Around the age of 20, Pablo Picasso turned his attention to people who were miserable and poverty-stricken, capturing them in paintings made with blue paint, and developing an unparalleled series of portraits. From the Blue Period, the starting point of Picasso’s career, to his Cubist experiments, and on into his mature and later years, the artist remained highly productive and unceasingly ambitious throughout his 91-year life. Today, nearly half a century after his death, Picasso’s paintings continue to exude a powerful living expression. This exhibition is a joint project of the Pola Museum of Art, which boasts one of the finest Picasso collections in Japan, and the Hiroshima Museum of Art, based on research on Picasso’s works conducted with the cooperation of museums in North America and Europe.
1. Large-scale Exhibition Re-examines Picasso’s Career, with the Blue Period as a Starting Point
The Blue Period, in which Picasso’s originality first fully emerged, is reconsidered not only as an early style but also as the point of departure for a series of groundbreaking innovations, including Cubism. This exhibition presents approximately 70 masterworks selected from Japan and abroad, covering the artist’s career from his earliest years to his later years far beyond the Blue Period.
2. Picasso at 20, Not Yet a Giant of Modern Art
Before he became one of the 20th century’s most renowned artists, Picasso was a fledgling artist searching for his own mode of expression. The paintings of his youth, in which he confronted life, death, and poverty, continue to move us to this day. This exhibition brings together masterworks from the Blue Period marked by profound spirituality, and traces the struggles and conflicts of the young Picasso.
3. Art History×Science: The Latest Research on Picasso
During the Blue Period, Picasso frequently reused his canvases, and in many paintings from this time, different compositions are concealed in the underlying layers. Incorporating results of scientific studies of his works obtained in collaboration with Japanese and international researchers, this exhibition will explore the creative process and thematic transformations hidden in paintings from the Blue Period.
Exploring the Blue Period Through the Latest Scientific Research
Despite the success of his 1901 exhibition at the Galerie Vollard, Picasso sold very few of his subsequent paintings from the Blue Period. To satisfy his urge to produce, Picasso began reusing canvases he had already painted, executing new compositions on top of them. Recent technical advances in scientific research have made it possible to render visible his process of production, including underlying states of the paintings which were previously invisible to the human eye.
The Pola Museum of Art has been conducting research on the painting Mother and Child by the Sea in cooperation with the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, the Museu Picasso Barcelona in Spain, the Art Gallery of Ontario in Canada, and the Phillips Collection and the National Gallery of Art in the US. The trajectory of Picasso’s creative process, as revealed by optical surveys of this work and other paintings from the Blue Period, will be presented in a special video produced especially for this exhibition.
The Path of Picasso’s Works Rendered Visible
On the surface of Mother and Child by the Sea, lettering from the Parisian daily newspaper Le Journal of January 18, 1902 (fig., infrared reflectance imaging spectroscopy image*1) has been identified. This indicates that the work was completed in Paris and brought back to Barcelona with its surface covered with newspaper before the paint was completely dry.
A joint research project with researchers at the Museu Picasso Barcelona and the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.) has now revealed that Jaume Sabartés with Pince-nez (1901) is also imprinted with lettering from a newspaper of the same date, indicating that the two works followed the same path.
*1 Infrared reflectance imaging spectroscopy:
In this process, various pigments could be identified and mapped through the absorption characteristics of each pigment. Since infrared light absorbs and scatters less than visible light, it is possible to render visible layers of paint hidden beneath the surface.
Mother and Child by the Sea (detail)
Image obtained through infrared reflectance imaging spectroscopy
Recent scientific research conducted by the Museu Picasso Barcelona has revealed a male figure on an underlying layer of The Blue Glass. The image shows that the painting on the previous layer has been partially repurposed, with a red flower petal painted around the left eye of the male figure (infrared reflectance image*2).
By elucidating their underlying imagery, this exhibition explores the processes that went into producing the Blue Period works.
*2 Infrared reflectance image:
An image captured to obtain data on intermediate layer(s) between the painting’s surface and the canvas or other support. In addition to making lines containing carbon clearly visible, the image also renders thickness and other conditions of the pigment visible.
Prologue: Street Scenes, 1900 – From Barcelona to Paris
Barcelona, where Picasso spent his teenage years, was among the first cities in Spain to modernize, and new art influenced by the latest developments in Paris flourished. His self-portraits from around age 15, while retaining traditional painting styles, show chic brushwork influenced by the Impressionists and other painters. Picasso’s association with leading Barcelona painters of the time, such as Ramon Casas and Santiago Rusiñol, gradually brought him into contact with new artistic movements.
1. The Blue Period: Early Paintings – Layers of Traces
Picasso first visited Paris in 1900, and over the next four years traveled back and forth between Barcelona and Paris. During this period, Picasso repeatedly painted over canvases he had already used, and produced works imbued with a profound spirituality, with blue as the dominant tone. It has recently been discovered through scientific research that Two Women at a Bar once contained an image of a mother and child crouched on the floor.
2. Cubism: An Exploration of Form
Picasso settled in Paris in 1904 and embraced avant-garde art along with fellow painter Georges Braque, giving rise to Cubism, which analytically and geometrically dismantled and reconstructed its subjects. Picasso initially explored stoic formalism, depicting human figures as if they were crystallized minerals. From 1912 onward, however, he grew fascinated with experimental techniques that deftly transformed meanings, transforming subjects from still lifes to figures by superimposing planes and recombining motifs.
3. Return to the Classics and Transformation of the Body
After World War I, Europe was swept up in a “return to order,” and Picasso also turned back to classical subjects and styles. At the same time, however, he also produced flat, geometric works reminiscent of Cubism. While using a variety of approaches, Picasso rejected fully nonobjective abstraction and continued to create works with connections to reality. Portrait of Marie-Therese Walter is a multilayered image of his mistress on a colorful, geometrically segmented surface.
4. A Studio in the South of France: Beyond Painting
After World War II Picasso moved to the south of France, where he continued to work prolifically. He created a series of paintings referencing great masters of art history. and explored love and eroticism in painting through the theme of “the painter and the model.” In his later years he returned to the themes of life and death, as in the Blue Period, and painted a series of works that bared his soul. The film The Mystery of Picasso (released 1956), in which the painting Beach at La Garoupe appears, reveals the process by which the 74-year-old Picasso freely and daringly transformed his images.
Special Offer: Free Admission for Visitors Aged 24 and Younger
Dates: Sat., September 17 – Fri., September 30
This invitation is extended to people around the same age as Picasso was during the Blue Period, in the hope that more viewers will be able to see the works in person and vicariously experience the artist’s life.
Age of eligibility: 15-24 years old. Please present an ID card or other documentation showing age at the ticket counter upon entering the museum.
If your age cannot be verified, you will be charged the regular admission fee (¥1,800 for adults, ¥1,300 for university and high school students; student ID required).
Groups of 15 or more people are required to make reservations in advance. Please contact the Pola Art Museum (0460-84-2111) for more information. Admission is always free for junior high school students and younger.
Lecture to Commemorate the Opening of Picasso: The Blue Period and Beyond
Date/Time: Fri., September 16, starting at 18:30. Advance reservations required.
Co-Host/Venue: Instituto Cervantes de Tokio (Cervantes Bldg., 2-9 Rokubancho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-0085)