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Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Picasso looks at Degas

Degas Grand Arabesque, Second Time

Picasso, Running Woman

Long ago when I planned my trip to Barcelona it was the Museu Picasso's exhibition of Degas' influence on Picasso which solaced my solitary booking. The exhibition moved through the developments of Picasso suggesting connections through juxtaposition and reflection in Degas. Sometimes the echoes were subtle, at others they became potent homage as with Picasso's own sculptural arabesques. The images above show the skill of curatorial suggestion; Picasso applies the lyrical figures of Degas' dancers to his own sculptural work where material is heavier. Tactility rather than visual form is important within the creative process and yet a lyricism of form still exists, persists. Where humour was evident and Picasso's playful manipulation became tangible, this is when the exhibition was at its strongest for me.

In the 1870's Degas produced a number of monotypes; intimate studies of courtesans in their private rooms. The monotypes present Degas as voyeur, a private and unknown interest of the artist which fascinated Picasso. Between 1958 and 1960 Picasso acquired nine of the brothel monotypes for his private collection. He was curious about Degas's motivations for his secret prints and in March 1971 he began a series of 39 ecthings in which Degas appears as a client visiting a brothel.

Picasso's prostitute etchings are chaotic, gaudily decorated with whorls for nipples, patterned clothes and jewellery which reflect the patterning of their intimacy. There is an openness about these women who wear their nudity as a theatrical garment, and this contrasts with the marginal figure of Degas. He stands stiffly at the door looking in, at times approaching the women but their jouissant corpulence is always a threat. Picasso saw Degas as an alter-ego in his art, so there is a curious blurring of distinctions in these prints, is Picasso laughing at the reserved figure of Degas-verging-on-voyeur or is he questioning his own position within this brothel narrative?


  1. Very insightful and well-written article about Degas' influence on Picasso, and your experience in the exhibit(so jealous I couldn't see it!) I love the comparison of the two sculptures. As stunning and purely graceful as Degas' dancer is, you can't help but love Picasso's clumsy, lumpy version and cheer for her ability to execute that movement!

  2. Very nice how you compare the two ..... really enjoy your blog :) greetings from Melbourne ...

  3. Merci pour ce formidable raccourci visuel, ce condensé de sens qui réunit avec talent et signifie brillamment une part de la fibre intime des artistes, retranscrit les liens et les particularités des "moteurs" qui les animent.
    Selon certaines sources Picasso aimait se réunir avec Alberto Giacometti pour feuilleter des livres de photographies érotiques, car tous deux étaient fascinés par les "bordels". Lors de la dernière grande rétrospective Giacometti au centre Pompidou à Paris, on pouvait lire sur un calepin annoté de chiffres, cette formule qui en dit long sur la source d'inspiration de l'artiste : "Caisse poule"...

  4. I loved reading this, you have a great writing style! My favourite line in this post is '...women who wear their nudity as a theatrical garment', a very appropriate and stunning comment!

    In response to your comment, I am currently designing for a small theatre! My main focus is on prop/set design for 1-A Beatrix Potter adaptation, and 2-Oscar Wilde's 'The Selfish Giant'.
    Having fun being immersed in children's stories. They generate very imaginative ideas.

    Love your blog btw x

  5. I enjoyed your description of the exhibition's comparisons between these 2 artists. I love the way you write about art, and always learn something new with your thought provoking comments. I am just back now from London, I made it to the V&A but didn't have time to see what I had set out to revisit, and the Shadow Catchers :-( there is never enough time! We missed each other by 2 days!