Pablo Picasso's life spanning a period from 1906 to the beginning of the 1970s on view in Verona

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Pablo Picasso's life spanning a period from 1906 to the beginning of the 1970s on view in Verona
Pablo Picasso (1881, Málaga - 1973, Mougins), L’Étreinte, 26 septembre 1970, Mougins Huile sur toile, 146x114 cm. Musée national Picasso - Paris © Succession Picasso by SIAE 2016.

VERONA.- A work for every year of Pablo Picasso's life spanning a period from 1906 to the beginning of the 1970s: this is the great novelty of the major exhibition on view at AMO Arena Museo Opera, Verona. Years after the last Milanese retrospective devoted to the most eclectic artist of the 20th century, 91 works return to Italy for the first time. These include Seated Nude (from Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907), The Kiss (the small, agonizing canvas of 1931), The Weeping Woman and the Portrait of Marie-Thérèse both from 1937, to mention only some of the masterpieces on loan from the Musée national Picasso - Paris.

Paintings, sculptures and graphic works recount the metamorphosis to which the artist subjected the representation of the human figure during his pre-Cubist, Cubist, Classical and Surrealist periods, right up to the postwar years. Then he went beyond the limits and categories of the "portrait" and "genre scene" to explore a new concept of the "figure", which made him both the constructor and destroyer of an art that is his alone and endlessly fascinating.

The exploration of Picasso's creative process through the six sections of the exhibition leads the visitor to discover why the artist produced works in series and always reprised the same subject over the years (and in different periods and styles). The aim is to show how he obsessively repeated the human figure and portraits in his artistic production. Photos and films of the time illustrate Piscasso's life, while the exhibition covers his career from 1906 to the beginning of the 1970s. It recounts his intellectual and literary circle and his studies on movement, as well as his quest, during the early postwar years, for a new primitivism through childlike drawing, his interest in prehistoric sources and his desire to free himself from forms that was to last until the 1940s.

Section 1 - 1907–1916. Cubist deconstruction and reconstruction
Picasso probably became Picasso with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907, Museum of Modern Art, New York). In effect, the Cubist revolution consisted in the invention of a kind of painting that was no longer indebted to poetry and that rejected symbolism: autonomous painting. The Cubist figure whose sex is often uncertain and which is sometimes so "abstract" it can barely be discerned on the canvas, does not symbolize anything, which can make it disturbing. Cubism is a conceptual art, which seeks to represent human beings as they appear to our mind. Cubism does not represent reality, but the way we imagine it, schematically, from all sides, in thought, in language, without flesh or colour. It is an incredible "mental" adventure. To pursue this quest, Picasso looked elsewhere: to Paul Cézanne's (1839–1906) painting, African sculpture and the work of Paul Gauguin (1848–1903). Then from 1908 onwards, with his friend Georges Braque, he deconstructed the figure in two stages. Cézannesque Cubism geometrized forms (1908–1909); Analytic Cubism pushed this deconstruction to the extreme and verged on abstraction (1909–1911), almost eliminating the figure; Synthetic Cubism (1912–1914) reintroduced real things (collages, objets trouvés), but not in a realistic or illusionistic way, once again affirming the autonomy of the artwork.

Section 2 - 1917–1924. The reinvention of the classical line
In 1917, in the middle of World War I, Pablo Picasso left for Rome to collaborate with the Ballets Russes, thanks to the good offices of the poet Jean Cocteau. How could he continue with the fragmentation of forms during the war of the trenches? Inspired by early Italian art, Picasso took a completely new direction and returned to a kind of classicism. He worked on the line in a thousand different ways by going back to Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780–1867). The dancers' bodies in motion gave rise to various series of drawings that are almost cinematic and the pencil brings the figure to life by using a single playful line. However, it is never a question of a conservative or rigid "Return to Order". In his Fontainebleau studio, in the summer of 1921, the figures that he painted dressed in old-fashioned clothes established a dialogue with sculpture through their solid appearance and surprising disproportions. His model par excellence at the time was Olga Khokhlova, a dancer in Serge Diaghilev's troupe. They married in 1918 and their son, Paulo was born the following year.

Section 3 - 1925–1936. Surrealist metamorphoses
When André Breton published the Manifeste du Surréalisme in 1924, his group considered Pablo Picasso one of the tutelary figures of the movement, which aimed at exploring the unconscious and understood Cubism as an "inner adventure". At first Picasso frequented the Surrealists at a certain distance on the occasion of some exhibitions. However, it is clear that he was deeply affected by the Surrealist revolution. It made possible and sparked inner adventures that were no longer conceptual like Cubism, but more instinctual, like a collective myth, and personal. Picasso was not a Surrealist; he always sought to unify the form. Yet from 1925 on, his work was marked by great freedom. He created filiform figures "without a body" and whose organs seemed to shift freely, acrobats with "shapeless" bodies, the misshapen monsters of the sculptures in the Boisgeloup studio, chimerical metamorphoses of the Minotaur and the swallow-woman. His friendship with Michel Leiris – writer, ethnologist and dissident Surrealist of the magazine Documents edited by Georges Bataille – since the beginning of the decade, and later with the poet Paul Éluard, who had also broken away from Breton, fuelled this new vein. Surrealism advocated the fusion of art and life and was violently critical of the bourgeois lifestyle, championing free love. The eroticism indulged in to the full in the secret and "free" love affair with the very young Marie-Thérèse Walter, whom Picasso had met in 1926, fired his visual fantasies – their daughter, Maya, was born in 1935.

