Picasso’s prints offer a generous glimpse into the artist’s creative process

Picasso’s, “El Greco’s Portrait of a Man with a Ruff,’ color linocut, © 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Dawn-Michelle Baude

Four and a half stars

Picasso; Creatures and Creativity Through January 10; daily, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., $14-$19. Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, 702-693-7871.

Make no mistake: Picasso: Creatures and Creativity is a must-see. The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art exhibition, curated by Tatyana Franck, features 40 accomplished paintings and prints, along with two linoleum blocks and one zinc plate. Three celebrated photos snapped in the south of France by Picasso’s friend, David Douglas Duncan, humanize the genius who created an estimated 50,000 artworks during his lifetime.

Pablo Picasso, "Woman Wearing Yellow Hat (Jacqueline)," 1962, Oil on canvas, © 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Among exhibition highlights is the 1962 masterpiece, “Woman with a Chignon and a Yellow Hat.” A key work in Picasso’s fiercely creative, and poorly understood, late period, the painting depicts his second wife, Jacqueline Roque. In this and other late works, Picasso anticipates the postmodern tendency to appropriate a vocabulary of recognizable artistic moves—abstraction, surrealism, cubism and expressionism. Although a compendium of artistic techniques, the vibrant portrait is not a historical sampler. It’s Picasso, at age 81, doing Picasso in a symphonic style all his own. The head, face and nose resemble Jacqueline’s, but the penetrating eyes are Picasso’s.

Other gripping paintings from the post-war period include “Woman With a Yellow Necklace, 1946,” with sexualized geometry transposed onto a spirited portrait of Picasso’s lover Françoise Gilot, and the curious “Reclining Woman Reading, 1952,” with its atypical use of negative space. But most of the focus is on Picasso’s prints, exhibited in step-by-step proofs that give viewers a generous glimpse into the artist’s creative process.

The haunting lithographic suite, “Two Nude Women, 1945” achieves the emotional complexity art often aspires to but rarely obtains. Its success partly depends on its subject matter: two women, one posed in the manner of Manet, the other in Goya. In reworking Old Masters’ paintings as he often did later in life, Picasso wasn’t copying—he was Picasso-fying famous pictorial elements, making them his own. Here, as elsewhere, the content remains personal, even intimate. One woman represents Gilot, a painter Picasso met when he was 61 and she 40 years his junior; they spent nearly 10 years together. About another decade was spent with the second woman, photographer Dora Maar, who was 28 to Picasso’s 54 when they crossed paths.

The women overlapped in Picasso’s life as they did in his art. At the beginning of the lithograph series, Gilot is depicted in a neoclassical style while Maar seems only an incipient biomorphic form. As the series progresses, both women become more sensual and defined, Gilot alert and sitting, Maar reclining and dreaming. Volumes expand and contract; hairstyles alter; a drape and screen add and subtract bawdy detail; toward the end, Gilot is a cubist sphinx while Maar’s head disappears within a vulva of arms. The final, 18th litho has bird and cockroach drawings in the frame. The women are no less alien and creaturely.

Three additional series—linocuts humorously based on El Greco, linocuts portraying a jaunty Roque, and a painting/print combo of a volumized Gilot—provide a glimpse into the evolution of Picasso’s process, not only within an artistic sequence, but relentlessly, throughout a rare and extraordinary life.

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