Tate Modern’s first Picasso exhibition shows his work from a single year, 1932.
Pablo Picasso was already a star. Feted as a celebrity and living the high life of the Paris jet set, he had produced a formidable body of work.
In February 1932 one of his pictures sold at auction for a record price.
Yet Picasso showed no sign of resting on his laurels. From the beginning of the year he began turning out pictures in a new style which stunned critics and admirers alike.
Though he was generally acknowledged as a great artist with phenomenal creativity, some critics were already suggesting that Picasso was no longer at the cutting edge.
Picasso was competitive with other artists and keen to show that he engaged with the latest in contemporary art.
Many pieces at the exhibition show how Picasso interacted with the emerging surrealist movement.
The colours are often vivid and punchy, though with a surprisingly wide range of palettes, and the forms are distorted, wild and bold.
For his themes, Picasso often used the established subject matter of classical art—still life, portraits, the nude, mythology with both religious and secular origins.
He brought these bang up to date, deconstructing and reconfiguring figures to produce paintings “with a thin line between beauty and monstrosity”, as the Tate describes them.
Some of the paintings are almost sculptural, like the striking Woman in a Red Armchair (pictured).
The exhibition in fact includes sculptures and busts as well as sketches. And there is a beautiful set of black and white ink drawings for an adaptation of a painting on the crucifixion.
Some of the contemporary photographs of Picasso’s circle and working environment are works of art in themselves.
In June 1932 Picasso had a retrospective exhibition in Paris. This was quite rare.
He showed a wide range of works, mixed up chronologically and without detail, as well as his latest repertoire.
Picasso didn’t go to the opening. He went to the cinema instead, then promptly left town and plunged into a hugely productive summer and autumn.
Art reflects the society it’s made in and the lives of those who make it.
You can see in this exhibition both turmoil in Picasso’s own life and the context of the Great Depression, rising fascism and the threat of war.
In mood, these paintings vary “from sensuous exuberance to ominous anxiety”.
And they show some of the seeds that five years later gave us Guernica, art’s best known statement about the horrors of war.
At over £20, the price of admission is sadly prohibitive. But find someone with a Tate card and impersonate them.
If you like 20th Century art, this is definitely a must see.
Until 9 September 2018, Tate Modern Bankside, London, SE11