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Exploring Picasso’s life and work through his studios

2 July 2020

In an old piano factory named Le Bateau-Lavoir, after its resemblance to laundry boats, Pablo Picasso worked on fragmented subjects and roughly carved wooden sculptures. Here in his Montmartre studio with no electricity and no running water, Cubism, an early 20th century art movement of reassembling objects into abstract form, was born.

"Picasso's Studios" is now open at Fire Station. The exhibition aims to understand the artist through his diverse studios. He set up shop in all kinds of locations, such as narrow attics, bourgeois apartments, castles and villas. Only a few ever saw the artist at work in his studios, but these spaces with their chaos of tools, material and salvaged objects bore witness to Picasso, the man and artist.

With artworks from the collections of the Musée national Picasso - Paris, this exhibition follows a chronological sequence, with an extensive survey of eight studios, starting from Picasso's arrival in Paris, around 1900, to his last sojourn in the French Riviera.

 

Take a virtual walk through our exhibition, "Picasso's Studios". Now open at Fire Station's Garage Gallery.

1904 – 1912, Picasso's Bohemian life in Bateau-Lavoir his first studio

Picasso, with his companion, Fernande Olivier, moved to the Bateau-Lavoir in 1904. The building was a hive of artists, journalists, writers and art dealers. Picasso felt that the austere living conditions of the studio, which also included almost no heating during the winter, were conducive to his creativity. 

Although he left the studio in 1912, the artist fondly remembered the time he spent there, 'We will all return to the Bateau-Lavoir we have only ever been really happy there'. 

Buy your tickets here to visit the exhibition, Picasso’s Studios, at Fire Station. There are discounts for Culture Pass members. 

A sketch-like painting of the Sacré-Cœur church in Paris. The church's famous white dome is depicted on a beige background.
"The Sacré - Coeur", Paris, Winter 1909 – 1910, Oil on canvas, Musée national Picasso – Paris, Dation Pablo Picasso, 1979. MP30 © Succession Picasso 2020. Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau

1913 – 1916, Sculptures on Rue Schoelcher, Picasso's second studio

After Bateau-Lavoir, Picasso moved around Spain and the south of France, before returning to Paris and moving into a new studio in 1913. This time the artist's creative space was a bourgeois apartment. 

In his Rue Schoelcher studio, Picasso's life was disrupted with the outbreak of the first world war and the sudden death of his companion, Eva Gouel, from Tuberculosis. In the face of all this, Picasso experimented with new artistic methods. He added volume to his two-dimensional works and created a new category of sculptures entitled "constructions". These sculptures are made of non-artistic materials, such as wooden pieces of furniture found in the studio - or tin-iron covered with paint, folded into a still life.

A small wooden sculpture of a bowl with leaning support.
"Bottle of Anise del Mono and Dish with Bunch of Grapes", Paris, Autumn 1915, Fir and pine wood, tin plate, and nails with traces of charcoal, Musée national Picasso-Paris, Dation Pablo Picasso, 1979. MP254 © Succession Picasso 2020

1918 – 1940, Fame at rue La Béotie, Picasso's third studio 

By the time Picasso moved to his new studio at rue La Boétie, in an upscale neighbourhood in Paris, he was a globally recognised artist. Recently married to a Russian ballerina, Olga Khokhlova, he set up his workshop on the second floor of the family apartment, where he revisited Cubism and reinvented the classical painting style.  

The years at rue La Boétie were marked with international recognition, wealth and mingling with 1920s A-listers. The 1920s in Paris were called the Annees Folles, which translates to the crazy years. This era was marked with rich social, artistic and cultural collaborations. By the 1930s, Picasso began to experience family tensions and personal doubts. He turned to Surrealism, a cultural movement that grew after the First World War, and mainly known for its dream-like images and collages.  

The painting, "Studies", brings together all the research carried out by Picasso in his studio at rue La Boétie: cubist compositions, classical motifs, and surrealist inspiration. It shows the artist's taste for fragments, portraits and still lives.

Find out more about the exhibition on Fire Station’s website.

Oil on canvas painting similar to a collage. Painted with subdued colors. There's an image of a couple holding hands in the top left corner. A side profile of a man is at the center of the painting. On either side are pictures of a single hand. The rest of the painting is abstract images in shades of orange and green on a brown background.
Pablo Picasso, Studies, Paris, 1920, Oil on canvas, 100 x 81 cm, Musée national Picasso - Paris, Dation Pablo Picasso, 1979. MP65. © Succession Picasso 2020. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Adrien Didierjean.

1930 – 1936, The artist's muse and Boisgeloup Castle, Picasso's fourth studio

In 1930, Picasso, needing a space big enough to devote to sculptures, bought Boisgeloup Castle in Normandy. The 17th century manor became a refuge for the artist, where he could escape from his city life. It is around this time that Picasso started painting and modelling his muse, Marie-Therese Walter. Her sculptural face inspired different variations in drawings and sculpture, where Picasso rearranged curves and anatomical features in paintings like, "Still Life: Bust, Fruit Dish and Palette".

