Picasso: Themes and Variation was exhibited in Midtown Manhattan at the Museum of Modern Art. The exhibit presents 100 works by the prolific Spanish artist and subsequent pioneer of Cubism, Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). The exhibit promotes Picasso’s very much evolved artistic style as well as his experimentation with etching and lithography. This exhibition in its thematic order, its narration and disparate themes are aesthetically very pleasing. The curator of the exhibition, Deborah Wye, claims Picasso made “no fewer than twenty-eight variations of this composition.” 

The Exhibition includes Picasso's intense periods of printmaking exploring his etching technique. It initially grasps Picasso's long artistic life whilst exploring a plethora of his artworks and showcasing his collaborations. His collaborations, namely, with Roger Lacourière who taught him etching, engraving and other intaglio methods of printmaking. We can admire his reflection in his later etchings when he collaborated in an etching workshop with Aldo and Piero Crommelynck. 

Picasso: Themes and Variation discloses works from Picasso’s exploration of Realism evolving to his Blue and Rose periods and eventually to his discovery of Cubism. A focal point of the exhibition is Picasso’s imagery and thematic process as well as his thriving progression of creativity. Another pivotal aspect of this exhibition and in Picasso’s private life is the interpretations of women and their subject in his art, an apparent fundamental force being his life as an artist.

This exhibition was not only just organized and curated by Deborah Wye, The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Chief Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books. Wye also published a book A Picasso Portfolio: Prints from The Museum of Modern Art which was to accompany the exhibition and honour MoMas collection of Picasso’s artworks. The book contains large-scaled illustrations and is organized into 17 sections exploring each of Picasso's thematics in the exhibition. ("Picasso: Themes and Variations | MoMA", 2010) The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue written by Wye and in addition, the Museum will launch an interactive online Picasso project featuring some 250 works from MoMA’s collection of over 1,000 prints by the artist. 

The concept of themes and variations revolves around the artwork's engagement though absence, Picasso’s prints are extraordinary as they trace his process. In each sector of work in “themes and variations” his work is interconnected in sequences as showcased in his lithographs. His paintings however do not adopt this continuity of variations. As an example, In his print variations Picasso was subject to the force of a linear consecutive course because he was working from a single plate – the turns could be taken one after another though, of course, he could take a step back. In The Armchair Woman he broke the course of a single time flow into five concurrent interconnected sequences. But in his variations in painting, the single continuity was abandoned altogether.(Shkurpela, 2010) 

Picasso sought inspiration from current and past art, as we know works of Paul Cezzane certainly encouraged the emergence of Cubism. Picasso as a cubist artist felt he could give the viewer a more accurate understanding of an object, landscape or person by showing them different angles of viewpoints, so he used flat two-dimensional geometric shapes to represent the different sides and angles of the objects suggesting three-dimensional qualities and structure without using techniques such as perspective and shading.(Tate. (2018). All about cubism – Look Closer). After Cubism, Picasso was very much involved in his naturalistic style, Picasso rarely had relation to the current artistic trends. A prominent artwork held in the exhibition is Picador (1959). This piece showcases how Picasso was once a bullfighting aficionado, this work inherits colour and decorative rhythms that symbolize events of the past.

Picasso's symbolism in his etchings is hard not to admire, the enigmatic scene of Minotauromachy (1935) of the combined Minotaur myth and bullfighting is considered as a milestone in modern printmaking. His portraits of his lovers was a prominent theme throughout his everlasting career and situated as a major subject in his work. According to the Museum of Modern Art “Each time he became involved with a new woman, he absorbed her features into his artistic vocabulary, creating tender likenesses as well as portrayals that reflected his own changing moods.” His styles often altered with each woman's portrait and this was usually a chance for the artist to experiment with his technique. 

This exhibition holds a substantial range of prints In correspondence to the women Picasso was involved in artistically and romantically. It includes Head of Woman (1905) portraying a lover only known by her first name, Madeleine, Jacqueline Roque, his second and last wife, as well as three portraits of Francoise Gilot (b. 1921) , the aspiring painter whom Picasso is known to have had a tempestuous relationship and two children. A substantial amount of Picasso's most prominent themes are exhibited in “themes and variation” a plethora of the Saltimbanques, the bulls and bullfighters, and the sexual imagery of his lovers. (Fateman, n.d.) 

Personally, I have not visited this exhibition; however, I thoroughly enjoyed how the exhibition curator(s) showcased Picasso’s artistic flourishment through various mediums including the substantial array of lithographs. As the title of the exhibition is named “Themes & Variation) we can identify the theme and variation the museum is attempting to convey for th Picasso is undeniably prolific in his efforts to explore different mediums beyond painting and the exhibitions focus on Picasso's engagement with printmaking discloses his constant thematic approach to his subjects as well as how printmaking encouraged his experimentation. The overall aesthetic of the exhibition is simple yet strategically sound in the curators efforts to chronologically order his artworks in their style and subsequent period of the artist's life.

Exhibition: Picasso: Themes and Variation 

Location: MoMA, Floor 2, Exhibition Galleries The Paul J. Sachs Prints and Illustrated Books Galleries 

Weblink: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/965 


 Pablo Picasso Picador 1959, published 1960 


Pablo Picasso Armchair Woman No. 1 (La Femme au fauteuil No. 1) 1948, published 1949


“These lithographs are from the sequence of at least 28 portraits of Gilot done in the 1948 – 1949 titled The Armchair Woman (Femme au Fauteuil).” (Shkurpela, 2010)




Assets.moma.org. Retrieved 14 December 2020, from 

https://assets.moma.org/documents/moma_press-release_387203.pdf?_ga=2.69134545.1920 204428.1607942152-1357047423.1605215844

Fateman, J. The New Yorker. Retrieved 10 December 2020, from 


MoMA | Picasso: Themes and Variations. Moma.org. Retrieved 10 December 2020, from https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2010/picassoprints/main.html#/periods

Picasso: Themes and Variations | MoMA. The Museum of Modern Art. (2010). Retrieved 10 December 2020, from https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/965?. 

Shkurpela, D. (2010). Picasso’s themes and variations at the Museum of Modern Art, and at large. Dasha Shkurpela. Retrieved 10 December 2020, from 

https://widdershins.typepad.com/blog/2010/08/picassos-themes-and-variations-at-the-museu m-of-modern-art-and-at-large.html. 

Tate. (2018). All about cubism – Look Closer | Tate. [online] Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/c/cubism/all-about-cubism [Accessed 17 Dec 2020].
September 14, 2021 — Tahlia Whitfield

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