I have often wondered what phases an artist has had to go through during his life to become the artist we know today.

The exhibition Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901, held at Somerset House, gives us a glimpse of how the famous Spanish painter developed into the Picasso still incredibly admired and considered one of the greatest artists of the 20th century today.

The first time I saw an exhibition entirely dedicated to Picasso was on a trip to Malaga, his hometown, two years ago. I had just turned nineteen at the time, but I still thought I was too young to see most of it, with my friends agreeing that his paintings were definitely not for children.

…the first stage of his artistic development…

Celebrating his first exhibition, held in Paris during the summer of 1901 when he was just nineteen years old, the paintings shown in the Courtauld Gallery could not be further from those considered part of the cubist and surrealist movements. It indeed shows the first stage of his artistic development, when his works were a successful attempt to take on and reinvent the works of leading modern artists such as Degas and Van Gogh.

Those first paintings are a contemplation of the sights and characters of turn-of-the-century Paris, from portraits of typical figures of the time to images of Can-Can dancers, showing the admiration Picasso had for both Impressionism artists such as Manet, and Spanish old masters such as Goya and Velezquez. However, Picasso did not continue with this early approach and in the second half of 1901 the experiment with bright colours, which conjured a sense of the lights of the Parisian nightlife, gave place to more somber ones: at the end of his first exhibition his art was turning into a completely new direction, denoting the beginning of his famous Blue Period.

…Picasso turned to more melancholic and isolated figures…

Seated HarlequinAlthough nowadays celebrated as the most profound of his early work, at the time his monochromatic paintings in different shades of blue and grey did not have the same success his first works, shown in his 1901 Paris exhibition, had. More powerful than the artworks featured in the first room, in the second one it is easy to see that in place of gaiety and excitement Picasso turned to more melancholic and isolated figures. Seen especially in his famous Seated Harlequin, the search for more lasting and profound themes was partly triggered by the suicide of his friend Carles Casagemas, whose death is represented in two of the featured paintings.

The strong change in the mood of his art is also brought to light by the comparison of the two self-portraits in the exhibition: Self-Portrait (Yo) is a more haunting and unsettling depiction of the young artist than Self-Portrait (Yo – Picasso) and marks a turn into a more introspective art.

…slowly moving towards a completely different direction in art…

His Blue Period, although slowly moving towards a completely different direction in art, is still partly inspired by his interest in impressionist artists such Degas: his painting The Blue Room – The Tub is a homage to the French painter’s figure of the ballerina, while Harlequin and Companion might have been based on Degas’s In The Cafe (Absinthe).

Although considerably smaller than what I imagined, this exhibition gives us access to the first two stages of Picasso’s life as an artist, from his first exhibition to the beginning of his Blue Period, at a time when he was standing at the threshold of his rise to fame.

…how he went from the Blue to the Rose Period and further on from there…

It would have been very interesting however, to see how he went from the Blue to the Rose Period and further on from there. Hopefully, we will be able to see all of it in another exhibition soon.

The exhibition continues until 26 May. Admission: Adults: £6, Int. Students: £5, Students/children under 18: Free

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