Picasso Landscapes: Out of Bounds is the first exhibition to explore the artist’s deep engagement with landscape subjects and his expansive approach to this traditional genre.
Pablo Picasso was committed to depicting landscapes throughout his entire life. From his earliest days in art school until the year before his death, landscape remained the prime genre through which he mediated his perception of the world and which shaped his own creative evolution. Landscape would serve as a catalyst for his formal experimentation, including early Cubism; as a field in which to investigate urban modernity; as an interface between humanity and nature; as a ground for direct sculptural intervention; as a space of personal withdrawal; as an inviting terrain for elegiac scenes; and as a territory of resistance and flight. Through a selection of some eighty works spanning Picasso’s full career, the exhibition Picasso Landscapes: Out of Bounds will explore the depth of his engagement with landscape subjects along with his expansive approach to this traditional genre.
Within Picasso’s vast oeuvre, which encompasses all the genres (history painting, portraiture, landscape, still life), landscapes have received the least scholarly attention. This art-historical dearth notwithstanding, to ignore Picasso’s landscapes is to miss a crucial dimension of his achievement. Landscapes offer the clearest lens for understanding Picasso’s attentiveness to his cultural milieu as well as to his ongoing engagement with art-historical traditions. Picasso Landscapes will demonstrate how Picasso’s treatment of landscape furthered his own artistic explorations and opened up new possibilities for the practice, including the creation of hybrid paintings that combine multiple genres and of sculptural works designed to reframe the actual land. On a broader scale, Picasso’s landscapes offer insight into the artist’s changing sense of place and bear witness to larger social transformations during decades spanning two World Wars and increasing industrialization.
This examination of Picasso’s landscapes highlights the artist’s attunement to tensions between humanity and nature, and to the changing countryside being reshaped by industrialization. Picasso expressed this awareness throughout his landscape production, beginning early in the twentieth century in Spain, where powerful forces of nature met the excitement of urban growth in his paintings of Málaga, Gósol, Horta de Ebro, and Barcelona. The systematic destruction wrought by World War II and years of occupation color the artist’s Paris cityscapes of the 1940s and the atmosphere of works such as Winter Landscape (1950). Picasso’s grand Côte d’Azur landscapes done at the end of his career show the urbanization of a region where, in earlier decades, he had captured the lives of peasants and laborers. The devastation of the Anthropocene and the political rise of the ecological movement in France coincided with Picasso’s last landscape of 1972, an immense work that reads like an epitaph to both his creative and social life.
As Picasso enlisted landscape to navigate his encounters with the physical world, he was also vigorously engaged with the art of his predecessors, whose practices had shaped traditional approaches to the genre. The manner of classical landscape established in the seventeenth century was an important reference for Picasso, and his large-scale, ambitious works adopted the formal structure of the ideal landscape articulated by Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. Picasso often used landscape painting to interrogate the work of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh, who were the most celebrated artists at the time of his 1901 arrival in Paris. Van Gogh’s presence can be felt in Picasso’s views of the Chaîne des Alpilles, which are near-exact quotations of Van Gogh’s paintings of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. In addition, Picasso shared Van Gogh’s tendency to draw parallels between landscape and portraiture. Picasso’s other predecessors in Provence, Renoir and Cézanne, both consistently painted nudes set within the gardens of the artists’ country retreats. Coinciding with his 1958 acquisition of the Château de Vauvenargues, Picasso began to paint tender yet ironic images of painter and model in the landscape that comment on the connection between artist and nature. In works such as Luncheon on the Grass Picasso gave a backward glance to Édouard Manet, who in turn paid tribute to Giorgione, Titian and Peter Paul Rubens. And in his series Painter and Model in a Landscape Picasso casts himself in the role of the artist in a landscape, embedded within nature as a source of inspiration and sustenance.
Picasso Landscapes: Out of Bounds will be organized into sections, which address various phases, approaches, or themes in the artist’s landscape painting, and which yield new insights into his creative production and broader involvement with the world of his time. Through this in-depth study of Picasso’s diverse landscapes, it becomes possible to reclaim the genre’s primacy in his work and to affirm his keen focus on the shifting twentieth-century cultural backdrop.
Laurence Madeline, Chief Curator for French National Heritage, was formerly curator at the Musée Picasso, Paris, with which she continues to collaborate. Her prior positions include Curator at Musée D’Orsay, Paris, and Chief Curator at Musées d’art et d’histoire, Geneva. She has curated several exhibitions devoted to the art of Picasso, among them, Picasso/Ingres (2004); Picasso and Africa (2006); Picasso, Manet et les Déjeuners sur l’herbe (2007); Picasso devant la télé (2012–3); and Picasso 1932 (2017–18).
The accompanying exhibition catalogue will unite multiple contributors with a diversity of critical voices. The publication will feature an overview of Picasso’s landscapes by the guest curator as well as essays addressing such topics as Picasso’s views on nature, encroaching industrialization, the relationship of Picasso’s poetry to his painting, private versus public landscapes, contemporaneous critical reception, and Picasso’s last landscape painting.