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Picasso and British art

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Picasso and British art

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Spanish artist Pablo Ruiz Picasso remains the 20th century’s single most important artistic figure, a towering genius who changed the face of modern art.

Picasso lived most of his life in France, but a new exhibition at Tate Britain in London invites us to re-examine Picasso’s relationship with Britain, and how he affected its artists.

“Actually, early on, Britain was supposed to be an influence on him in growing up. His father was a great Anglophile and known as “El Ingles” because of his passion for all things English. Picasso told his biographer in 1900 he was on his way to London when he stopped off in Paris and never carried on and finished the journey. And the reason was partly his admiration for British painting,” said curator Chris Stephens.

The exhibition, which brings together over 150 spectacular artworks, examines the impact of Picasso’s later influence on British artists.

Graham Sutherland, Wyndham Lewis, Bacon, Hockney or Moore, the latter in sculpture; all drank from the master’s well. Moore was inspired by Picasso’s neo-classical early 1920s work.

“Picasso really shows how much Moore is looking at the Renaissance classical tradition and then distorting and abstracting it,” said Stephens.

And in his work, Ben Nicholson incorporated the language of Cubism – but a whole decade after Picasso. If Picasso had originally admired British art, by now the flow of inspiration was reversed.

Picasso visited Britain in 1919 spending four months in London, working on set and costume designs for the touring Ballets Russes company.

So in homage Tate Britain is collaborating with the English National Ballet on a series of new works to be performed in the gallery. Dancers will limber up on a barre running the full length of the North Duveen gallery.

Picasso pioneered the way 20th century artists explored new possibilities of working in different art forms. So will the Tate.

“I think before it was very separate, you had specialists in art, music and dance. And it only improves when all three of those come together, when you have people composing for ballet for example. Before it wasn’t, it was music that we danced to. And these things only make the art form, the whole art form, better,” says choreographer James Streeter.

What was unusual in Picasso’s early career is almost expected now.

“I do think artists in the 20th and 21st centuries have wanted to do a great deal more. Picasso was never stuck just doing one thing – paintings, constructions, ceramics. And I think there is a sense of artists seizing opportunities and there are a great deal more opportunities to work on,” said Victoria and Albert Museum curator Jane Pritchard.

The exhibition stays at Tate Britain until July 15 before moving to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh in August.

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