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Picasso in Context

February 24–April 25, 2010

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American Modernism and the Stieglitz Circle

Many artists working in the United States in the early decades of the twentieth century were familiar with Cubism and other avant-garde movements in Europe, but sought to express their commitment to modern art in a uniquely American way. The 291 Gallery, named after its street address on Fifth Avenue in New York, became the rallying point for several of these artists. Run by the pioneering photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946), the 291 Gallery presented the work of European artists alongside American modernists like Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Paul Strand. Stieglitz cultivated an atmosphere of hushed reverence in the gallery, and maintained a strong aversion to commercialism. In doing so, he created a laboratory-like setting for American artists to develop their own visual language. In the spring of 1911, the 291 Gallery presented the first exhibition of Pablo Picasso's work in the United States, and the forty-nine drawings and watercolors on display had a profound impact on the fledgling American avant-garde. Three years later, Stieglitz mounted a joint exhibition of Picasso's and Georges Braque's most recent forays into Cubism, a presentation that galvanized American artists again, encouraging them toward greater experimentation. Although the 291 Gallery closed in 1917, Stieglitz remained an indefatigable champion of modern art in the United States, especially for those artists who shared his interest in nature, spirituality, and abstraction. A number of the paintings shown in this exhibition were originally owned by Stieglitz and were donated to the Philadelphia Museum of Art by his widow, Georgia O'Keeffe, in 1949.

Paul Strand: Portraits of Picasso and Braque

Between 1955 and 1957 American photographer Paul Strand created a series of portraits of prominent intellectuals and artists living in France, including Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Strand visited Picasso at La Californie, the artist's ornate nineteenth-century villa in Cannes, in the summer of 1956, but the two men did not get along well. In one portrait, the Spanish artist's quizzical expression reflects the lack of rapport between them. Strand's photograph nonetheless captures Picasso's intense gaze, as well as his aged features, since every crease and line in his face is visible in the close-up. The following summer Strand visited Braque at his house and studio at Varengeville-sur-Mer on the Normandy coast. The American photographer clearly felt a strong empathy for the seventy-five-year-old French artist, who posed for a number of portraits, including an extraordinary image of his hands. Worn and tanned like the blackened skin of a coal miner, Braque's hands reveal a lifetime of hard work and dedication to his craft. Elsewhere, the silver-haired artist, who was celebrated in his youth as a fashionably dressed dandy, has the appearance of a distinguished gentleman. In these portraits of Braque, many of which are exhibited here for the first time, Strand did not strive to show a candid expression, as he had done with Picasso, but instead distilled the character and dignity of his subject. He also captured the unique atmosphere of the artist's studio, designed by American architect Paul Nelson and featured in an important series of paintings that Braque had completed shortly before Strand's arrival.

Main Building


Michael Taylor • The Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern ArtClaire Howard • Research Assistant

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