Picasso Portrait Series Shows How Cubism Evolved

Article excerpt

To see this series of Cubist portraits by Pablo Picasso is to witness the re-creation of the birth of one of modern art's most significant movements.

This compact, in-depth exhibition of portraits of Fernande Olivier - assembled for the first time in a show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. - is an exploration of process. It reveals how conventional notions of beauty and aesthetics fell away as Picasso ventured more deeply into a new way of seeing and rendering the human figure that was later given the somewhat misleading label "Cubism."

Most of the 52 works of art in the exhibit - which culminates in an important bronze Cubist bust of Olivier, Picasso's first great love - were last together in his studio at Horta de Ebro, Spain.

Picasso created the artworks over a 10-month period in 1909. The sweep of the series provides insight as to how he began to see form, take figures apart into their geometric constituents, and render multiple perspectives simultaneously.

"When we invented Cubism," Picasso said of the intuitive evolution the technique, "we had no intention whatever of inventing Cubism. …