Picasso Looks at Degas

Art exhibit of two historic figures

Author: Nicole Manikas
Posted: Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, located in Williamstown, MA, in the Berkshire Mountains, is one of the few leading art museums that also acts as a resource center for international research within the arts. The Clark is home to groundbreaking exhibits that serve to advance new scholarship and broaden the public’s understanding and appreciation of art.


An excellent example of this dual mission is the exhibit Picasso Looks at Degas, which opens June 13. Running until September 12, 2010, the exhibit focuses on Pablo Picasso’s lifelong fascination with the life and work of Edgar Degas. Bringing together over 100 works from private collections and international museums, this exhibit is the first of its kind to explore the relationship between the work of Degas (1834-1917) and Picasso (1881-1973). The exhibit pairs art from these two artists in an attempt to shed new light on Picasso’s work as a response to Degas.


After years of research, the curators, Impressionist scholar Richard Kendall and Picasso expert Elizabeth Cowling, have discovered that although Picasso and Degas probably never met, they did live in close proximity and shared many of the same acquaintances. The artists shared an obsession with women, made obvious through the many portraits that each produced of singers, ballet dancers, bathers, prostitutes, and laundresses. For example, the exhibit features Picasso’s 1905 Portrait of Benedetta Canals (Museu Picasso, Barcelona) hung beside Degas’s Woman with an Umbrella (c. 1876, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa).


The exhibit begins with Picasso’s work from his early years, before he encountered Degas’s artwork. This leads into the world of 20th century Paris, where Picasso first began introducing Degas’s imagery into his own work, as seen in his End of the Performance (1900-01, Museu Picasso, Barcelona), and Woman Ironing (1904, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum). The exhibit then moves on to discuss ballet and women bathing or brushing their hair, themes that are central in Degas’s work, and how they are portrayed in Picasso’s paintings. The exhibition wraps up with a portrait of Degas painted by Picasso in 1968 as a tribute to the Impressionist.


After spending a day wandering among the paintings, stop over to Mezze Bistro and Bar, also located in Williamstown, for a bite to eat. If you want to stay overnight and enjoy another day at the museum or other local attractions, The Porches Inn at Mass MoCA in North Adams offers lodging in one of six cozy Victorian row houses.


The Clark is also sponsoring events and activities to coincide with the opening of this exhibit. Throughout June, July, and August it is hosting an opening gala, lectures, a book signing, and a family fun day. Check out clarkart.edu for an up-to-date schedule of events.


Picasso Looks at Degas was compiled with help from the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. It was made possible by Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiza-Picasso para el Arte, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.


The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, MA. The galleries are open Tuesday through Sunday, 10am to 5pm (open daily in July and August). For more information call 413-458-2303 or visit clarkart.edu.


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