Picasso: Painting the Blue Period, co-organized by The Phillips Collection and the Art Gallery of Ontario, is the culmination of more than twelve years of scientific and curatorial research on Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period artworks. Comprised of artworks from 30 international collections, the exhibition will feature more than 90 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by Picasso along with works by French and Spanish artists that he studied before and during the Blue Period. The exhibition provides new insight into his creative process, including visual documentation of groundbreaking technical studies, which initially began in the Phillips’s Sherman Fairchild Conservation Studio. The Phillips Collection’s presentation of Picasso: Painting the Blue Period will be on view February 26 through June 12, 2022, following its run at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, where it will close on January 16. It is the first exhibition in Washington, DC, in 25 years to focus on Picasso’s early works.
“Our centennial celebrations culminate with this critical examination of Picasso’s artwork,” says Vradenburg Director and CEO of The Phillips Collection Dr. Dorothy Kosinski. “The exhibition highlights how the Phillips is leading the field with our conservation technical studies and scholarly research, demonstrating how this kind of close examination leads to new discoveries.”
The Blue Period marks a pivotal moment in Picasso’s career when he found his own distinct voice that would come to define his work over the next seven decades. The young Spanish artist, then a fledgling painter in his late teens and early twenties moving between Barcelona and Paris, formulated his signature Blue Period style by engaging with the subject matter and motifs in specific works he encountered by Old Masters and his contemporaries alike. The Blue Period works in the exhibition reveal Picasso’s evolving and sometimes controversial approach to issues of sex, class, poverty, despair, charity, and female incarceration. More than a century later, we are still dealing with and discussing these themes, and many have been amplified due to the pandemic.
“We are thrilled for our community to experience these masterpieces and learn about these iconic artworks from a variety of perspectives,” says Phillips Curator Susan Behrends Frank, who co-curated the exhibition with Kenneth Brummel, associate curator of modern art at the Art Gallery of Ontario. “The Phillips Collection is a small museum with a big museum approach to conservation as a partner with the curators. My nearly decade of research on Pablo Picasso and his work, and the efforts of our conservation team and exhibition partner, show that there is always more to discover within art history.”
At the heart of Picasso: Painting the Blue Period is new scientific and art historical research undertaken on the three Blue Period paintings in the collections of the two co-organizing institutions: The Blue Room (Paris, 1901) from The Phillips Collection, and Crouching Beggarwomen (Barcelona, 1902) and The Soup (Barcelona, 1903) from the Art Gallery of Ontario. The research on The Blue Room was led by The Phillips Collection’s Associate Conservator Patricia Favero. Research on the two Blue Period periods in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario was led by Conservator Emerita Sandra Webster-Cook. This is the first exhibition to approach the Blue Period in this manner. These studies form the technical foundation of the exhibition, establishing context for these works with particular focus on the underlying hidden compositions and motifs newly revealed beneath each work. The exhibition’s final section tracks how Picasso revisited and repurposed themes from the three works into the late Blue Period and early Rose Period of 1905–1906.
The Phillips Collection’s in-house Sherman Fairchild Conservation Studio has operated since 1987, conserving and researching the masterpieces of artists like Vincent van Gogh, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Wassily Kandinsky, Honoré Daumier, and Georges Braque. Favero’s work on The Blue Room pre-dates the planning of Picasso: Painting the Blue Period: she began her research on the painting in 2008—first using X-radiography and infrared imaging, and then working with scientists nationally and internationally to examine the painting with state-of-the-art spectroscopic techniques. This research and its discoveries became the genesis for the exhibition project, and further investigations continued through 2019.
“Much of our conservation team’s work is done behind the scenes,” says Phillips Head of Conservation Elizabeth Steele. “Sharing this discovery with the public is a unique chance to spotlight the science of preserving art.”
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