. Sherrerd Senior Curator of Education

Gallery Guide

Picasso: The Early Years in Paris

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In the spring of 1904, Pablo Picasso decided to move permanently to Paris and rented a studio in a dilapidated tenement building called the Bateau-Lavoir, where he would work until 1909. Having already established a reputation in his native Spain as a young painter capable of deftly mastering the most advanced pictorial techniques, the ambitious twenty-three-year-old artist could no longer resist the urge to live and work in the cultural capital of the world. It was within the bohemian artistic community of Paris that Picasso would establish lifelong friendships with fellow artists, especially Georges Braque and Juan Gris, with whom he both collaborated and competed throughout his artistic career. Picasso's early years in Paris encompass his "Rose Period," when he made such works as Woman with Loaves, which in 1931 became the first painting by the artist to enter the Philadelphia Museum of Art's collection. Completed in the summer of 1906, the work depicts a sturdy Spanish peasant woman balancing two heavy loaves of bread on her head. The indistinct shapes of the background, with their sun-baked terracotta tones, relate to the prehistoric paintings that were discovered at Altamira, a cave in northern Spain, in 1879. Picasso greatly admired these polychrome rock paintings of bison and other wild mammals, and declared that, "After Altamira, all is decadence." Woman with Loaves represents an early attempt to reinvent human anatomy through nontraditional art forms like cave painting and ancient Iberian sculpture. It was also during this time that Picasso visited the Trocadéro Ethnographic Museum in Paris, where he encountered African art for the first time. This seminal experience would forever change the direction of Picasso's art and inspire the masklike faces and compacted limbs and torsos found in his groundbreaking, proto-Cubist painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), for which the Philadelphia Museum of Art owns an important watercolor study.

Picasso and Braque: Inventing Cubism

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Much as the invention of the airplane announced the beginning of the modern age, Cubism can be said to have inaugurated the art of the twentieth century. As the earliest paintings and works on paper in this exhibition attest, Picasso began as a prodigiously gifted artist working with a fairly traditional pictorial repertoire. Between 1907 and 1914, however, the artist's work evolved as if it were a secret language being invented in private conversation with the French artist Georges Braque (1882–1963), his close friend and collaborator in the development of Cubism. Picasso's large and vertiginous Man with a Guitar reflects the two artists' nearly day-to-day interchange in 1912, a time when their styles became almost indistinguishable, based on a shared vocabulary of gridlike scaffolding, overlapping planes, and a reduced palette of beige, ocher, white, and gray. Without completely renouncing the traditional formats of the three-quarter-length human figure and the still life, Cubism introduced a code of abbreviated signs in which people and objects were depicted through esoteric hieroglyphs of autonomous lines and interlocking planes that operate according to their own logic. In their extraordinary representations of string instruments, such as the violin and the guitar, Picasso and Braque flattened, dissected, and recomposed forms into myriad essential shapes and planes, and then showed them from different angles, like a deck of playing cards that are constantly reshuffled before our eyes. The revolutionary use of multiple, shifting perspectives in these works represented a radical shift from the conventions of illusionism that had dominated Western painting since the Italian Renaissance. It allowed Picasso and Braque to declare that, after Cubism, a painting's success was no longer determined by its resemblance to the visible world, but rather by a profound reordering of reality.

Collage and Papier Collé

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Collage, the juxtaposition and application of found materials on a two-dimensional surface, is among the most innovative artistic techniques of the twentieth century. The term "collage" derives from the French verb coller, which means "to glue," and refers to the introduction of nontraditional materials into fine art, often in the form of cut and pasted papers (also known as papiers collés). Although Picasso and Braque are credited with the invention of this radically new means of artistic expression, the Spanish artist Juan Gris (1887–1927) was another strong proponent of collage. All three artists skillfully incorporated such unconventional materials as artificially wood-grained wallpaper, newspaper fragments, sheet music, and advertisements in their collages as a means of creating paradox, ambiguity, and wit. Picasso's breathtaking 1913 collage Still Life with Fruit, Violin, and Wineglass, for example, uses a newspaper fragment containing the end of the word "journal" to suggest a newspaper on a café table. The artist also pasted colored prints of apples and pears in the upper left-hand corner to indicate fruit in a bowl made of newspaper and a stand formed by a strip of white paper. The numerous textural variations and collage elements are amplified through their careful juxtaposition with drawn elements, such as the violin and the wineglass. By applying collage to their paintings and works on paper, artists like Picasso, Braque, and Gris created an illusion of three-dimensionality that highlighted the physicality of the artwork and its artificial nature, while radically rejecting traditional fine-art notions of originality and purity. By integrating everyday objects and texts on contemporary events (via newspaper clippings), they complicated the boundaries between the art world and the outside world as well as challenged some of the most fundamental assumptions about the nature of painting inherited by Western artists since the Renaissance.

Synthetic Cubism

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The terms "Analytic Cubism" and "Synthetic Cubism" have firmly entered the vocabulary of art history as period definitions for the stylistic changes in the work of Picasso and Braque between 1908 and 1914. Analytic Cubism denotes the period between 1908 and 1912 when the two artists broke down three-dimensional objects into fragments—corresponding to their appearance from different angles—which were then recombined on a two-dimensional surface. Although Analytic Cubism rejected single-point perspective, its combination of multiple viewpoints is thought to offer a more complete version of perceived reality than traditional forms of painting. Synthetic Cubism, which Picasso and Braque pioneered between 1912 and 1914, reassembles the elemental compositional shapes and fragments of Analytic Cubism in order to create new kinds of reality. The birth of Synthetic Cubism coincided with the invention of collage and papier collé in 1912, which encouraged the artists to reject the near monochrome palette of Analytic Cubism and reintroduce bright color. Another key component of Synthetic Cubism was the incorporation of illusionistic devices such as simulated wood-grain, whose wavy texture was achieved by dragging housepainters' combs through wet paint. Picasso and Braque were joined during this second phase of Cubism by Juan Gris, a master of papier collé, whose vibrantly colored still-life paintings similarly questioned the identity of objects through fragmentation and elision, as well as humorous visual puns. In his 1913 painting Violin, a fragmentary sheet of music reads, "Auprès de ma blonde," the title of a famous seventeenth-century French drinking song that translates as "by my blonde girlfriend's side." In a verbal and visual joke, Gris has united the love song with a fluted beer glass beside the sheet of music, since a glass of light beer in France is also called une blonde.

Americans in Paris

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The cultural epicenter for the community of American artists and writers who came to Paris in the aftermath of World War I was the lively salons hosted by Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo at their home at 27 rue de Fleurus. The Steins arrived in Paris in 1903, bought their first Paul Cézanne painting the following year, and by 1905 had acquired works by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, who became good friends with Gertrude. His development of Cubism inspired her to experiment with similar effects of dislocation and fragmentation in her writings, and she and Leo would be the artist's principal patrons for the next decade. The Steins' exceptional art collection soon became the gateway to European modernism for recently arrived expatriate American artists, including Arthur Beecher Carles, Charles Demuth, and Max Weber. Weber recalled their Saturday-night salons as a "sort of international clearing-house of ideas and matters of art for young and aspiring artists from all over the world," where newcomers to the Parisian avant-garde scene encountered firsthand the aesthetics and ethos of modernism. Another important meeting place for artists were the cafés, such as the popular Dôme in Montparnasse, as seen in Preston Dickinson's Cubist-inspired Café Scene (Portrait of Charles Demuth) of c. 1912–14. An essential part of the Parisian expatriate experience, cafés came to represent both the lively public intellectual debates among luminaries who gathered there, such as the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and writer-filmmaker Jean Cocteau, as well as the disillusionment and ennui of the so-called Lost Generation, a term coined by Gertrude Stein for the young men and women traumatized by World War I. The isolation and dissipation that were common themes in the writing of Lost Generation authors such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald are reflected in the inwardness of the figures in Dickinson's faceted composition, whose solitude is reinforced by their imposing urban setting.

Salon Cubism

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The artists in this gallery represent the public face of Cubism in France during the early 1910s. Although Picasso and Braque had initiated the movement, their dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, prohibited them from showing their paintings at the two annual Salon exhibitions in Paris—the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d'Automne—preferring instead to show their work to clients at his art gallery on the rue Vignon. Therefore, the general audience at the Salons first encountered Cubism through the work of Alexander Archipenko, Robert Delaunay, Albert Gleizes, Juan Gris, Roger de La Fresnaye, Fernand Léger, Jean Metzinger, and Francis Picabia, among others. While dependent on the innovations of Picasso and Braque, the Salon Cubists created works that were more brightly colored and legible than those of their forerunners. This eclectic group of artists met regularly on Sunday afternoons at the studio shared by the older brothers of Marcel Duchamp—Jacques Villon and Raymond Duchamp-Villon—in the Parisian suburb of Puteaux. These informal gatherings, which combined games of chess, archery, and toy-horse races with lively discussions of art and science, formed the basis of Gleizes and Metzinger's famous 1912 treatise Du Cubisme, which defended Cubism in the face of hostile attacks from the press. This publication coincided with the Salon de la Section d'Or exhibition, which opened in October 1912 at the Galerie de la Boétie in Paris. Although the exhibition's title referred to the mathematical concept of the Golden Section, an ideal system of proportions used in the design of the Parthenon and other buildings, it was chosen less for its literal meaning than for its connotations of reason and order. Several of the works in this gallery were included in the Section d'Or exhibition and that year's Salon d'Automne, which was also on view in the fall of 1912. Their display here consciously evokes the installation at the Salon d'Automne, in which Cubist paintings were densely hung and punctuated at intervals by sculpture that functioned like architectural elements.

