Thursday, April 15, 2021
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Through the Eyes of Picasso: The inspiration behind the artwork


The works presented in Through the Eyes of Picasso are a must-see. This new exhibit, now on display at the Nelson Atkins, reveals to its viewers the revelation behind the artwork of Pablo Picasso.

The exhibition takes a look into Picasso’s fascination with art from Africa, Oceania and the Americas, and how it influenced one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.

In 1907, Picasso visited the Ethnographic Museum of Trocadero in Paris. There, he saw the African art that first inspired him and led to iconic paintings such as the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. A reproduction of this painting is currently on display at the exhibit.

Picasso’s artwork is displayed alongside pieces that inspired him, as well as pieces from his personal collection. Viewers are able to compare the artwork that brought about many of Picasso’s great works with the works themselves, allowing viewers more insight and understanding into Picasso’s abstract and bold style.

Masks and sculptures from Africa, Oceania and the Americas can be seen reflected in his paintings. The plaques beneath the artwork outline exactly what Picasso used from these pieces to shape his style.

In Head of a Man, “Picasso positioned the view of the head so it had the sculptural volume of a curving mask.”

Around the middle of the exhibit, there is a timeline displayed to aid viewers in the understanding of the development of Picasso as an artist.

Images of masks can be seen in Picasso’s works. (Source: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)
Images of masks can be seen in Picasso’s works. (Source: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)

Although Picasso was inspired artistically by many of these pieces, there were real, practical uses for them originally. For example, Reliquary Guardian Figure from The Republic of Congo was originally attached to a container used for relics.

This exhibit is also informative; one of the sections even talks about how Picasso incorrectly interpreted some of the sculptures he took inspiration from.

While African and Oceanic art represent themes like fertility and life, Picasso interpreted much of it as sexual, which was then translated into his artwork.

The rest of Picasso’s work is full of strong emotion and is layered with geometric shapes. Conventional images are pushed to the most abstract form. They take time to view, while the African and Oceanic artworks serve as both standalone pieces and a guide to understanding the work of Picasso.

One plaque summarizes Picasso’s work perfectly: “The strong outlines, bold patterns, and surprising silhouettes of many African and Oceanic works challenged and inspired Picasso’s own understanding of how a body could be represented.”

This exhibit is both informative and stunning. It brilliantly displays the work of an abstract artist in an accessible and insightful way.

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