Even in His 'Early Years,' Picasso Experimented Relentlessly with Style

Article excerpt

An ambitious exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington reviews the artist's early years, from ages 11 through 25, which covers his famous Blue and Rose periods. The show emphasizes Picasso's contribution to portraiture, a genre he helped to transform in little more than a decade.

One could argue that we've had enough Picasso shows, most notably curator William Rubin's definitive "Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective" at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1980 and his "Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation" at the same venue last summer.

Yet the sensitive and beautifully assembled "Picasso: The Early Years 1892-1906" at the National Gallery of Art will play a special role in the history of Picasso exhibitions: It is the first in the United States, and the most comprehensive anywhere, to survey the roots of Picasso's restless search for artistic styles.

It was almost 100 years ago, in February 1900, that this much-celebrated artist mounted his first show in a Barcelona tavern. Pablo Ruiz y Picasso, born in 1881, had been encouraged by his artist father and had trained in academies in Madrid and Barcelona since he was 11.

In the Barcelona exhibit, the 19-year-old Picasso displayed his exceptional gift for drawing. He had joined an avant-garde group that espoused social causes, including the plight of the urban poor. The disenfranchised -- syphilitic prostitutes, vagabonds, circus performers and fellow artist -- would be the subjects for his Blue and Rose periods, the high points of the National Gallery exhibit.

Cocurator Jeffrey Weiss emphasizes that Picasso's work in these 14 years, from ages 11 through 25, constitutes an independent body of work, with "a beginning, a middle and an end." Many of the 152 paintings, drawings, pastels, prints, ceramics and sculptures have been seen before, notably in the 1980 Museum of Modern Art exhibit. …