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Picasso's Year of Wonders

Picasso's  La Rêve  ( The Dream ), 1932

Picasso's La Rêve (The Dream), 1932


Georgie Thomas

“The work one does is a way of keeping a diary.”

The year 1932 was an intensely creative period for Picasso: a time so pivotal in his life and work and twelve months now recognised as his ‘year of wonders’. This exhibition takes you on a chronological journey through the year and includes over one hundred of Picasso's paintings, sculptures and sketches. Here we begin to see the myths that surround the artist fall away, revealing a man of real complexity and fullness. More than a confession, this reveals his mind and curiosity; his unconscious at play.

Fame had already reached Picasso by 1932 and now, reaching fifty, he is confronted by a conflict; to move away from being defined by his past and step into the future. His personal life seems to be at a crossroad; whilst the reality of his wife and family remain, he appears trapped in a dream world through a passionate love affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter, who is ever-present throughout the exhibition. Two women. Two different places. Very different styles. These complex artistic and personal dynamics are brought to life within these walls of the Tate through beauty and trauma, sensuality and surrealism, intimacy, eroticism, distress and passion.

Picasso's  Woman in a Red Chair  (1932)

Picasso's Woman in a Red Chair (1932)


From the beginning, you’re drawn in by an overwhelming sense of love. Confronted by two paintings of the two main women in his life, ‘Woman with Dagger’ and ‘Woman in Red Armchair’, we gain just a small glimpse of the ongoing pulls of his mind. Artworks display bright colours and sensual nudes – enticing you to ride the many different waves of emotion. It is clear he is wrapped up in his feelings, and lost in a world of ideal alternative realities. Here, dreams and origins sit side by side; figures shift, perceptions shift. This is most evident in his three paintings; ‘Rest’, ‘Sleep’, and ‘The Dream'. Three paintings which expose his thoughts on women, how they can are irritating, inviting, annoying and exciting. Their sweeping curves begin to reveal real obsession and from there intoxication (something that becomes more evident as the year goes on). There is a nervousness present that comes with any infatuation.

Picasso's  La Crucifixion , 1932

Picasso's La Crucifixion, 1932


As we explore, we see the mix between human interest and art history – much of his art is observational. Themes often stay classical, such as seen in ‘Woman in an Armchair’; a conventional composition and subject matter. Yet, even here, we see an inventiveness played out in how he does things: on top of the formal and pictorial elements, there are emotions at play which allow his paintings to take on a life of their own. The boldness and the power of colour, shape and line start to give way to fear and pictures become disturbing within the sublime. As the year progresses, Picasso turns his attention to other forms of expression, stripping back colour and working with just line. We're presented with this process and invention at its most stripped back form; a nakedness almost. ‘Marie- Thérèse in a Pensive Mood’ shows another portrait of Walter, her peaceful figure is a line dragged through thick white paint, it’s tender but the deep grooves display that energetic, mixed emotion that never ebbs.

Picasso appears unapologetic about his work, refusing to be categorised. Midway through the exhibition, we get an idea of his summer retrospective, an ambitious project displaying more than 16,000 drawings and paintings. Curated by himself, he gives no distinctions to the work, telling viewers it is all relevant, all are himself, his past and his present. There was a play out of what was produced for the public and what is private, a split existence; home and studio, wife and lover, painting and sculpture, sensuality and darkness.

Matthias Grunewald’s ‘ Isenheim Altarpiece ’ (1512-6)

Matthias Grunewald’s ‘Isenheim Altarpiece’ (1512-6)


By the year's end, we see things begin to come apart. Harmony has fled, line is separated from colour and distress defeats delightful dreaming. The works proceed at their own pace and take unexpected turns: furious and unending in their energy. We get to nosey into a new obsession of his where he explores Matthias Grunewald’s ‘Isenheim Altarpiece’ (1512-6) through a series of 13 ink drawings of the crucifixion. These darker themes are clarified after we learn the ongoings of his personal life: difficulties with his wife and his lover who suffers an accident. When moving back to figures as the subject matter, they appear to lose traces of humanity and become hard, angular and contorted, a stark contrast from the beginning with their playful soft lines and colour.

Thanks to this exhibition we are able to get close to the artist, peering into his way of thinking and working. By viewing each room and each painting we are invited into his personal life –here stands a man exposed and baring all. Isn’t it funny how, at the present moment, it seems like nothing has changed – yet when we look back, we see just how far we’ve come?

Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy will be on at the Tate Modern from 8 March – 9 September 2018. Make sure you don't miss out.