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Study visit to Picasso and modern British Art

Students and tutors assembled at Tate Britain to see ‘Picasso and Modern British Art’, the latest must see exhibition in London which is generating interest among discerning visitors. This exhibition looks at a selection of British artists who had been influenced or inspired by the work of Picasso and in so doing provides us with one of the best Picasso exhibitions to be seen in Britain for some time.

Picasso Nude Woman in a Red Armchair 1932

The downside is that we have a great exhibition of Picasso’s paintings and sculptures with a sideshow of British Artists who are made to look second rate by comparison. Although not without interest, the historical and educational value of this exhibition is diminished by the narrowness of the selection.
Most of the artists involved have had recent exhibitions – Wyndham Lewis, Ben Nicholson, David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Henry Moore and even Graham Sutherland (the weakest of the artists on display) has just been shown at the Museum of Modern Art Oxford. It is interesting to speculate whether or not, with the exception of Hockney, they would have wanted to be in a show where there work would be subjected to such cruel comparisons?
When Tate Britain took on the role of showing and promoting British art and Tate Modern’s role became showing the work of International artists, the expectation was that here was an opportunity to see and assess the work of British artists who have not had the opportunity of a major retrospective in a National Gallery. If this is not happening, is it because lesser-known names would not bring in the crowds, and would not generate much in the way of income?
Picasso: Nude, Green leaves and Bust

However, back at the Picasso show, a route round the exhibition could take in five Picasso pictures painted in 1901. This was his second visit to Paris and at the age of 20 he was trying out various styles derived from Toulouse Lautrec, Van Gogh and Gauguin. This was to lead onto his famous Blue period which in the show is represented by the well known ‘Girl with a Dove’1901 and the Tate gallery’s own ‘Girl in a Chemise’ 1904.
It is not often that Picasso’s designs for the Ballets Russesare shown and the star of this display is the Chinese Conjurer’ 1919. Cubist paintings were well represented and the development of this movement and its change of styles were easy to follow and could be seen influencing the work of the British Artists.
Picasso: repas frugal

Then, In 1927 Picasso met his mistress Marie -Therese Walter and an erotic charge enters his work. ‘Nude woman in a Red Armchair’ 1932 the poster work for this exhibition is joined by the equally sensual ‘Nude, Green Leaves and Bust’ 1932 bought last year for £66million by a mystery buyer and now on loan to the Tate Gallery. Two great etchings could be viewed, his early ‘The Frugal Meal’ of 1904 and the 1935 ‘Minotauromachy’, which lead up to the preparatory work for Guernica, here represented by a half sized photograph and the great ‘Weeping Woman’ 1937.
The 1950s saw Picasso pitting himself against Delacroix with his version of the ‘Women of Algiers’ and Velasqueth’s‘Las Meninas’ and failing miserably.By this time Picasso had achieved so much there was no need to do variations of and stamp his signature across other artists work.
The work of the British Artists was not without interest. Wyndam Lewis came across well with his selection, his determination to forge Vorticism as an English alternative to cubism steered him away from Picassos influence. Ben Nicholson clearly was more influenced by Braque and then soon switched his allegiance to Mondrian. Duncan Grant dabbled a little with cubism and abstraction. Francis Bacon was directly influenced and is here represent by pictures that seemed to have escaped his need to destroy early work. Henry Moore learned from Picasso and went on to forge is own successful career. Graham Sutherland veered back and forth in his admiration while Hockney having never met his idol showed his admiration through etchings, redoing designs for Eric Satie’s ‘Parade’(which Picasso had originally done in 1919) and in the cubist inspired photo joiners.
To the OCA student starting out on their courses this show was stimulating and educational, it increased their knowledge of British painters, outlined Picasso’s career and showed how his ideas were influential to the development of Modern art in Britain in the 20th Century.

Posted by author: Jim
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6 thoughts on “Study visit to Picasso and modern British Art

  • I’m looking forward to the exhibition coming to Edinburgh where I will be taking round a group of OCA students. It is incredible what a great influence Picasso was. He still inspires.
    Your point about lesser known names not bringing in the crowds is very true. We tend to get these blockbuster shows now and everyone feels they have to see them or they are missing out. I think the Hockney show had the most visitors ever to a Royal Academy exhibition. That’s all well and good. but it does mean those really interested in seeing the art have to jostle with those brought along against their will and those who are more interested in saying they have been. Now we have to book for these big exhibitions, often way in advance and sometimes they are sold out completely- wasn’t that true of the
    Vermeer a few years ago?
    Anyway, I will be happy to squeeze through the crowds to see this particular exhibition. I love the Weeping Woman. It is so powerful.

  • I went on this visit with tutors Jim and Richard and feel I got a lot out of it. Unflattering comparisons apart, just seeing some of the other artists when you don’t often have the opportunity was very interesting. For me the Ben Nicholson’s stood up best, showing that he was looking at other artists but then taking it and being himself. The insights from Jim and Richard and meeting other students made for a very stimulating visit. The Weeping Woman was the highlight but from a drawing perspective the Frugal Meal was my particular favourite.

  • I was also part of this study group and found myself captivated by the Marie Therese Walter paintings in particular with their luscious confident sweeping lines. It was also very good to see the Henry Moores set alongside Picasso; I hadn’t previously considered Picasso’s big chunky women with Moore’s reclining figures but they fit together beautifully.
    It was really good to spend time with other students and two well informed tutors who really enhanced the experience.

  • I agree with Kay and corinna.It was an excellent visit. Our tutors guidance helped me to see Picasso as I never had before, and to relate the other art6ists to him.Also to look at these artists in a different way and to begin to understand what they are trying to show and how they took what they 2wanted fromPicasso and used it in their own ways. a valuable experience

  • This was an excellent exhibition and an excellent study visit. The tutors put the paintings in context and I hadn’t realised before how much that informed the work. Each had their own approach and I gained much from them both. The British artists largely paled in comparison to Picasso, but that was due to contextual selection of work. I came away utterly exhausted but really stimulated about how Picasso could influence my own work. There was so much to learn from every period; I’m off to draw after Ingres!

  • I agree with Olivia about exhibitions going outside London, we had a Gerhard Richter exhibition a couple of years ago here in Edinburgh which was wonderful, and you could see the pictures! In calm.
    Is anyone else uneasy about the idea of comparing these artists – someone wrote that Sutherland came across as ‘weakest’ – I would want to unpack that. Having seen his wartime watercolours/ gouaches at Modern Art Oxford, I found much of his work extremely subtle. I also saw the Nicholson-Mondrian exhibition at the Courtauld and also found Nicholson’s more intriguing, less obvious than Mondrians – but each had their merits. Shouldn’t we be going beyond just comparing the merits ? Dorothy’s comments about how people are influencing one another seems a much more fruitful way to go.

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