Cubism between the Wars

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Fernand Léger's 1919 painting The City, which was shown to great acclaim at the 1920 Salon des Indépendants exhibition in Paris, announced in spectacular fashion the continued viability of Cubism in the post–World War I era. At a time when many painters were rejecting modern art in favor of traditional techniques and timeless subject matter—such as views of the unspoiled French countryside before it was ravaged by trench warfare—Léger's fragmented cityscape represented a wholesale celebration of the machine-age urban environment. The monumental scale of the painting enveloped Salon visitors like a theater backdrop, inviting them to join the mechanized figures climbing the staircase in the foreground and enter this bustling modern metropolis, which Léger constructed from abbreviated city sights and abstract forms redolent of scaffolding, bridges, steel structures, billboards, and shop-window mannequins. The City is illuminated by the intensity of Léger's palette—vivid hues inspired by the colorful posters of the Place de Clichy, where Parisians were bombarded by a deluge of advertising billboards and commercial signs. While Léger's painting envisioned a bright future for Cubism and avant-garde experimentation after World War I, Picasso's Three Musicians of 1921 represents a grand summation of his decade-long exploration of Synthetic Cubism. Although painted in oil, its brightly colored, intricately interlocking shapes echo the collages and papiers collés he made before the war, which has led the painting to be interpreted as a symbolic and nostalgic elegy to his lost bohemian youth. According to this biographical reading, the three masked musicians can be identified as the recently deceased writer Guillaume Apollinaire, who wears the white baggy costume of Pierrot; the writer Max Jacob as a monk (he joined a monastery in the spring of 1921); and Picasso himself as Harlequin. Sporting the red and yellow colors of the Spanish flag, Picasso adopts the persona of the sad clown, with whom he had frequently identified in his early work.

Return to Order

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These works of art reflect the resurgence of interest in traditional subject matter and techniques after World War I, in line with the reactionary international movement known as the rappel à l'ordre (call to order). This phrase was coined on Armistice Day 1918 by the French poet Jean Cocteau, a close friend of Picasso, who called for a return to the classical themes and high levels of craftsmanship that had defined European painting before the advent of modern art. Abandoning the radical experimentation of the pre-World-War-I-era, artists turned their attention to the serenity and nobility of the art of the past. Jean Souverbie's timeless images of frolicking female bathers, steeped in ideas of classicism, order, and harmony, were thus seen as the perfect antidote to the disjunctive fragmentation of Cubism, whose destructive impulse was unpalatable to a society that had barely survived the carnage of war. Many of the most innovative artists of the European avant-garde, including Picasso and Braque, were sympathetic to the politically conservative return-to-order movement and sought a link in their own work between modernism and the essential values of the art of the past. Braque's Seated Bather (1925), for example, references Greco-Roman art through the figure's proportions and drapery, although it is executed in a nonclassical manner, with fluid paint handling, undulating contours, and strong contrasts between light and shade. Similarly, Picasso's return to figuration in his neoclassical period of the early 1920s can be linked with the cultural backlash against Cubism, although the artist never viewed his groundbreaking earlier work as progressing away from classical ideals, despite its revolutionary appearance. The painting of his fellow countryman Joaquín Valverde Lasarte is thus more typical of the return-to-order movement, as seen in The Hunters of 1931, which caused a sensation when it was first shown at the 1932 Venice Biennale.

