An Unconventional Exhibit

Norton Simon Art Foundation, Gift of Mr. Norton Simon © 2021 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Norton Simon Museum shows Picasso’s character
By Nicole Borgenicht 

Known as one of the best museums in the country, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena touts a first-rate permanent collection and curates approximately six temporary exhibits annually. 

The permanent collection includes European art from pre-Renaissance through the 20th century with extraordinary impressionist paintings, as well as art from South and Southeast Asia and American art from the 20th century. 

Currently, the Norton Simon Museum has a rare and distinctive Picasso varied print selection on exhibit through January 10. 

Norton Simon curator Gloria Williams Sander explores innuendos of Picasso’s artistic rapport and character through details about the 16-piece show. 

Sander chose and arranged specific Picasso works to explore the artist’s talent and directives as well as new findings in each print. One gains a great appreciation of different types of prints by seeing these special Picasso art pieces in one small show. 

“I looked for examples that were illustrative of Picasso’s inventiveness in engaging with different printmaking techniques,” Sander says. 

Along with the fluidity of chosen Picasso’s prints, there is a softness that shows his expressive touch. Sander explores his marks in the print works on paper. 

“These are etchings, aquatints, lithographs and linocuts that are distinguished by a special characteristic: an individual impression may be one of only two or three examples in the world; it may be a unique impression; it may bear a signature outside the norm for Picasso; or the artist’s written instructions to the printer remain on the sheet for us to see, like a personal annotation,” Sander said. 

“It may be the sole proof impression executed in color, or it may be an impression celebrated for its pristine palette, where the fugitive colors have not faded and remain brilliant (‘Bacchanal with A Young Goat,’ 1959). I expect that there will be prints that are completely new to visitors: ‘Head of a Woman, No. 3,’ 1939, is a unique artist’s proof, printed on Japan paper, which depicts surrealist artist Dora Maar.”

Throughout his printmaking career, Picasso frequently altered states of his prints, as displayed in the two proofs of “Head of Woman, No. 3 (Portrait of Dora Maar).” “Two Nude Women,” 1946, is an unrecorded trial proof between the seventh and eighth state and the sole print from this lithographic series to be printed in color.

Sander would like viewers to capture new insights about the various elements of this print collection.  

“A state (or ‘altered state’ as noted in ‘Head of a Woman, No. 3’ and ‘Two Nude Women’) is a step in the development of a print involving alterations to the printing surface. All the impressions of a print before a change are made to the matrix (copperplate, lithographic stone, linoleum block) belong to the same state.”

At last, the more familiar artwork as a symbol of peace by Picasso entitled “The Dove” has a warmer tone in this rendition. Moreover, Sander says, “The museum’s impression of ‘The Dove,’ 1949, bears a personal inscription to the artist’s Parisian printer Fernand Mourlot. This dedication to Mourlot was likely related to the technical difficulties his printmaker had to overcome to realize the artist’s subtle shading of the bird as he tried to emulate painting by means of lithography.”

Upon viewing the Picasso exhibit, gentle shapes and strokes less direct and linear in popular pieces are delightful to see. The sculpture garden is complementary. 

“Visitors love to photograph Aristide Maillol’s trio of bronze sculptures — ‘Mountain,’ ‘Air’ and ‘River’ — which are installed on three sides of the pond,” says Leslie Denk, Norton Simon external director. 

“Another favorite is Henry Moore’s ‘King and Queen,’ which greets visitors as they step onto the garden paths to the right of the entrance.” 

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