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Picasso Extravaganza Airs Met Museum Cache of Rarities, Wonders

Artist Pablo Picasso in 1933.
Artist Pablo Picasso in 1933. "Picasso in the Metropolitan Museum of Art" is on view at the museum through Aug. 1. Photographer: Man Ray/Metropolitan Museum of Art via Bloomberg

April 27 (Bloomberg) -- Posing in shorts, a three-piece suit and work clothes, Pablo Picasso stands in his studio staring down at the camera as if from Olympus, a stocky god challenging anyone to question his prowess.

The photographs were taken in 1915 when he was just 27. He would die in 1973, intensely active until the end.

“Picasso in the Metropolitan Museum of Art” documents the career he himself found formidable with works drawn entirely from the collection of the New York museum.

By 1915, Picasso had left his native Spain for Paris, worked through his melancholy Blue and lucky-in-love Rose periods, come up with Cubism and was entering his neoclassical phase before moving on to Surrealism.

Examples from each period make up more than half the exhibition which has only 34 paintings -- but they include some of Picasso’s best-known pictures of harlequins, bulls, bathers, wives and mistresses.

A showstopper is his chunky 1905-06 portrait of Gertrude Stein, who would give it to the Met in 1946 and start the museum’s belated foray into modernism.

Yet what sets the show apart are the 58 drawings and 200 prints -- some only now plucked from the museum’s storage. They confirm his genius as a draftsman.

Dashing Dandy

Look, for instance, at a suite of 11 postcard-size caricatures in ink and watercolor of Parisian friends who patronized a Montmartre artists’ cabaret. Most striking is his own idealized portrait, in which he appears as a dashing dandy with long flowing hair and fancy dress.

Nearby is a crudely painted canvas, “Erotic Scene” (1902 or 1903) that the Met had been keeping under wraps -- not because of its prurient content, but because Picasso had disowned it. Now experts say he did it when he was desperate for money. It looks like a junk-shop find.

Picasso seemed to change his style whenever a new woman entered or exited from his life. His liaison with Fernande Olivier induced his Rose Period and a picture like “The Actor” -- a slender column of a circus performer in red tights gesturing with his exceedingly long hands. (This is its first reappearance since January, when a visitor accidentally tore it.)

The breakup of his marriage to Olga Khokhlova generated a chilling, bone-colored surrealist nude, while the sensual Marie-Therese Walter brought about “The Dreamer,” a pink and lavender abstraction.

‘347 Suite’

Among the standout drawings is a 1908 watercolor study of a slit-eyed, chisel-nosed female head with brilliant green and blue shadows.

By the time he was 87, however, the medium had become a primary focus, and the show ends with the “347 Suite,” a knockout series of small, exquisite images that Picasso made in 1968. It reads as a storybook of mythical characters that also amounts to a career summation of Picasso’s most playful figures.

“Picasso in the Metropolitan Museum of Art” continues through Aug. 1 at the Met, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street. The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation is the show’s sponsor. Information: +1-212-535-7710.

(Linda Yablonsky is an art critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer of this review: Linda Yablonsky in New York at fabyab@earthlink.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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