Picasso’s Love for Language Is Explored in Yale Art Gallery Exhibition

An exhibition examining Pablo Picasso’s lifelong relationship with writers and the many ways in which language affected his work opened on Jan. 27 at the Yale University Art Gallery.

“Picasso and the Allure of Language” comprises some 70 works in all media by Picasso, as well as select examples by fellow artist Georges Braque, and photographs, letters, manuscripts and book projects by a diverse group of artists and writers. Together, these works illuminate Picasso’s interest in writing and language. The exhibition will be on view through May 24.


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Picasso and the Allure of Language
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All images © 2008 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


“Picasso dubbed his studio a ‘laboratory,’ and today we can still learn from the intense discussion, friendship and collaboration that went on both inside and outside that studio,” says Jock Reynolds, the Henry J. Heinz II Director of the Yale University Art Gallery. “Those intellectual exchanges - among artists, writers and thinkers of many disciplines, during the Cubist years and after - changed Picasso and, ultimately, the course of modern art.”

Drawn from the gallery’s collections and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, as well as the Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection in Dallas, Texas, the works on view span the years from 1900, when Picasso was 19 years old, to 1969, just four years before his death at the age of 91.

The exhibition marks the first time that works by Picasso originally owned by Gertrude and Leo Stein and now in the gallery’s collection are reunited with materials from the Beinecke Library’s Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers. Among the objects drawn from this archive are a 1914 collage made by Picasso from Stein and Toklas’ calling card, as well as letters and postcards written from Picasso to the Steins, who together assembled a private art collection that included works by Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and others. The Beinecke materials also include Stein’s original transcripts of her written “portraits” of Picasso, as well as audio recordings of Stein reading those writings.

Picasso’s love for words began soon after his permanent move from his native Spain to the bohemian Montmartre section of Paris in 1904. It was there, in his studio at “Bateau-Lavoir,” that he formed close friendships with a circle of noted French writers and poets, including Max Jacob, Pierre Reverdy and poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire, who encouraged artists of his generation to “innovate violently!”

In 1905, Picasso met Stein, an expatriate American writer who became the artist’s principal patron in Paris until 1914. During this decade, which witnessed the invention of Cubism, Picasso’s art and Stein’s writing were equally informed by a concentration on both visual and verbal language, an interest that endured throughout their lives.

“While Picasso is perhaps best known to the public as the inventor of Cubism, or as the central actor in a flamboyant life, the exhibition focuses on the less-known impact of language on his practice as an artist,” says Susan Greenberg Fisher, the Horace W. Goldsmith Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Yale Art Gallery and organizer of the exhibition. “His keen interest in rethinking painting and drawing as a form of writing structured his most innovative works, from the radical Cubist collages made in the years before World War I to his later print series of the 1950s and 1960s.”

Picasso turned his own hand to writing in 1935 and over the course of 24 years wrote hundreds of poems and two full-length plays. From the late 1920s to about 1950, he also produced work for numerous illustrated book projects, challenging traditional notions of the relationship between text and image. These ranged from charged interpretations of classical and romantic texts by Ovid and Honoré de Balzac in the late 1920s to the writings of such contemporaries as Reverdy, Tristan Tzara and Aimé Césaire.

The exhibition is divided into four sections. The opening section, “Conversations,” focuses on Picasso’s early associations and collaborations, from the early 1900s through the Cubist project. The second section, “Fictions,” looks at Picasso’s affection for imagined characters and scenarios, beginning with his early, celebrity-like depictions of figures such as Harlequin and Salomé. The third section, “Revisions,” examines the artist’s ease with revision and, in particular, the writing-over of previously existing works in his poems and drawings of the 1940s. The final section, “Illuminations,” corresponds roughly to the years immediately after World War II until about 1950. During this period, Picasso embarked on a series of collaborations with writers and poets while also experimenting with a multitude of printed and applied media.

A fully illustrated catalogue also accompanies the exhibition.

“Picasso and the Allure of Language” is made possible by an endowment created with a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional endowment support provided by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; Ketcham Family Memorial Fund; George and Schatzie Lee Fund; Carol and Sol LeWitt Fund; Leah G. and Allan C. Rabinowitz, Yale College Class of 1954 Fund; and Edward Byron Smith Jr. Family Fund; and with support provided by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Following its Yale run, the exhibition will travel to the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke.

The Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel St., is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (until 8 p.m. on Thursday), and Sunday, 1-6 p.m. It is closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission is free. For additional information, visit http://artgallery.yale.edu or call (203) 432-0600.

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