PICASSO ON PAPER at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam

When I was eleven or twelve, when modern art was mentioned the only name that came to the mind of most people was Picasso. ‘Even a child could paint that,’ was a frequent comment, missing the point that Picasso, aged fourteen could draw and paint like Raphael. He spent a lifetime trying to return to the unbridled innocence of five-year-olds. I felt that Picasso was an artist who drew; even the way he applied the paint was an act of drawing. I was obsessed with drawing since the age of two so Picasso intrigued me, with portraits in which noses were not necessarily in the middle of his models faces, the over-sized, staring eyes could be almost anywhere in the face. In a game with my friend I did a kind of squint and discovered that my two eyes could see a person, but the images  overlapped and had a lightly different perspective – I saw faces as Picasso painted them. My ‘doing a Picasso’ became a school yard game. My art teacher warned that my eyes would end up crossed forever.

I have two massive volumes of Picasso’s work on my bookshelf but in this wonderful exhibition there are works on paper, coloured linocuts from the 1960s and dry points, etchings and mezzo-tints from the early nineteen hundreds which I have never seen. Some of the later ones include the inevitable references to minotaurs, an image Picasso often used, suggesting that he saw himself as this powerful, unrestrained beast, ravaging the female figure. And again in these, anatomy does not follow the conventional path. In a series of earlier etchings entitled The Embrace, women lie on her backs but their breast appear on their backs or on their shoulders. Also included is an impossibly romantic etching from 1933, entitled Sleeping Minotaur, contemplated by a woman which seems to foreshadow his later nostalgia for passionate sex.

Another shattering discovery, for me in any case, were two etchings entitled Dream and the Lies of Franco, made in 1937. I often prefer the preparatory sketches to the finished work of an artist. Here are nine images per sheet, drawn almost like a strip cartoon or storyboard. These were intended as postcards but Picasso reworked them in his masterpiece Guernica, his protest at the brutality of the Spanish Civil war and General Franco in particular. These etchings contain elements strongly resembling the deeply moving, world-famous work – the woman screaming to heaven, clutching her new-borns, the agonising horse and the body of a dead woman lying by a scorched olive tree. Though not a large work, placed fairly towards the end of the exhibition, this alone should be worth the visit.

These pictures are from the collection of the Boijman’s van Beuningen Museum which is soon to close for a seven year renovation. The museum is currently distributing many of its works of art to other venues so they can still be seen. I am thrilled to have seen this show and Boijman’s must be commended, not only for bringing these works to the public now, but also for acquiring such treasure of 20th century art over the decades. Highly recommended!     Astrid Burchardt     19th March 2019


The exhibition continues until 12th May