Picasso: Oeuvres reçues en paiement des droits de succession 1979 to January 7, 1980
“Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective” 1980
Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective
Picasso: The Cubist Years 1907-1916 A Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings and Related Works
Some twenty-five years ago, Picasso had the contents of his Paris studio shipped to the villa he had recently bought at Cannes. Among the treasures, household goods, and accumulated rubbish—the artist was a compulsive hoarder—were seventy portfolios. The day Picasso decided to go through these, I happened to be present. Few had been opened since 1939, some not since 1914. Although Picasso was vague about what was in the portfolios, there was reason to believe that they contained most of the works on paper that he had kept for himself, because they were too precious, personal, exploratory, or else too scabrous to exhibit, let alone put on the market. And here we should bear in mind that, as he grew older, Picasso retained much of his best work, drawings especially. So it was with the trepidation felt by Howard Carter when the first pick-axe probed Tutankhamen’s burial chamber that we watched Picasso fiddle tantalizingly with the knots.
Picture our dismay when the artist threw open a bulging portfolio and gleefully showed us sheet after sheet of paper, some of it to be sure emanating from eighteenth-century Italy or nineteenth-century Japan, but all uniformly blank. “Far too good to use”—the artist knew he could count on our emphatic denials. Was Picasso up to one of his celebrated teases? Was he perhaps reenacting the Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu? No, the next portfolio contained Ingresque portrait drawings, many of them unpublished, of family and friends; another disgorged papiers collés, some not even glued together, and so forth. Sometimes there would be a disappointment—reams of identical posters, old newspapers—more often surprises: one of Rimbaud’s exercise books, numerous lithographs by that rare print-maker, Rodolphe Bresdin, quantities of Picasso’s poems (why haven’t more of these been published?), and some puzzling watercolors of large heads. Early Marie Laurencins? Wrong, they were the amateurish oeuvre, what little remained of it, of Picasso’s first maîtresse en titre, Fernande Olivier. “No worse than any other woman painter,” Picasso said.
As Picasso scanned his own drawings, I could not help being struck by his total concentration, at the same time scary detachment about himself. It was as if he were examining work he had never seen before by an artist quite unknown to him. “Je est un autre“: Rimbaud’s disturbing line came forcibly to mind. “Not bad,” he could comment, but more in the spirit of a teacher going over a student’s work than in pride of execution or ownership. “Wouldn’t the Museum of Modern Art like to get their hands on all this for their up-and-coming show?” (this was in 1956), Picasso grinned malevolently. “This is what I call a retrospective,” and all of a sudden he made a great to-do about locking everything away.
Twenty-three years passed before Picasso was to have his retrospective—at the Grand Palais in Paris last summer. It consisted of all the paintings and sculpture and the best of the drawings and …