Section 4 - 1937–1945. Figures of war
For Pablo Picasso, war began when the Spanish Civil War broke out on 18 July 1936. It prevented him from returning to Spain for the rest of his life. Picasso, who had never publicly declared his political credo, now supported the Republicans. In the autumn of 1936 he accepted the appointment as honorary director of the Prado Museum. While he was working on a commission for the Spanish Pavilion at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques in Paris, the bombing of the small Basque town of Guernica on 26 April 1937 triggered a creative process that culminated in a masterpiece. He was accompanied in this process by the Surrealist photographer and political militant Dora Maar, who encouraged him, as did Paul Éluard and the curator of the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris, Jean Cassou, in taking up this stance. In fact, the figure of The Weeping Woman represents all the mothers of Spain mourning their dead sons, like modern Pietàs, and the figure of Dora Maar. Picasso depicts her in a narrow space, as though "boxed in", representing a kind of confinement of the woman in the couple and the studio, and his own forced exile. During World War II and the Nazi occupation of France, Picasso remained shut away with his artworks in his studio in Rue des Grands-Augustins. The series of sculptures Man with Sheep, begun in 1943, introduced a classical figure and marked the end of Picasso's association with the Surrealists.

Section 5 - 1945–1953. Return to the origins
For Picasso the postwar years were a period of a new primitivism that explored different avenues. He had long been seeking an original "simple form" and this quest stimulated his interest in non-western arts, seen as being closer to a primary source of art. In the 1930s, the Surrealists exalted the art of children and the mad, thinking they represented another form of spontaneous primary art uncontaminated by academicism. In fact, this movement also drew on prehistory. Picasso became interested in natural forms, in the sinuous line of a flower or a plant, and during his stay at the Château Grimaldi, Antibes, in 1946, he developed the theme of a new Bucolic Age, a Golden Age marked by the poetic union of man and nature. This new direction also emerged from a renewed emulation of his great friend and rival Henri Matisse. The model for The Woman-Flower) was Françoise Gilot, the young painter Picasso met at the end of the war, who was supported by Matisse. Thus we now find many Matisse motifs in his painting, also perhaps since he was now living in the south of France. Probably because he had always wanted "to draw like a child" and he was now bringing up two small children, Claude and Paloma, with Françoise, Picasso's style became increasingly childlike, as he attempted to reject academicism and return to primeval visual signs.

Section 6 - 1954–1972. The artist and his model
The last twenty years of Pablo Picasso's life were a journey in time, featuring for the most part the obsessive theme of the artist and his model. From 1954 to the end of the 1960s, he re-explored the old masters from Women of Algiers inspired by Eugène Delacroix to Le déjeuner sur l’herbe inspired by Edouard Manet. In fact, the figure becomes a "character" in a kind of fantastical, mental theatre fuelled by the whole of the artist's visual culture and his desires. At the villa La Californie in Cannes, then at the castle of Vauvenargues, or at the old farmhouse Notre-Dame-de-Vie at Mougins, Picasso liked to wear disguises, and he involved his new partner Jacqueline Roque and occasional visitors in this game, under the eye of famous photographers (Lucien Clergue, David Douglas Duncan, André Villers, Edward Quinn). During his final period (1969–1972), when an exhibition of his recent works was held at the Palais des Papes in Avignon, characters from the past, musketeers, matadors, Spanish Grandees and duennas inspired compelling imaginary portraits. This mise-en-scène of art in life and painting, reflects the relationship between the artist and his model. In his works Picasso depicts the exciting and fertile confusion between the woman he loves and the model, sexual desire and the desire to paint, the woman and painting. He takes to the extreme the archaic relationship between man the subject and woman the object of art.

Lucien Clergue wrote in 'Picasso en Avignon. Rien n’est jamais fini …' (Le Figaro littéraire, 11 May 1970,): Those musketeers brandish the sword like a sex and the sex like a sword. What theatre! What a party! … And what about the vitality of some of the characters, their hunger for life their thirst for love: they embrace women with mad passion, paintings sometimes reduced to two faces, or a single mouth with two pairs of eyes rotating around it. Paintings by the hand of an artist whom critics consider the greatest master of modern art, Picasso.

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