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Mistress and muse

For Picasso 1932 was a pivotal year, as John Evans reports

17 April, 2018 — By John Evans

Girl before a Mirror 14 March, oil paint on canvas, 162.3 x 130.2cm, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mrs Simon Guggenheim 1937. IMAGES © SUCCESSION PICASSO/DACS LONDON, 2018

PABLO Picasso’s 1932, now known as his “year of wonders”, is encapsulated by a wonderfully scruffy and free image of his lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, 28 years his junior.

Quickly scored, almost sculpted, from a generous layer of oil on wood, the portrait of the young woman’s distinctive profile is from November 15 that year. She is in “pensive mood” and there is an absence of colour. It’s not well known, it’s in a rough and uneven wooden frame, with even a hinge attached, it’s from a private collection, and it’s on show in Tate Modern’s The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy.

The exhibition focus is on what is seen as a pivotal year for Picasso (1881-1973), one of reinvention and change as he approached his first retrospective and countered his critics, but also one in which his art reflects the turmoil and ambiguities in his personal affairs and, in the later months, a darkening mood in Europe.

When the Museum of Modern Art, New York, decided to acquire a go-to image of modern art, they lighted upon Girl Before a Mirror as a collection centrepiece.

Marie-Thérèse in a Pensive Mood, 15 November, oil paint on wood 63.8 x 47.2cm, private collection

It features in a spectacular room with six major paintings the artist finished earlier in the year, within 12 days, the so-called “March nudes,” reunited for the first time since then, and each depicting Marie-Thérèse. Her strong profile and blonde hair are readily identifiable.

Picasso had met his young mistress and muse in 1927, when she was just 17, and for some years the relationship would remain more or less secret, until, finally, Marie-Thérèse became pregnant with his child.

Four of the March nudes are loaned from private collections and this is a unique opportunity to view them together.

Among other highlights of the exhibition, with more than 100 paintings, drawings and sculptures, is the first UK showing of his series of ink drawings of the Crucifixion from the autumn, following a trip to Zurich for an opening of his retrospective, which had moved there after Paris.

And there are three works from the first month of the year, Rest, Sleep and The Dream, all painted within just three days and offering more clues as to the complexity ­of his relationships with Marie-Thérèse and his wife, the former ballerina, Olga (née Khokhlova).

This was a remarkably prolific time even for Picasso, working both out of Paris and at a newly acquired Château de Boisgeloup, in Normandy. It was also at this country retreat that he experimented with sculptures.

A final section sees Picasso turn to darker matters with etchings and oils, from The Rescue of the Drowned Woman and The Rape to Sleeping Nude with Blonde Hair, seen in part as a possible reaction to Marie-Thérèse’s contracting a serious viral infection while swimming in the Marne river.

At Tate Modern, Eyal Ofer Galleries until September 9, www.tate.org.uk

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