November 17, 2005

Picasso heads to Africa, source of inspiration

By Gershwin Wanneburg

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A selection of work by Spanish
master Pablo Picasso will make a rare appearance in Africa --
the continent that inspired his revolutionary paintings but
which he never visited.

"Picasso and Africa" will run in two South African
galleries between February and May. It is the largest
exhibition of its kind and one of few to be hosted on the
continent, organizers say.

More than 60 Picassos from the Musee National Picasso in
Paris and his family collection will be displayed alongside the
traditional West African artefacts from which he drew so
heavily for his groundbreaking work.

"This is not a Picasso mini retrospective. We decided to
explore new possibilities and for the first time to focus on
the relationship between Africa and Picasso," said Marilyn
Martin, director of art collections at Cape Town's Iziko

Martin said the bold lines and angular shapes of African
art pervaded Picasso's work, from his drawings, sculptures and
paintings to costumes he designed for the Russian Ballet.

"Sixty-one paintings, drawings and sculptures from 1906 to
1972 reveal those moments when Picasso succumbed to the spell
of the African continent," she told Reuters.

Among them are sketches on which the seminal "Les
Desmoiselles d'Avignon" was based. The visually jarring image
of five prostitutes in a brothel established Picasso as one of
the giants of modern art.

Other works include a series of 11 lithographs tracking the
development of the modernism Picasso helped spearhead, along
with peers like French painter Henri Matisse with his trademark
reclining nudes and still lifes.


Picasso's extraordinary talent was evident at an early age.
At 8-years-old, he produced his first oil painting.

But it was his contact with African art in early 1900s
Paris that would change the course of modern art.

During one of many frequent visits to the Paris home of
American expatriate writer Gertrude Stein, Matisse presented
him with an African figurine he had bought at an antique store.

Poet Max Jacob witnessed the impact the figurine had on the
young Picasso.

"Picasso held it in his hands for the rest of the evening.
The following morning when I arrived at the studio, the floor
was covered with sheets of Ingres drawing paper," Jacob said,
according to Web site

"On each sheet was a sketch, almost identical: the face of
a woman with a single eye, a nose too long converging with the
mouth, a length of hair on the shoulder. Cubism was born that