In 1953 Pablo Picasso was at the pinnacle of his fame, inconceivably wealthy, and universally acknowledged for his innovative genius and gigantic influence on 20th century art. Instead of slowing down and reaping the rewards of a lifetime’s efforts, his last 20 years were as prolific, intense and provocative in their achievements as he had been in his earlier life.
"Picasso was the towering, relentless, rapacious and protean genius of the twentieth century. He remained at the very epicentre of artistic pace throughout the century and even the anxieties of encroaching old age failed to dim his assertive creativity – Picasso in the last decades of his life was, as this exhibition demonstrates, as rampant as ever," said Edmund Capon, Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
These last two decades of Picasso’s life, 1953 to 1973, are revealed in a major exhibition organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Picasso – The Last Decades includes more than 80 paintings and works on paper selected from museums around the world including the Musée National Picasso in Paris, Museu Picasso in Barcelona, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Tate Modern, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, as well as from private international collections.
The exhibition begins when Picasso was 71 years of age and in crisis. In late 1953 he experienced a ‘season in hell’ when he confronted his predicament as an old man - still feeling unfulfilled as an artist and sensing that he still had a great deal more to say and do. He was painfully aware of his need for love and companionship, and of his sense of death drawing nigh.
There are moments of stark self-examination in the exhibition as well as rapturous bursts of joie de vivre exemplified by Picasso’s alternation between works in black and white and exuberant splurges of colour.
During his last 20 years Picasso produced more works in a multitude of media than most artists produce in a lifetime. His work in printmaking alone could gain recognition as an achievement comparable only to Rembrandt and Goya.
"If we examine a selection of the best of late Picasso, he still looks like one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, irrespective of the enormously influential achievements of his past," said Terence Maloon, curator of Picasso – The Last Decades, and curator of special exhibitions at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
The last period of Picasso’s life was controversial. He had no need for money or for the approval of others. He did exactly as he pleased, but he was in competition with his own past achievements, hoping to achieve greater focus and greater intensity with more spontaneity and freedom.
Picasso was determined to evolve beyond what he had done before. The effect of his late works could strike those who were unprepared for its impact as artless because of their directness; crude because of their economy of means and violent because of the sheer force of expression. However a new and younger generation found fresh inspiration in them. This exhibition includes paintings from the collection of David Hockney, a younger painter who was a fervent admirer of the aging modern master.
Picasso died at the age of 91 in 1973. He had made his debut as a painter some 75 years earlier. His artistic vitality was undiminished until the end. Deserted by fellow artists and friends of his own generation who pre-deceased him, isolated by his own obsessions, by the onset of deafness, and by the repercussions of his gigantic fame, it was nonetheless an heroic conclusion to an epic artist’s life.