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Devorar Paris. Picasso 1900-1907 «With your paintings, it is as though you wanted - to make us drink kerosene and eat fire. » Braque to Picasso, 1907 This exhibition follows Picasso’s development from his arrival in 1900 in Paris, where he found a flourishing international artistic community, to 1907-1908, when he achieved status as a leader of the avant-garde in the French capital. The Spanish artist’s first-hand exposure to works by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Puvis de Chavannes, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rodin, Steinlen and others was a revelation for him. His response was immediate and was reflected both in his discovery of new painterly and graphic techniques and also in a commitment to a new subject matter, based on his own experiences of modern life and art. Although Picasso was accused by critics of imitating the artists whose work had impressed him in Paris, this criticism will be seen to be wide of the mark. Picasso was never an imitator (no work of Picasso’s can be confused with another), but he always helped himself to the innovations of his contemporaries, as well as to the history of art, in order to forge a personal style. By 1907, Picasso had become an internationally recognized artist, but his means of working and his experimentation, which are the focus of the years of this exhibition, are the same as those that underpinned his whole career.

Discovery of Paris

The nineteen-year-old Picasso arrived in Paris in late October 1900, in time to see his painting Last Moments (subsequently painted over) exhibited in the Spanish pavilion at the Exposition Universelle. With his Barcelona friends Carles Casagemas and Manuel Pallarès, he moved into a studio in Montmartre. There, high above the city, they discovered a flourishing community of mostly foreign artists, who had come to establish their careers in the French capital. This first stay was brief – Picasso left in December – but the impact on his art was immediate. The work he did on his first trip to Paris and in the following year suggests that he found inspiration among the artists whose work he saw for the first time, including Toulouse-Lautrec, Steinlen and Van Gogh.

The 1901 Vollard Show and Publicity Drawings

The Catalan dealer Pere Manyac, who lived in Paris, arranged in 1901 for Picasso’s work to be exhibited in a joint exhibition with the Basque Francisco Iturrino at the prestigious Galerie Vollard. Picasso showed more than 65 paintings and drawings, including still lifes, street scenes and many depictions of women, ranging from fashionable café clientele to prostitutes and performers. Like so many of his fellow foreign artists in Paris at the turn of the century, Picasso also worked as a graphic artist, contributing drawings of entertainers to French journals, including Le Frou-Frou.

Van Gogh’s Reputation in Paris

The modest reputation Van Gogh had acquired in French avant-garde circles during his lifetime grew steadily after his suicide in July 1890. A group of his paintings were chosen to mark the opening of the Galerie Vollard on rue Laffitte in 1895, and an exhibition of over 70 paintings and drawings was held at the Bernheim Jeune gallery in 1901. By the time Picasso and other young foreign artists settled in the French capital, Van Gogh’s work, especially the use of a powerful brushtroke with impasto and bright colours, was beginning to attract followers. “The young, brash Picasso must have recognized himself immediately in the prevailing image of Van Gogh as a visionary artist and genius on a solitary pinnacle, who sacrificed everything for his art.” (Nienke Bakker, Picasso in Paris 1900-1907).

Picasso Symboliste

Picasso’s energetic brushwork and lively scenes of Paris life gave way in late 1901 to a more evocative palette and to subjects with symbolic potential. The artist once claimed that it was the suicide (in Paris, February 1901) of Carles Casagemas that prompted him to paint in blue. The choice of a limited range of colours was also a way for him to concentrate on form, while evoking a poetic mood. His compositions devoted to the plight of the poor, including female inmates at the Saint-Lazare prison are treated with the same dignity that one finds in paintings by Van Gogh, Gauguin and Puvis de Chavannes, whose murals, devoted to the theme of charity, Picasso studied in the Panthéon. Moreover, during periods of concentrated formal invention, Picasso often turned to sculpture, including bronze figures by Rodin, to work out his ideas about volume and the different expressive qualities of three-dimensional form.

Picasso at the Bateau Lavoir

Picasso moved permanently to Paris in 1904, and he took over the studio on the top floor of the Bateau Lavoir, which had previously been occupied by the Basque sculptor Paco Durrio. The rambling wooden structure was already the home of an assortment of painters, sculptors, writers and models, many of whom would contribute to the rich context in which Picasso’s artistic ideas would develop so rapidly over the course of a few short years. Fernande Olivier, who was at that time working as an artist’s model, was living with Ricard and Benedetta Canals at the Bateau Lavoir, where she met Picasso in 1904. She would share Picasso’s life until 1912.

The Breakthrough

Picasso had arrived in Paris in 1900 as a young, provincially trained, Spanish painter. By 1907 he had assumed the mantle of one of the leaders of the French avant-garde. He had responded to the artistic milieu of the capital by helping himself to the discoveries of his contemporaries, as well as to the history of art, in order to forge a personal style. His sources of inspiration in 1906-7 ranged from Cézanne and Matisse to Iberian sculptures and African art. The paintings and drawings in this final section convey the groundbreaking ways in which Picasso was able to create new forms and compositions, which would change the course of twentieth-century art.