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Becoming Picasso @ the Courtauld Gallery

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by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
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Paris 1901: The Year that Pablo Picasso Became Picasso
The current Picasso exhibition at London's Courtauld Gallery is confined to two rooms and some of the artist's output from 1901. It examines how Pablo Picasso 'the brilliant newcomer' mounted his first exhibition during the Parisian summer of that year, and demonstrates how the young man gradually found his way and developed his own style. He must have worked at a frantic pace, producing 60 paintings for the exposition and often completing three canvasses in one day.

Becoming Picasso illustrates how the young Spaniard, who was only 20 at the time, reinvented the works of other modern artists. Among the artworks on display are Dwarf Dancer, recalling Degas and Velasquez, At the Moulin Rouge, which appears to be in dialogue with Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet and Degas, and French Can Can, another piece echoing Toulouse-Lautrec. His painting of a Spanish Woman is his response to both Velasquez and Goya. These early works are all characterised by bright colours and heavy brush strokes.

During this debut year he also produced his first signed self-portrait, Yo Picasso, in which he stares out at the viewer with dark, probing eyes, heralding his arrival on the art stage. That summer also saw him continue to explore other themes: childhood, maternity, nightlife and those on the margins of society. Examples of these paintings are Absinthe Drinker and Harlequin and Companion, where he used the heavy contouring lines in the style of Van Gogh and Gaugin.

Becoming Picasso
Becoming Picasso: Harlequin and Companion - Image Courtesy of

Becoming Picasso
Becoming Picasso: Absinthe Drinker - Image Courtesy of

The most recognisable of his styles to emerge during 1901 is his Blue Period, one in which his work became more introspective. This was inspired by the suicide of his friend Casagemas and resulted in Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas) and includes The Blue Room (The Tub), a picture that references Degas, and reproduces a poster (on the back wall) of Toulouse-Lautrec's May Milton.

Becoming Picasso
Becoming Picasso: Evocation (The Death of Casagemas) - Image Courtesy of

Unfortunately the young artist returned to Spain penniless the following year. The rest, as they say, is history. Unfortunately too, most of the paintings are copyrighted and can't be reproduced here, so you will just have to visit the exhibition yourself and see how Picasso became Picasso.
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Why? To see some of Picasso's early paintings
When: Daily between 10am and 6pm
Phone: 020 7248 2526
Where: The Courtauld Gallery
Cost: 6, concessions available
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