Abstract form of a woman's side profile along with a bowl of fruit. Shades of brown, blue and white are used.
"Still Life: Bust, Fruit Dish and Palette", Boisgeloup, 3 March 1932, Oil on canvas, Musée national Picasso – Paris, Dation Pablo Picasso, 1979. MP140. Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris)/ Adrien Didierjean

1937 – 1967, Rue des Grands Augustins and World War II, Picasso in his fifth studio 

"The Unknown Masterpiece", a novel by Honoré de Balzac tells the story of a painter who when struck by sudden inspiration quickly finishes his life's work, a masterpiece ten years in the making. He then invites two other artists to take a look at it. All they see is part of a foot lost in a swirl of colours. Their disappointment with the painting drives its painter to madness and then death. 

In 1937, Picasso moved to his studio on rue des Grands Augustins, in the same building where Balzac's story takes place. A story Picasso reportedly admired. One of his most famous paintings, "Guernica", an anti-war painting of people and animals suffering that became a universal symbol of peace, was painted in this studio. 

During WWII, the German Nazi occupation in Paris classified Picasso's art as 'degenerate' and barred him from exhibiting his work. Despite this, Picasso remained in Paris and continued to create art. His artwork from this time reflects his experience of wartime. This painted bronze represents a woman's head that Picasso assembled on a mannequin covered with a long dress. It echoes the many portraits of women painted during the war, often marked by anguish and violence.

Visit Fire Station’s Instagram for more photos and videos of Picasso’s Studios.

A small bronze sculpture of a woman's front facial profile. The head is tilted slightly upwards.
"Head, for the Woman in a Long Dress", Paris, 1942, Painted bronze on wood plinth, Musée national Picasso-Paris, Dation Pablo Picasso, 1979. MP325 © Succession Picasso 2020

1948 – 1955, Ceramics at Le Fournas, Picasso's sixth studio

A visit to a ceramics studio in the village of Vallauris in 1948 piqued Picasso's interest in the potters' techniques. He set up his studio, at rue Fournas, in a former warehouse and delved into pottery, where he created 4000 ceramic pieces inspired by Mediterranean themes and antiquity. His approach included melting clay-like bronze and incorporating mythical creatures, fauns, owls and bulls into his works.

 

Two paintings side-by-side. One is of a fawn-like creature and the other is of a supernatural bird. Both paintings are black and white.
(Left) "Faun, Musician, No.5" Vallauris, 10 March 1948 Print on paper Musée national Picasso-Paris Dation Pablo Picasso, 1979. MP3377 © Succession Picasso 2020 (Right) “The Big Owl”, Vallauris, 10 March 1948, Print on paper, Musée national Picasso-Paris,

1955 – 1961, Art as theatre at "La Californie", Picasso's seventh studio

Picasso's Villa "La Californie" served as theatre and stage for the artist, where he revealed himself through decorations of the space. The villa's high windows overlooked his large bronze cast sculptures that filled the garden. "La Californie" served as studio, gallery and home until 1958. 

In this studio, Picasso invented a new kind of sculpture made with painted and folded sheet metal. He began his process by creating paper models that he then turned into sheet metals.

 

A horizontal painting of palm trees, the sea and yachts.
"The Bay at Cannes", Cannes, 19 April 1958 – 9 June 1958, Oil on canvas, Musée national Picasso–Paris, Dation Pablo Picasso, 1979. MP212, © Succession Picasso 2020. Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau

1958 – 1973, Loneliness and creativity from Vauvenargues to Notre Dame de Vie, Picasso's final studio spaces

After his villa in Cannes, Picasso purchased the castle at Vauvenargues. The large house with its Hispanic influences was close to the Sainte-Victoire Mountain, once painted by the artist Cézanne, whom Picasso admired. 

Spain was the source of inspiration in many of Picasso's paintings as he reinvented art history, such as "Seated Old Man and The Matador", a typical character of the Spanish golden age. However, Picasso eventually started to feel lonely at Vauvenargues, so he moved to a villa in Mougins, called Mas de Notre Dame de Vie.

In solitude, Picasso pursued creative exploration to the extreme. Here he worked on engravings, with incredible detail and mixed techniques. Numerous paintings, representing his studio and portraits in bright colours, bore testament to his reflections on the act of painting. This final phase of creativity ended with Picasso's death in April 1973. He was buried on the grounds of Vauvenargues Castle.

Two abstract figures face each other. One is seated on a colorful chair while the other stands. There is a massive wooden-like structure similar to a buffet between them and a Dalmatian. The standing figure is dark like a shadow while the seated figure is a lighter grey.
"The Sideboard at Vauvenargues Cannes-Vauvenargues", 23 March 1959 – 23 January 1960, Oil on canvas, Musée national Picasso – Paris, Dation Pablo Picasso, 1979. MP214 © Succession Picasso 2020

Explore the IN-Q Gift Shop online to shop items from the exhibitions.

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