New ways of looking at Rodin, Picasso and Monet

Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece, British Museum, London
The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy, The Tate Modern, London
Monet and Architecture, The National Gallery, London

London is showing three blockbuster shows with work by Rodin, Picasso and Monet. Each of the shows is impressive both for their scale and also for the new insights they bring to the work of the three artists.

The exhibition, Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece, is an overview of the work of the French sculptor but also provides a new context for his work.

Rodin is considered one of the most innovative sculptors of the late 19th century and is regarded as an artist who broke the mould of traditional sculpture and depiction. However, he was heavily inspired by classical sculpture and possessed a large number of classical works, which were displayed in his gardens and in his studio. He was aware of the work of the fifth-century BC sculptor Pheidias who conceived the Parthenon sculptures.

While Rodin never visited the Parthenon or Greece he was aware of the Greek sculptor's work and visited the British Museum on several occasions drawing many of museum antiquities, including the Elgin Marbles. 

The exhibition starts with Rodin’s famous work The Kiss (1882), which is set next to two female goddesses, originally on the East Pediment of the Parthenon, one of which reclines in the lap of her companion. The two figures have been moved from the hall where the Elgin Marbles are usually displayed. While there is no obvious borrowing of the same pose or structure of the earlier figures the viewer can make connections between these figures, and the variants which have been produced across two millennia to be condensed in The Kiss.

The British Museum version of The Kiss has been borrowed from the Musée Rodin. It is a plaster cast of the first marble example and it became the version Rodin displayed in exhibitions and from which others were copied. Both the Parthenon goddesses and Rodin’s marble Kiss are carved from a single block of stone with one figure melting into another.

Rodin first visited London and the British Museum in 1881 and was hugely impressed by the collection, particularly the sculptures of the Parthenon. He visited London frequently in his later life, and in 1902, he said “in my spare time I simply haunt the British Museum.” Rodin continued to visit the museum until shortly before his death in 1917.

On loan from the Musée Rodin are a number of Rodin’s sketches, including 13 of the Parthenon sculptures. Some of the sketches were made on headed notepaper from the Thackeray Hotel where Rodin stayed when he was in London, opposite the British Museum.

Rodin never sculpted copies of the Parthenon figures but instead sought inspiration from them. The inclusion of some of the Parthenon sculptures in the show allows the viewer to comprehend Rodin’s fascination with them. The viewer sees the influence on Rodin’s work by directly comparing the Parthenon sculptures and gains an understanding of the extent of the influence on the art of antiquity and appreciates the full breadth and depth of Rodin’s unique vision and extraordinary achievement as a sculptor.

A year with Pablo Picasso
The Tate Modern has just opened one of the largest exhibitions in the gallery’s history with The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy. Forty-five years after the artist's death this is the first solo Pablo Picasso show at the gallery and focuses on one year of the artist's life with a month-by-month journey through 1932. This was a particularly pivotal time in the artist's career as he had just turned 50 and many considered he had passed his peak of creativity.

More than 100 paintings, sculptures and works on paper demonstrate his prolific and restlessly inventive character, stripping away common myths to reveal the man and the artist in his full complexity and richness.

In the early 1930s his paintings achieved a new level of sensuality and his critical reception, sales and celebrity status as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century was being cemented. Over the course of 1932 he embarked on several new areas, creating some of his most significant works, including Nude Woman in a Red Armchair, several colour-saturated portraits and some Surrealist experimentation as well as 13 seminal ink drawings of the Crucifixion based on Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece.

In his personal life, throughout 1932 Picasso kept a delicate balance between his wife Olga Picasso (nee Khokhlova), mother of his 11-year-old son, Paulo, and his passionate relationship with Marie-Therese Walter.

He was also under pressure to produce work for his first retrospective, at the Galeries Georges Petit in Paris, which opened in the middle of the year and featured a painting made as late as April 11. Picasso hung the show out of chronological order, and the Tate has cleverly put together a partial reconstruction of that exhibition.

It’s not just that this exhibition brings these complex artistic and personal dynamics to life but we also get to see works rarely seen before. Some are from galleries such as the Muse National Picasso-Paris where the artist’s work can be normally seen but several are from private collections. Highlights include Girl before a Mirror, a signature painting that rarely leaves The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and The Dream, a colour-saturated rendering of Marie Therese, which has never been exhibited in the UK before.

