A highlight of a trip to Paris last summer was a visit to the Musée Picasso. Having been undergoing years of renovation, modernization andexpansion, the museum reopened October 25, 2014. Recreating museums and giving them a whole new life is something the French do exceedingly well; indeed, they do it without compare. Turning up an hour before the opening time—Not until eleven, monsieur? —gave me an excuse to linger over coffee at a small café, Le Saint Gervais, down the block from the museum, at the corner of rue Vieille du Temple. Taking a sidewalk table, I did little more than sit 'n' sip, if keeping an eye on a couple catching the morning rays in a secluded park across the street. All of which made for a quintessentially Parisian moment for this flaneuse/bloggeuse.
At No. 5 rue de Thorigny in the upscale Marais district, the Picasso collection is housed in an exquisite seventeenth century building once known as the Hotel Salé.
The name Salé (meaning ‘salty’) refers to the revenues collected by the original owner, a monsieur Pierre Aubert de Fontenay, the collector of the salt tax for France -- for all of France, that is. Judging from the style and size of this magnificent mansion, he must have salted away plenty of French francs.
The collection in Paris consists of 5000 works by Picasso, 3000 of them on paper. There, also, are 263 works he chose to keep with him throughout his lifetime, including works by his friends—Corot, Degas, Derain, Le Douanier Rousseau, Miro, Cezanne, Matisse, Vuillard, Renoir, Braque, Balthus and Apollinaire, to name a few. Picasso, no shrinking violet, eagerly sought out the company and works of others, often capitalizing on their ideas, as they did on his.
Early on, Picasso had a liking for African art as well as for the works by 'primitives', those painters who were self-taught, not classically schooled. Indeed, the 1895 ‘Portrait of a Woman’ by the Douanier Rousseau, a self-taught artist, was the first work Picasso acquired. Of it he would say that it was the most psychologically truthful of all French portraits.
Years later, he would trade a few of his own sketches for Matisse’s portrait of his daughter, Marguerite. Ultimately, Picasso would offer him the highest compliment saying: There is only Matisse.
There are so many great beauties here, including the main staircase and the galleries themselves—galleries filledwith light, with great art, and with fascinating stories. At the top of the staircase is Head of a Woman, an early sculpture. Picasso's muse for this work was Marie-Therese Walter, whose beauty he said demanded a classical treatment. Classic it is, but with a twist. The almond- shaped eyes are looking in two directions.
In the late 1930s, with the rise of Fascism in Europe, Picasso painted a number of portraits of his muse and mistress, Dora Maar. In Weeping Woman (1937), her expression is serene, even magisterial, but the eyes, with one facing forward and the other seen in profile, are a puzzlement and a charm.
What’s remarkable is that there are so many works fromle Musée Picasso currently on display at MoMA in a monumental new show: Picasso’s Sculptures. A show, by the way, that the New York Times art critic Roberta Smith called a once-in-a-lifetime event. But that I will save for another day.
And, lastly, to the left, is Picasso's chair from his studio-- a work both painterly and sculptural! So what is it? Do you prefer paintings or sculpture? watercolors or drawings? As you move from gallery to gallery, what makes your heart sing? It hardly matters at the Musée Picasso where there is something to please everyone, even the most discerning of critics.