Friday, 3 March 2023, 11:25
As soon as you walk in, you see him staring you straight in the eyes from a gigantic three-metre by three-metre photo of a bullring. Among the crowd at the bullfight you can make out film-maker Jean Cocteau and Jacqueline Roque applauding, and, above all, Pablo Picasso who is standing up and looks like an emperor surrounded by his court. With a cape in one hand and cigar between his fingers, he is looking into the ring as if to say «I'm going to throw myself in.»
It is a spectacular image, and one that sums up an exhibition that shows a more private, personal and fun-loving side of the Malaga-born painter, the one who rediscovered bullfighting on the Côte d'Azur after seeing and painting them for the first time at the bullring in Malaga when he was just a child.
It is an extensive exhibition of 142 images taken by Irish photographer Edward Quinn, which are on display for the first time in Spain. They can be seen at La Malagueta Cultural Centre on the ground floor of the bullring, which is where the artist first acquired an enthusiasm which was important in his life and often featured in his works.
«The exhibition shows Picasso's connection with bullfighting and it is a type of homecoming,» said Wolfgang Frei, the photographer's nephew and director of the Quinn Archive, at the opening of Picasso y los Años Dorados de la Costa Azul (Picasso and the Golden Years of the Côte d'Azur) this week.
The display, which can be seen until the end of June, shows a happy Pablo, putting on a mask of a bull which had been given to him by his friend, the bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín; posing with the poster he painted in 1954 for a bullfight in Vallauris (France) which recalls the silhouettes he drew as a child at La Malagueta; concentrating as he creates one of his famous minotaurs; taking Claude, Maya and Paloma to a bullfight; and acting the clown with a hat, cape and cigar in his mouth during a lunch before an afternoon watching bullfights.
This naturalness, almost like a family album, is one of the highlights of this exhibition, which curator Cristina Carrillo de Albornoz explained shows an intimate side which he rarely revealed to the photographers who called at his door.
«Picasso was a man with that joie de vivre that we can see in this exhibition, that he found when he went in search of southern sunshine in the Côte d'Azur,» she said.
She has no doubt that his happy life there was linked with his origins. «The artist held the Mediterranean in his heart and never stopped dreaming about where he came from, as you can see from this exhibition,» she explained.
Some of the photos graphically reflect this, with the bullfights, days spent on the beach with his family and Andalusian-style parties with Picasso wearing a Cordoban hat and carrying a guitar even though he didn't know how to play.
This display is a celebration of friendship and family, where we can also see changes in the life of the Malaga-born artist, from the intimate photos with Francois Gilot, the only woman who left him, to the obvious devotion to him of his last wife, Jacqueline Roque.
Quinn's skill lies in his closeness to Picasso, because he also settled down on the Côte d'Azur and won the confidence of the great art icon of the 20th century.
He became his photographer and accompanied him in the last two decades of his life, from 1951 to 1972, which was the last time he visited the artist before he died.
«Quinn's secret was not to bother Picasso. He was always a discreet presence and never asked him to pose. He always wanted a spontaneous photo,» said the photojournalist's nephew. He never used a flash, either, only natural light, which is why some images look grainy or even slightly blurred.
«The painter and my uncle ended up becoming friends, which explains why these photos are so intimate, normal and entertaining,» Wolfgang Frei said.
Cristina Carrillo de Albornoz added that this reflection of the artist's spirit was also a reflection of the times, because the world had come out of the Second World War «wanting to enjoy themselves, and Picasso found the Côte d'Azur to be a place where he could revel in being alive,» she explained.
Several dozen photos in this exhibition have been selected from the 40,000 in the Edward Quinn Foundation, portraying the world around Picasso and in which painters like Matisse, Dalí, Miró and Giacometti can also be seen. There are film stars too, such as Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Sofia Loren, Jane Fonda, Burt Lancaster, Liz Taylor, Marlon Brando and Grace Kelly, when they came to the Cannes Festival, where the artist himself was also portrayed at the premiere of the film The Mystery of Picasso (1956), directed by H.G. Clouzot.
This exhibition which shows the magnetism and charisma of Picasso will coincide in April with the worldwide commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death. The Malaga provincial council (Diputación de Málaga) and La Malagueta Cultural Centre are participating in that with this exhibition and a Picassian Bullfight on the day he died, 8 April, the Diputación president, Francisco Salado, explained at the opening.
The end of the artist's life is also present in this exhibition with one of the few colour photos showing his burial place, with the sculpture La Femme au Vase as a gravestone in the garden of his château in Vauvenargues.
It is a flower-filled spot for a man who, as Quinn's photos show, lived life to the full and took the world by storm in a way that will never be forgotten.
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