Picasso Miniatures - Genius on A Small Scale

Some of his most intriguing works are tiny, as proved in a show of creations dating from 1895 to 1973 and covering almost every aspect of his career

ARTISTIC genius can often be detected in the smallest things: In the care with which ``insignificant'' portions of a painting are executed. In the vitality of such ``unimportant'' painted details as toes, ears, and the leaves of trees. And in the directness with which complex ideas and emotions are translated into simple images on canvas or paper.

Of no one was this more true than Picasso. No other artist in this century - and only a dozen at most in the past - could distill as much energy and emotion into line, shape, and color as he.

None could translate complex and provocative ideas and observations into small, ``simple'' images as effectively as he.

We don't, however, often get a chance to see these miniature masterpieces. Most of our attention is directed toward his larger and more ``important'' works.

That's a pity, for among these tiny sketches and paintings are some of Picasso's most sensitive and intriguing creations.

For proof, we need only visit ``Petits Formats: Works From the Marina Picasso Collection,'' currently on view at the Jan Krugier Gallery here.

Its 97 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints, all originally the property of Picasso's daughter Marina, range in date from 1895 to 1973 and cover almost every aspect of Picasso's long and multifaceted career.

Everything is small or tiny. Several pieces measure 6 inches or less in either direction, and only a handful exceed 12 inches in width or height.

All, however, prove that Picasso's genius could adapt itself to any size or subject.

Seen in reproduction, one would assume that his 1932 oil ``Trois femmes jouant au ballon'' and 1937 graphite and pastel ``Minotaure dans une barque et femme'' were fairly large.

Actually, the first is roughly 81/2 by 13 inches, and the latter, 9 by 8 inches.

Even more surprising, the crisp and monumental 1905 ``Etude pour Saltimbanques, le bouffon'' is only 55/8 inches high, and his 1950 figure in bronze, ``Femme assise,'' rises to the great height of 43/8 inches.

What we find on the gallery's walls, in short, is an exhibition that, despite the small size of its individual works, pulsates with more energy and passion than almost any other gallery show in town. It is also packed with more fertile and provocative creative ideas per wall than one would normally find in most museum exhibitions.

But there's considerably more than that.

There's the lovely, freely brushed gouache-and-ink study of a young woman's head and bust, ``T^ete de femme,'' which probably took all of eight minutes to produce, but which would hold its own in almost any company.

There's the charming 1922-23 ink and pastel sketch of an infant that reveals Picasso's tender and more sentimental side.

And there's Picasso's cryptic 1912 Cubist ink study entitled ``Personnage assis,'' which shows us the artist at his most original and revolutionary.

THERE even are a few surprises. Chief among them are the 14-year-old Picasso's sketchy rendering of several soldiers and young women; a broadly painted Post-Impressionist landscape of 1901; an intriguingly atypical 1918 Bonnard-like oil of two fruits and a leaf on a tablecloth; a stunning, 31/2-inch-high, pure red and pink 1933 monotype of a flutist; and a mildly surreal bronze sculpture, ``La Verre.''

For sheer classical simplicity and perfection of design, however, nothing in this remarkable exhibition can top Picasso's 1919 pencil drawing ``Guitare sur une table.'' Nothing could be simpler or more succinct than this linear rendering of a guitar on a table, and nothing could be more sophisticated.

To grasp its significance, one must understand that it represents a return on Picasso's part to a certain degree of spatial illusion and three-dimensionality after the rigid discipline of Cubist methodology.

There's a wonderful sense of release about this drawing, a feeling that the artist was once again able to ``open up'' and to respond directly to the world around him without feeling compelled to transform it into strictly frontal, two-dimensional Cubist images.

This sense of contraction and expansion, of discipline and release, runs like a leitmotif throughout the exhibition, and gives it its special flavor and importance.

Viewed chronologically, it gives us an abbreviated and highly condensed version of Picasso's career.

Unfortunately, some knowledge of Picasso's profound and complex contributions to 20th-century art is advisable in order to fully appreciate the subtleties and nuances - in some cases, even the point - of many of the works on view.

That knowledge isn't necessary, of course (Picasso, as an artist, always ultimately rose above theory), but it helps.

This fascinating and important exhibition at the Jan Krugier Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, runs through June 30. Unfortunately, it will not travel.

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