Monday, 5 March 2012

Picasso & Modern British Art

On the face of it, the concept – an exhibition which examines Britain’s late-flowering appreciation of the genius of Pablo Picasso, along with his influence on a generation of home-grown artists – is appealing. Certainly, if the pre-publicity is to be believed, Picasso & Modern British Art at Tate Britain ranks as one of this season’s must-see shows.

But, with a crowded cultural calendar, (the blockbuster Leonardo da Vinci display at the National Gallery has just closed, while retrospectives of works by the recently-deceased Lucien Freud and the still-very-much-alive David Hockney are drawing large crowds to the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Academy respectively), does this particular exposition warrant our attention?
The Three Dancers (1925)

The answer is, of course, yes – in my view, any exhibition featuring even one piece by Picasso is worth the entry fee.  And there are quite a few well-known masterpieces featured in this display (including The Three Dancers (1925) and Weeping Woman (1937)), as well as works by the likes of Duncan Grant, Ben Nicholson and Wyndham Lewis – all of whom were greatly inspired by the Spanish master.

Therein, however, lies the exhibition’s fatal flaw – once inside the gallery space, even a cursory glance at the pieces on display leads one to question the wisdom of showing works by the lesser mortals of the British art world alongside the grand master of modernism.

The Tub by Duncan Grant
To put it quite simply, although talented painters in their own right, the offerings of the British contingent just do not stack up to the trailblazing genius of Picasso.  Indeed, with the exception of some ground-breaking pieces by Francis Bacon and Graham Sutherland, almost all the British artworks on display appear to be nothing more than cheap imitations of the original. Which, of course, they were – there are not many painters in the world who could ever hope to reach the standard set by some of Picasso’s best work.
But, did we really need an exhibition to highlight this fact?  Wouldn’t it have been better to leave well enough alone, to allow the public to appreciate the talent of our British artists, without throwing their efforts into harsh relief by showing them alongside the glorious virtuosity of Pablo Picasso?

Indeed, one wonders how the artists themselves would have felt about being included in a show alongside the Spanish maestro - I can only imagine that Grant, Nicholson et al would not have been best pleased.
Picasso & Modern British Art
Until July 15 at Tate Britain
Tickets: £14, Concessions £12.20, Free to Tate Members


  1. Nice blog. You may be interested on a post on the Picasso exhibition currently in Sydney that is going to Toronto in April.

    1. Beautiful banner at your site as well, I am reminded of some wall paintings by the Mexican artist, Diego Rivera, such as
      this one
      . You browse more murals of his at

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. To put it quite simply, although talented painters in their own right.

    Offer Waterman & Co