Thursday, August 12, 2010

Make Time for "Picasso Looks at Degas"

“Picasso Looks at Degas” is a visual picnic for a summer’s day!

This delightful exhibition at The Clark in Williamstown, MA displays many small works that are gems, such as Picasso’s powerful self-portrait as a young man in charcoal and the exquisite chalk portrait of his father. Degas is represented by dark and dreamy monotypes and charcoal sketches of bathers formed of elegant line and form. Large paintings by both artists of women at work ironing, washing their hair, or plying their trade on stage and in brothels are placed in close proximity.

Through the catalogue and signage we learn that most were Picasso’s interpretation of earlier works by Degas. It is humorous at times and awe-inspiring at others as we witness the risks and innovation both artists pursued to capture their subject. Large scale preliminary drawings by Degas in slashing gestured lines and animated ink washes held me transfixed for some time. They look vital, alive and totally contemporary where Picasso’s now “classic modern-isms” seem dated to the viewer today.

As introduction to the theme of this exhibition the curator states:
“Pablo Picasso is said to have remarked that "good artists copy; great artists steal." Throughout his long and prolific career, Picasso often made works of art in response to his predecessors, "quoting" famous compositions by Rembrandt, Delacroix, Manet, and others in his own paintings. In his youth, contemporaries also noted the influence of Edgar Degas in Picasso's paintings of cabarets and caf├ęs, portraits, women bathing, and ballet dancers—subjects that had come to define the older French artist's work.”

“When he moved to Paris in 1904, Picasso lived in the same neighborhood as Degas, though they apparently never met. Despite striking differences in character, they shared many preoccupations. Both were artistic revolutionaries, yet much of their work was based on the human figure and informed by their knowledge of the past. They were both superb draftsmen who also experimented radically with sculpture, printmaking, and photography. Picasso's interest in Degas even inspired a series of etchings, made late in his career, in which Picasso depicted Degas himself, a final act of homage to the older man.”

If you find yourself in the Berkshires this summer put “Picasso Looks at Degas” on your must-do list. If you are too far away between now and September 12th, visit it online at for a taste.