1932 was a time of both reflection and rejuvenation. In collaboration with Christian Zervos Picasso embarked on the first volume of what remains the most ambitious catalogue of an artist’s work ever made, listing more than 16,000 paintings and drawings. Meanwhile, a group of Paris dealers beat international competition to stage the first retrospective of his work, a major show that featured new paintings alongside earlier works in a range of different styles. Realist portraits of Olga and Paulo Picasso from a decade earlier revealed the artist’s pride in and tender feelings for his family, while the first public showing of his most recent paintings inspired by Marie Therese made public what had previously been a well-kept secret affair. The paintings, particularly Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, Nude in a Black Armchair and The Mirror, were immediately recognised as among his best achievement of the inter-War period.

Picasso’s split existence between his homes and studios in Boisgeloup in Normandy and central Paris capture the contradictions of his life at this pivotal moment: divided between countryside retreat and urban bustle, established wife and recent lover, painting and sculpture, sensuality and darkness. The year ended traumatically when Marie Therese fell seriously ill after swimming in the river Marne, losing most of her iconic blonde hair. This resulted in the rape and rescue series of works in the show, which can also be seen as metaphors for the changes occurring in Europe with the Great Depression and the rise of fascism including in his native Spain.

Picasso famously described painting as “just another form of keeping a diary.” This exhibition invites the viewer to get close to the artist, to his ways of thinking and working, and to the tribulations of his personal life at a pivotal moment in his career. Visitors walk through 12 months of Picasso’s life and creative decision-making, to see many of his most ground-breaking and best-loved works in a surprising new light.

Buildings and light
Monet once said “Other painters paint a bridge, a house, a boat … I want to paint the air that surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat – the beauty of the light in which they exist.” He is known as a painter of light but he still needed the bridge, the house and the boat as a subject to infuse it with light. His paintings needed a structure and architecture provided the structure. This can be seen in the Monet and Architecture exhibition at the National Gallery in London

The exhibition features more than 75 paintings spanning his long career from its beginnings in the mid-1860s in simple landscapes through to his vibrant depictions of Venice in 1912. As a young artist, he exhibited in Impressionist shows and displayed canvases of the bridges and buildings of Paris and its suburbs. In later life he travelled to Venice and London, depicting them in a way that gave them a new existence. 

Buildings have a prominent and often unexpected role in the artist’s work. They serve as records of Monet's life in various locations in France from the Atlantic coast, central France and the South of France. Many of them are depictions of the small villages in which he lived – The Church at Varengeville, Morning Effect, 1882, the city life of Paris The Boulevard des Capuchins, Paris 1873 as well as the records of his visits to other cities such as Venice The Doge’s Palace, 1908, and London Waterloo Bridge 1899-1903.

Also included is a remarkable suite of paintings of the façade of Rouen Cathedral where the facade of the cathedral itself becomes an artwork capturing the changing effects of light, sun and atmosphere. It is as though Monet merely watched the changing light effects and then recorded the daily changes.

Architecture aided Monet with the way he went about his painting, so a red-tiled roof could offer a complementary contrast to the dominant green of the surrounding vegetation as in From the top of the Cliffs, Dieppe, 1882, or the bright red sail of a windmill in Windmills near Zaandam 1871.

In some cases, the building disappears as though consumed by an intense, coloured light as in Charing Cross, The Thames 1899 / 1903 and, in the case of The Houses of Parliament, Fog Effect 1904, the building is enveloped by the white light of the fog.

In some works, the emphasis of the exhibition on the architectural components of the works draws the viewers’ attention to the presence of human habitation as with the small building in The Cliff at Lagrangeville 1892, which nestles into the hillside.

The exhibition also highlights the artist's interest in recording his times, so we have his depiction of the engineering structures of The Gare St Lazare 1877 and The Road Bridge at Argenteuil 1873. There are also many works where he depicts the life of the city such as The rue Montorgueil Paris of 1878 recording the parade for the national holiday and there is his The Coal Heavers 1875 showing workers moving coal from barges to the shore.

This exhibition helps build an understanding of the artist, not just as a supreme colourist but also as an observer and recorder of his own life and the environments he inhabited.

This is supplied content and not commissioned or paid for by NBR.