No artist has ever been as popular as Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). No artist has ever been exhibited more frequently. No artist has ever been the subject of more intensive research. And yet there is still a piece of uncharted territory on the map of this great artist’s oeuvre - a variegated terrain never before explored: the theme of bathers and beach scenes which held a lifelong fascination for Picasso.
Centred around Picasso's sculptural ensemble of the "Bathers" of 1956 and comprising approximately 120 works from the great museums and private collections in Europe and overseas, the forthcoming exhibition at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart will be the first exhibition ever to be devoted exclusively to this central theme of Picasso's oeuvre. Relevant figural works by those artists who directly inspired Picasso – such as Cézanne, Matisse and Renoir, and also Derain, Braque, Léger and Miró – will complete the panorama of this Exhibition.
The visitor to this most noteworthy exhibition will be fascinated by the way this untiringly inventive genius develops ever new approaches – in terms of both form and content – to this great artistic theme. The radicality of Picasso’s treatment of the theme stems from his keen observation of the unrestricted movement of the human body in the open air.
During his early Cubist phase, the theme of bathers and beach scenes served Picasso primarily as an exercise in depicting moving figures in space. The figures themselves look like primitive, roughly hewn carvings. During his classicist period of the early 1920s, Picasso began to attach greater importance to content, to an expression of the oneness of his figures with nature. It was during this period that he painted women and family groups in Arcadian scenes of extreme tranquillity. After 1927, Picasso developed a rich diversity of bathing scenes, the imagery of which was clearly surrealist in concept and at times reminiscent of designs for monumental sculptures. The bathing scenes also readily lent themselves to Picasso’s experimentation with biomorphic distortions of the human body. In the years of crisis between the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and the end of the Second World War, Picasso's perpetual open-air theme receded slightly into the background, though some works produced in 1937, characterized by large, introverted figures, are of extreme contemporary relevance. During the 1950s, Picasso takes up the theme again, developing it into a hieroglyphic juxtaposition of lines, shapes and surfaces, the culmination of which was the “Bathers” of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, a sculptural ensemble built from wooden objets trouvés. With his paraphrases of Manet's "Déjeuner sur l'herbe" (originally entitled "Le Bain") at the beginning of the 1960s, Picasso rounds off his treatment of the theme of the "Bathers" in a mood of cheerful serenity.