Friday 23 March 2012

From the Wolseley to Picasso

In the midst of a few weeks of doing little else but buckling down to work (no dallying in blogland), an outing to the Wolseley was a perfect treat. I met Paris Breakfasts blogger Carol there ... for breakfast, what else?

In a swish location on Piccadilly, across from the Ritz, the Wolseley was originally a car showroom (for Wolseley Motors) and later a bank - hence the cavernous interior, marble floors and walls, brass railings and vaulted windows and arches ...

It's a place to spot famous faces if you're inclined, though Carol and I were too busy yakking over coffee and hot chocolate to take much notice. 

After breakfast we took a walk down to the river, past Big Ben ...

and a grumpy-looking Churchill scowling at the world ...

(few signs of spring yet on these trees in front of the Houses of Parliament)

to the Tate Britain, to take in their exhibition of Picasso and Modern British Art

Picasso spent only one short period of his life in Britain, in the summer of 1919 when he came to London with Diaghilev to design sets and costumes for the Russian Ballet. He bought a suit and bowler hat in Savile Row, but seems otherwise to have been not particularly taken with Britain or British artists. On the other hand, he was a huge influence on many British twentieth century artists, which is what this exhibition sets out to explore ...

Seated woman in a chemise, 1923. Own photograph.

For the Picassos alone, it was a treat. 

Reading at a table, 1934. Own photograph.
Nude woman in a red armchair, 1932. Own photograph.

There were paintings from the full range of his different periods, seemingly to show not only his prolific output ...

Head of a woman, 1924. Own photograph.

... but also making the point that by the time his imitators had caught on to a particular style or new idea of his, he had already moved on to the next.

Woman dressing her hair, 1940. Own photograph.

And this is the trouble, because the exhibition becomes a bit of a cruel contrast for the British artists concerned, who, when you see their work juxtaposed with selections of Picasso's, begin to look like massively unoriginal copycats.

Picasso: La Source, 1921. Image source:

So Henry Moore's Reclining Figure (below) is seen as a straight copy in a different medium of Picasso's La source (above) ...

Henry Moore: Reclining Figure, 1936. Image source:

... and Francis Bacon's grossly distorted mouths and figures ...
Francis Bacon's Head 1, 1948 (left) and one of Three studies for figures at the base of a crucifixion, 1944 (right). Own photographs.

... are so obviously derived from Guernica, below. And so on and on. 

(Guernica is shown only in reproduction at the exhibition, but see this interesting story here about the only time the original Guernica was brought to Britain under quite amazing circumstances) ...

Picasso: Guernica, 1937. Image source:

In the words of one critic, the exhibition is "a huge own goal for 20th century British art, allowing everyone to see just exactly how dull and minor Moore, Graham Sutherland and others actually look beside Picasso." Ouch!  

David Hockney: Harlequin, 1980. Own photograph.

The British artist who seems to suffer least by comparison is David Hockney. Interestingly, he is the one who acknowledges most openly the huge debt he owes to Picasso, as shown in these etchings/homages ...

David Hockney's The Student: Homage to Picasso, 1973, and Artist and Model, 1973. Own photographs.

... yet seems to have gone on to do so much more in a unique style. Next up in my diary is a trip to the Hockney show at the Royal Academy.


  1. A splendid tour which makes me green with envy.
    I have to agree with you that Picasso quite knocks the socks of anything that was going on in the art world in England at that period.
    We were rather tepid and timid.......

  2. I'm afraid I am a bit of a dullard where art, artists and their origins are concerned. I just know what I like when I see it and I think Picasso's work is a bit too weird for me.

    When I tried to take photographs in Scotland's National Gallery in Edinburgh last year I was given short shrift! I managed to sneak a few which, as usual, I meant to blog about but never did. Good for you for managing to take so many!

  3. Don't you just adore that Carol? I look forward to each post she makes on Paris Breakfast. What a lovely tour you've given us today. Enjoy every moment.

  4. Having had the pleasure of having tea with Carol myself, I know what fun you all must have had.

    The exhibit also looks pretty fabulous!


  5. How nice to see the Wolseley again!
    What fun that breakfast was...
    Love you pics from the Picasso show and certainly Hockney looks good here.
    But I still love Moore and Bacon too.
    Picasso himself was quite derivative as every artist must be in order to learn. The whole renaissance apprenticeship system was based on copying other artists. It's always the critics who moan and judge harshly.
    They usually can't hold a pencil.
    I do like listening to Brian Sewell though...

  6. Great post!! I wrote a "Life List" a few weeks ago and breakfast at The Wolseley is on it after so many recommendations :)

  7. Picasso himself was very derivative, as Carol says. What's always bothered me is that, although individual pieces are always recognizable as Picassos, there is no single abiding PICASSO --- He didn't evolve so much as break and leap, break and leap.
    He was protean, couldn't stay the same. And yet --- the identity forever changing makes me think of The Old Man of the Sea, not an attractive figure. That's my problem, I suppose, not his!

    You and Carol at breakfast together --- two of my favorite bloggers enjoying each other's company in a splendid location --- what riches!


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