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The day Picasso said hello, Dalí

Two Spanish giants meet in Barcelona

Olivia Weinberg | March/April 2015

Picasso and Dalí are two of the very biggest figures in 20th-century art—and beyond it, as their impact stretches to logos, clothes and even cars. Both were big brazen characters with an unorthodox stance on life and lust. Both were exceptional draftsmen, and good writers, so why do they still divide the crowd? The Picasso Museum’s latest exhibition gives no clear-cut answers. Instead the curators place equal weight on these Spanish giants; it is less about one trumping the other, more about their relationship and the cultural currents that fizzed through them. The slash in the title ought to be an ampersand.

The two men first met in 1926 when Dalí visited Picasso’s studio in Paris. It was the beginning of a complicated friendship, seasoned with rivalry and some fierce political views. Undeterred by the fact that Picasso was the elder of the two by 22 years, the show is organised chronologically, which helps chart their progress both as artists and as public figures. For the most part, the work is hung in neat pairs encouraging direct comparison. Picasso’s “Portrait of Olga”, 1917, is coupled with Dalí’s “Portrait of my Sister”, 1923 (detail, above). Both are strong female figures with a fixed, outward gaze, and they share the same hollow eyes, deprived of emotion. The colour palette is almost identical—dirty greys and muted, melancholy browns. Even the hands are similar: clunky, with proportions that are not quite right.

But the similarities are only half the story. “We have focused on the moments when their work is most related,” says Dr William Jeffett, the co-curator, “but there are clear divergences which are just as interesting.” Their responses to Velázquez’s “Las Meninas”, 1656, are good examples. Picasso began a series in 1957, chaotic and colourful. His “Infanta Margarita Maria” is packed with cubist iconography, tricky to decode but rooted in reality. In Dalí’s version, from 1958, the young girl is a distorted, ghostly figure. She lurks in the background, half present, half extraterrestrial. No need to weigh one against the other: just step back and enjoy the brilliance. ~ Olivia Weinberg

Picasso/Dali. Dali/Picasso Picasso Museum, Barcelona, Mar 20th to Jun 28th


EXHIBITIONS AT A GLANCE

Velázquez (Grand Palais, Paris, Mar 25th to Jul 13th). Manet called Velázquez (1599-1660) the “painters’ painter”, a point borne out by Picasso and DalÍ. But his portfolio is slim, so it’s worth crossing oceans to see a full retrospective that includes “Vulcan’s Forge” and “Portrait of Pope Innocent X” as well as some discoveries from the past five years. Even Francis Bacon makes an appearance.

Pierre Bonnard: Painting Arcadia (Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Mar 17th to Jul 19th). Bonnard painted snapshots of everyday life—his wife and muse feeding the cat, stepping into the bath or drinking tea. His powdery colours, soft light and bold use of pattern find enchantment in the mundane. It’s about time he had a show to himself.

J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free (Getty, Los Angeles, Feb 24th to May 24th). California’s chance to bask in the show that Tate Britain called “Late Turner”: 60 paintings and watercolours from after his 60th birthday.

Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World (Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Mar 14th to Jun 21st; Getty, LA, Jul 28th to Nov 1st; then National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC). Bronzes can be hard to get excited about, but not these: 50 masterpieces from c.330-30BC, plus the two “Apollo Kouroi” side by side.

Inventing Impressionism (National Gallery, London, Mar 4th to May 31st). Paul Durand-Ruel should be more famous. A Parisian dealer with a sharp eye and a savvy soul, he discovered a gaggle of young artists in the early 1870s—Monet, Manet, Renoir, Pissarro—and arguably created today’s art market.

Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions (National Portrait Gallery, London, Mar 12th to Jun 7th). For this year’s bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo, a chance to see how its victor aged through 59 stately portraits—becoming, it is reckoned, the most painted Briton of all.

Nordic Cool: Modernist Design (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Feb 28th to Dec 31st). An eclectic mix of slick Scandinavian knick-knacks.

Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint (Wallace Collection, London, Mar 12th to Jun 7th). When George III launched the Royal Academy in 1768, he made Reynolds president. His portraits mix the grandeur of the great Italian masters with the stiff decorum associated with the English aristocracy. The racy “Mrs Abington as Miss Prue,” 1771, is a highlight. ~ OW

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