Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), arguably the most influential artist of the 20th century, pitted himself against the greatest Masters of European painting in a life-long artistic dialogue. ‘Picasso: Challenging the Past’ explored the ways he took up the artistic concerns of the painters of the past and made audacious responses of his own.
Picasso was a passionate student of the grand tradition of European painting. El Greco, Velázquez and Goya were of crucial importance to him, as were Rembrandt, Delacroix, Ingres, Manet and Cézanne. All of these artists are represented by major paintings at the National Gallery.
Displaying some 60 works by the artist, this exhibition invited visitors to re-explore the National Gallery’s permanent collection in light of Picasso’s fascination with the Old Masters.
The exhibition was organised thematically, showing how Picasso repeatedly returned to the great subjects of the European painting tradition, analysing them as his personal style developed in myriad directions. Sections included self portraits, the Spanish tradition of male portraiture, the female nude, still life, and the seated female figure.
‘Picasso: Challenging the Past’ culminated in a display of the artist’s 'Variations' where, late in life, Picasso makes direct reference to masterpieces such as Velázquez’s ‘Las Meninas’ and Manet’s ‘Déjeuner sur l’Herbe’, turning them into “something else entirely”.
This exhibition was organised jointly by the National Gallery, London and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris; with special support from the Musée National Picasso, Paris; in conjunction with the 'Picasso et les maîtres' exhibition in Paris, organised by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, the Musée National Picasso, the Musée du Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay.
The major exhibition, ‘Picasso et les maîtres’ ran in Paris from 6 October 2008 - 2 February 2009.
Pablo Picasso, ‘Man with a Straw Hat and an Ice Cream Cone’, 1938, Musée Picasso, Paris © RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi / Succession Picasso / DACS 2009