How arrogant was Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso's early work - A melancholy master paints himself on the Olympus of art

"In these portraits he is actually quite a stranger to me." Angela Rosengart's words make you sit up and take notice. The 86-year-old Swiss woman was a personal friend of Pablo Picasso and takes us on a journey through time.

In the study of the Rosengart Collection Museum in Lucerne, she looks at pictures showing Picasso between 1901 and 1906 - when he was in his mid-twenties. It was then that his early work was created: the Blue and Pink Periods.

Nowadays the Spaniard is mainly associated with his later work - that is, with the epochs of abstraction that Cubism heralds in from 1907.

Because this older Picasso is more present in the collective memory, we want to find out all the more from Angela Rosengart whether she already defines the characteristics of the mature in the young artist. She first encountered this in 1949. There is Rosengart, daughter of an art dealer from Lucerne, 17. Picasso is 66.

What she sees in the pictures is “a charming, somewhat melancholy young man”. That fits well with the difficult situation in which the young man finds himself at the beginning of the blue period.

Poor and alone in Paris

It bears witness to the suffering of failed existences that he experienced in the poor (artist) quarters of Paris after he left his home in Barcelona for the French capital - alone and penniless.

What Angela Rosengart also notices: The young Picasso does not exude "that charisma that he later had". Hence the strangeness mentioned at the beginning. He still misses the aura that led to the fact that in a room with many people you only saw him.

Over 20 years of friendship

This effect is familiar to her, because from 1949 she and her father visited him repeatedly to buy works by him. This led to a friendship that lasted until Picasso's death in 1973.

This close connection is documented in the Rosengart Collection - with photographs and portraits that Picasso created of Angela Rosengart. They are part of the museum that the warm-hearted woman built in Lucerne. Their goal: to make works from the family estate, which were brought together through the father's art trade, accessible.

These include over 30 paintings by Picasso. However, these largely belong to later creative phases. Therefore they are not part of the exhibition in Riehen (BS).

Complex personality

We also want to build a bridge to the time of the young Picasso with Diana Widmaier Picasso. Although she was born a year after his death, she dealt intensively with her grandfather.

To grasp him is difficult due to the complexity of his person. On the one hand, the art historian observes an "immense sensitivity", on the other hand a "pronounced force".

This is reflected in the rose period: it focuses on depictions of circus people, especially harlequins. Compared to the blue phase, which conveys a lot of sadness, this usually exudes significantly more zest for life.

Found his identity

It is the moment when Picasso's first sales successes set in. His talent, which he realized early on, now makes him want to conquer the world, said the granddaughter. That could be interpreted as youthful arrogance, but it is more a sign of profound determination.

Numerous self-portraits bear witness to this. In times when photography and cinema are flourishing, the aspiring artist wants the public to get an idea of ​​him as well - and puts himself in the limelight. From 1901 he no longer calls himself Pablo Ruiz Picasso, but simply Picasso. He found his identity.

The young Picasso in Switzerland

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The Fondation Beyeler is dedicating its new exhibition to the Blue and Pink Periods, Link will open in a new window on Sunday, February 3, 2019: according to its own statements, it is the “top-class” in the history of the museum - and the most expensive, with an insurance value of four billion Francs. It includes a comprehensive show of Pablo Picasso's early figurative work.

Angela Rosengart is impressed by this identity. She is convinced that curiosity and his way of responding to people kept him young into old age. Although Picasso has long been a world star in 1949, he retains his naturalness towards her: his self-confident, interested nature. She appreciates that very much.

Despite all the feeling of strangeness that the sight of the young Picasso evokes in Angela Rosengart: Fundamental features of the over-figure are thus inherent in him from an early age.