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“Picasso in Italy: Art and Love”

By Stephen Eaker

Pablo Picasso has often been accused of indifference when it came to Italian painting, especially toward Raphael and Michelangelo, two artists, we now know, he both appreciated and disavowed. On the 14th of May, 1935, while in conversation with his dealer, Picasso said that “he would swap all Italian paintings for a Vermeer.” This statement greatly contradicts his artistic interests and annotations of 30 years earlier.

“Picasso in Italy: Art and Love”
Wed, Nov 27, 4:30 & 6:30pm
La Ostra Roja
A Casa Verde Annex
San Jorge 45
Col. San Antonio
120 pesos
Reservations: 121-1026 or

In 1905, while working on preparatory drawings for his melancholic Rose Period masterpiece, “The Family of Saltimbanques,” Picasso spent a great deal of time in the Louvre and busied himself studying great Italian painting. In a little sketchbook from the period, he noted that he wished to keep in mind the colors of Fra Angelico. Picasso not only remembered the Italian’s colors but, as I shall reveal, also one of the quattrocento Renaissance master’s compositions, which obviously inspired “The Family of Saltimbanques.”

In November of 1949, after a trip to Rome where he attended a peace conference, Picasso stated that he had finally seen Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, that he liked it, but thought it looked like a giant sketch by the French artist Daumier. As the Spaniard was standing before frescoes by Rafael, whom he found too academic, he said to a friend, “Good, very good, but it can be done.”

What prompted Picasso’s on-and-off-again attitude toward Italian art? Did Picasso honestly not care for it? Was Picasso’s massive ego so involved that he simply wanted to distract attention from the important influence of Italian art on his own work? Just by looking at his numerous harlequins, one cannot help but associate them with the most popularly known of the zanni or comic servant characters from the Italian Commedia del’arte.

In February of 1917, Picasso had made his first journey to Italy in order to design the stage curtains and costumes for the ballet Parade to be performed by the Russian Ballet. Traveling to Rome with Jean Cocteau, Picasso was honestly dazzled by Italy. The trips to the many museums excited him, especially a visit to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, forever frozen in time by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. The frescoes and other painterly decorations of Pompeii greatly inspired Picasso who would further explore and rework these discoveries back in his studio in Paris. These new classical portrayals of reality are often called Picasso’s Neoclassical Period or Picasso’s Second Rose Period (1917-1924).

Picasso was also interested in overcoming his broken heart. In 1916, having been rejected by two other women in Paris, he was now eager to marry and have a son. The journey to Italy in 1917 then played a decisive role in his private life too. While in Rome, Picasso’s eye fell upon a beautiful and prudish ballerina by the name of Olga Khohlova. The Russian beauty became Madame Picasso in 1918.

The return to a realistic and classical portrayal along with his cubist paintings will result in a new art form: a fusion of cubist fantasy with realistic renderings. This artistic synergy will lead Picasso to a new and even more exciting art form as he continues to evolve and mature, long after the Russian ballerina wife had made her final curtsy and departure from his life and work.


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