"PIcasso never took much interest in Degas' paintings. He preferred the sculptures and above all the monotypes, some of which Vollard had used to illustrate LA MAISON TELLIER, Maupassant's novel about a brothel's holiday outing."
John Richardson, A LIFE OF PICASSO: THE TRIUMPHANT YEARS, 1917-1932
This exhibition and catalogue is based on a puerile interpretation of the nature and character of esthetic influence in the visual arts. Both center on a one-to-one comparison of paintings, drawings, sculpture, and prints by Picasso and Degas, and the notion that Picasso drew directly from the subjects by Degas in a wide assortment of his own works. It is a total distortion of the uses of the past employed in all forms of the arts, and in particular almost all of the works in the PICASSO LOOKS AT DEGAS exhibition. If one wanted to pursue this superficial endeavor a better choice could have been made with Toulouse Lautrec. For example, Lautrec's May Milton poster is on the wall in Picasso's BLUE ROOM (1901) and the composition of his portrait of JUNYIR I VIDAL (1903) is much closer to Lautrec's besotted friends depicted in A LA MIE (1891). Further, Gary Tinterow, the Metropolitan curator of Modern Art, pointed out that it was practically impossible that Picasso could have seen Degas' WOMAN IRONING (1876-87) when he painted the same theme in 1904. The Degas was in a private collection that a young, scruffy, penniless Spaniard could never have gained access to during his stay in Paris. And all should look at Lautrec's witty and familiar assessments in his numerous paintings, oils on cardboard, lithographs, and drawings of Parisian whores before leaping to the conclusion that this is another major link to Degas.
The Clark owns a cast of Degas' LITTLE DANCER AGED FOURTEEN (1879-81), which is one of the most unique works of 19th century sculpture. Earlier Kendall mounted an entire exhibit of Degas' drawings and sculptural studies for the LITTLE DANCER, which unfortunately was centered on his notion that the fabric tutu was wrong; replacing it with one that was longer and more full. In PICASSO LOOKS AT DEGAS the comparison of Picasso's STANDING NUDE (1907), a cubist figure with a baboon snout and hatchet knees, is nothing short of delusional. In a feat of loony, Looking Glass logic Kendall bases his argument on the fact that both the height of the Degas sculpture and the height of the figure in the Picasso painting are the same.
Richard Kendall and Elizabeth Cowling should be reminded that rather than aping Cezanne's card players, bathers, and still lifes, Picasso and Braque invented Cubism, and years later PIcasso would buy Cezanne's mountain. His assemblages and sculpture made from an assortment of materials strikes much closer to Degas' LITTLE DANCER, but Kendall and Cowling interpret influence as mimicry.
A truly remarkable exhibition could have been organized focusing on Picasso's hundreds of references and variations on the to the art of the past; which ranged from the Greeks and Romans, classical and mythological subjects, Cranach, Velazquez, Rembrandt, or the dozens of major canvases based on Delacroix's ALGERIAN WOMEN.
The exhibition ends with Degas whorehouse monotypes and an assortment of Picasso's 347 Suite etchings based on the same carnal themes. Three of the figures are identified as Degas, who looks similar to Picasso's father. But again, they have chosen to distort the facts:
"....Picasso coveted a small, sexually explicit [Degas] monotype...which I had acquired. He was so captivated by it that I [John Richardson] gave it to him; he went on to buy several more....which would inspire a series of brilliant brothel scenes."
"This voyeur is a curious hybrid: Picasso's painter father, who was addicted to whores, in the guise of Degas." Richardson, vol. III, page 455
The third volume of of Richardson's LIFE OF PICASSO was published in 2007. Without doubt the curators of PICASSO LOOKS AT DEGAS were familiar with this authoritative biography based on the author's close friendship with the artist. Apparently Kendall and Cowling chose to ignore it.
In the end, this catalogue is not an erudite probing of Picasso and Degas; it is a curatorial pissing contest sponsored by a museum that seems to gauge the importance and success of their annual summer blockbusters on how many cars are forced to park on the road rather than on the quality of the scholarship in their publications.
PICASSO LOOKS AT DEGAS should be placed next to David Hockney's preposterously silly SECRET KNOWLEDGE, then both put on a shelf with bad fiction such as the DI VINCI CODE and LUST FOR LIFE.
Rather they purchasing this tripe, one would do far better purchasing PICASSO AT THE METROPOLITAN by Gary Tinterow, and/or THE MYSTERY OF PICASSO (1955) which shows him doing many drawings and paintings on the backside of a frosted glass. It was directed by the legendary Clouzot. For a brilliant examination of Picasso's work and life LOVE, MAGIC, AND DEATH by John Richardson (the scholar mentioned above) which is also available on a CD. All are listed on Amazon.