Pablo Picasso’s Creative Process Is Highlighted at London’s Royal Academy of Art

Nick Mafi

Unlike most artists who die before the glitz of fame, Pablo Picasso was famous for almost the entirety of his adult life. From the early 20th century, as a young revolutionary in Bohemian Paris, to his death in 1973, at the age of 91, Picasso evolved from a prodigy to a phenom. But what's perhaps most interesting—and the subject of a major new show at London’s Royal Academy of Arts—is the elusive creative process that went into making his priceless works of art.

Pablo Picasso, Head of a Woman, done with pencil on cut and folded paper.
Photo: Courtesy of RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Béatrice Hatala

Starting this week (and running through April 3, 2020), the exhibition will display roughly 320 of Picasso's works on paper, often unearthing the ways in which Picasso trained his hand toward a masterpiece. On display are individual drawings of mangled horses, animals which would soon be immortalized in Guernica; or lone silhouettes of African-masked women, the early rumblings of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. What makes this show so fascinating is that it doesn’t include the actual masterpieces, but the arduous, and patient, process that brought them to fruition.

Pablo Picasso, Bust of Woman or Sailor (Study for 'Les Demoiselles d’Avignon'), Paris, Spring 1907.
Photo: Courtesy of RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Adrien Didierjean

"It's extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do a complete retrospective of Picasso; there are simply too many pieces to the puzzle," explains Ann Dumas, curator at the Royal Academy of Arts. "Most exhibitions on him are on specific periods. But we were able to encapsulate his whole career in working with paper in this show." The earliest work displayed is a little cut out of a dog and a dove that Picasso made when he was nine, living as an aspiring artist in his hometown of Málaga, Spain. "The last piece in the show was a self-portrait Picasso made when he was 91, just before he died," Dumas says.

Pablo Picasso, Violin, Paris (1912). Laid paper, wallpaper, newspaper, wove wrapping paper and glazed black wove paper, cut and pasted onto cardboard, with pencil and charcoal.
Photo: Courtesy of RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau

The show combines what Dumas refers to as the "high and low" of his work. "We show great works of art, as well as much more informal and experimental elements," Dumas says. "Ultimately, the mix of high and low provide much more insight into Picasso as an artist and his way of tackling a new work."

Pablo Picasso, Femmes à leur toilette (1937/8) . Collage of cut-out wallpapers with gouache on paper pasted onto canvas.
Photo: Courtesy of RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Adrien Didierjean

Individuals from Picasso's history make appearance, such as Marie-Thérèse Walters (his lover for over a decade with whom he had one daughter) and Dora Maar (the famous French photographer). "The show studies his time with Dora Maar," Dumas says. "He took a photograph of her, and overlayed it with lace, turning it into a strange yet beautiful surrealist collage."

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"We see how Picasso purchased very expensive paper from the time of the French Revolution to work with," Dumas explains. "But he would also use a piece of cheap paper as well. In fact, we show how he did the draftings for Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, for example, on a large brown piece of cheap drafting paper." Picasso, it seems, was more interested in the works on the paper than the actual material itself. So much so that Picasso was quoted as once telling the Hungarian photographer Brassaï, "The paper seduced me."

Picasso and Paper begins this week and runs through April 3, 2020, at London’s Royal Academy of Art.

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest