Picasso Portraits: A Disjointed Display of Art and Affairs

My first trip to the National Portrait Gallery was brimming with Picasso’s artwork from all periods of his career: post-impressionism, surrealism, blue period, cubism and more.

In this collection, Picasso’s formal training, influencers, lovers (he was kind of a player), friends, and family are all squeezed through one lens: portraiture and caricature.

The Experience

The show definitely lives up to its name, “Picasso Portraits”, because it features more than 80 of his works. But for me, the layout of the exhibit is at best like one of the artist’s own cubist paintings: disjointed fragments of style, memory and affairs. Yes, you pick up on Picasso’s brilliance, but you also get the feeling he was a bit mad because that’s the vibe of the display rooms—a little all over the place.

Needless to say, there are treasures scattered throughout the gallery. In the last room, for example, there’s a group of three paintings that beautifully summarize the collection:

  • Woman with joined hands (Marie-Thérèse Walter)
  • Nusch Éluard
  • Dora Maar Seated

Since you aren’t allowed to take photos, you will have to visit the exhibit for an up-close look, however this will give you a preview of what to expect:

  1. All three are in the cubist style—what most people think of when they think Picasso.
  2. Their lines and curves not only use different mediums (charcoal vs. ink), but their individual shapes and figures are completely separate: some curvy, some pointy, some in between.
  3. You can feel Picasso’s energy and perception of his subjects come through in contrasting ways. Woman with joined hands (Marie-Thérèse Walter) is calm, reflective and inviting and Dora Maar Seated is passionate, flashy and hard to contain.

Takeaways

If you prepare yourself for the long haul and don’t read into every sub-theme that Picasso played with and effectively conquered, then you will enjoy this step back in time.

The exhibit leaves no stone left unturned—paintings, photography, video, love, war and family—so if you like a little bit of everything, Picasso Portraits is made for you.

P.S. If you’re a student, check out these upcoming dates:

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