While the Meadows Museum usually features an important 1915 painting by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) in its permanent collection, currently there are two paintings and thirteen drawings spanning the artist’s career from 1902-1971 on view on the special exhibition, The Abelló Collection: A Modern Taste for Spanish Masters.
A standout in the show is Picasso’s Seated Nude, made over the winter of 1922-23. It may not be what people expect to see when they hear the name Picasso, as he is most closely associated with Cubism, a style of painting he developed with the French painter Georges Braque between 1907 and 1914. Seated Nude is part of Picasso’s return to classicism following World War I. Picasso did not abandon Cubism in the 1920s, but he, like many other artists, turned away from abstraction following the horrors of the war in a period known as the “Return to Order” (from Jean Cocteau’s 1926 book Le rappel à l’ordre). In 1917, Picasso traveled with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, creating sets and costumes for the company. His so-called Neoclassical period followed this direct contact with ancient sites in Rome and Naples.
The painting’s monochrome palette does not lend itself to reproduction, and must be seen in person to fully appreciate it. What’s so masterful about the painting is its experimental quality. It’s as if Picasso wanted to see how much he could communicate with very little work on the canvas. The painting is comprised of a light charcoal drawing on gessoed canvas. The highlights were applied by daubing titanium white with a blunt round brush creating a stucco-like texture. Viewed from a short distance, the painting appears as a sculptural form recalling the monumental figures of Greco-Roman art. It’s unclear if the woman is modeled after a specific person. The artist may have fused the features of multiple muses to create an ideal beauty, patterning his work after the perfected depictions of the human form in classical antiquity.