Picasso and Surrealism

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While the Cubists fixed their attention on the rational, objective world around them, the next generation of artists looked for inspiration in the realms of the unconscious and the imagination. In 1924, a group of young writers and artists, led by the French poet André Breton, launched the Surrealist movement in Paris. Indebted to the psychoanalytical writings of Sigmund Freud, they turned to chance procedures, dreams, and taboo fantasies to create artwork that embraced the irrational and celebrated the marvelous. The term "Surrealism" was coined by Picasso's friend Guillaume Apollinaire, who used it to describe the Spanish artist's designs for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. In the program notes for the 1917 ballet Parade, Apollinaire claimed that Picasso's costumes and set designs led to such a remarkable transformation of reality that the ballet was elevated to a "sur-real" experience for its audience members. Although Picasso never officially joined Breton's group, his work entered into a fascinating dialogue with Surrealism in the 1920s and 1930s. In December 1924, Picasso was represented in the first issue of La Révolution surréaliste with a sheet-metal guitar construction, and two of his works were shown in the first Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Pierre the following year. The artist later contributed to a number of Surrealist publications, including the first issue of the journal Minotaure in 1933, for which he designed a collage of the half-man, half-bull of Greek legend. Picasso had earlier explored the themes of passion, violence, and sexual aggression in a series of Surrealist-inspired paintings on the subject of the female bather that he made in the French coastal resort of Dinard in the late 1920s. The model for these transgressive, sexually charged paintings was the artist's teenage lover Marie-Thérèse Walter. Her body is subjected to apparently limitless re-inventions and expressive distortions in these images, which share the convulsive biomorphic beauty and witty, yet grotesque sexuality found in the work of Surrealists, including fellow Spaniard Joan Miró.

Eastern Europeans in Paris

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As a symbol of culture, freedom, and modernity, Paris held a special allure for aspiring modern artists during the first half of the twentieth century, which accounts for the huge migration of painters and sculptors to the city. A large number of Eastern European artists settled in a vibrant area of Paris known as Montparnasse, which was sprinkled with artists' residences, cafés, and art galleries; it was here that Marc Chagall, Jacques Lipchitz, Louis Marcoussis, Chana Orloff, Jules Pascin, Chaim Soutine, and Ossip Zadkine established studios and discovered each other's work in an atmosphere of mutual encouragement and support. Many of these émigré artists were also attracted to the religious tolerance of Paris, which provided a safe environment free from the pogroms and persecution that their Jewish families had endured for generations in their former homelands of Russia, Poland, and other Eastern European countries. While Lipchitz, Marcoussis, and Zadkine experimented with the interlocking planes and sharply angled forms of Cubism, others attempted to reconcile the latest trends in modern art with the folk traditions of their native lands. This can be seen in the stylistic schematization of Constantin Brancusi's marble portrait of the Hungarian artist Margit Pogany, where the simplified abstract forms are strongly reminiscent of Art Deco design. The elegant refinement and egglike smoothness of this sculpture are contrasted with the roughly hewn wooden base that Brancusi hand-carved according to the folk traditions of his native Romania. Chagall's brightly colored, folkloric paintings similarly referenced the customs and rituals of Jewish life in his native Belorussia. His large-scale 1911 painting Half-Past Three (The Poet), however, made shortly after his arrival in Paris from an art school in Saint Petersburg, reveals the head-spinning impact of Cubism, which encouraged him to incorporate fragmented planes and diagonal shafts of color to imbue the composition with a prismatic sensation.

Death and Sacrifice

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When France and Great Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, Picasso was forced to remain in Paris for the duration of the global conflict. The recent victory in Spain of General Francisco Franco's Falangists over the democratically elected Republican government, which the artist had vociferously supported during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), ensured that he would not return to his homeland again during his lifetime. The artist instead spent the war in a large studio on the rue des Grands-Augustins in Paris, which he moved into in the fall of 1940. Picasso's gloomy wartime output reflects the severe deprivations that French civilians endured during World War II, including food shortages and lack of heating fuel during the winter. The large and austere Chair with Gladiolus, which Picasso completed on September 17, 1943, conveys the oppressive mood of the war years in its heavily contoured depiction of a vase of gladiolus on a chair. The cut flowers fail to cheer up the empty room, whose melancholy atmosphere is similar to that found in other still lifes that Picasso made during this time, which often feature human skulls in a macabre pun on nature morte (French for "still life") with its connotations of death and decay. Despite a scarcity of artistic materials in German-occupied Paris, Picasso produced a prodigious amount of work during this period, including Man with a Lamb (1943–44), his most important wartime sculpture. The themes of sacrifice and redemption addressed in this work were also explored by Jacques Lipchitz, who used the image of an aged man performing a ritual sacrifice in The Prayer (1943) to express his horror at the discovery of Nazi concentration camps. The artist later recalled that he had cried throughout the making of this work, which was his heartfelt prayer for the innocent victims of Hitler's atrocities.

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Made possible by GlaxoSmithKline. Additional funding is provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and The Pew Charitable Trusts. Promotional support provided by NBC 10 WCAU; Philadelphia Visitors and Convention Bureau (PCVB) and the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC); The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and; and Amtrak.


Michael Taylor • The Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art

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