Marking the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death, “Picasso et l’Antiquité” at the Prince’s Palace is part of the international “Célébration Picasso 1973-2023” cycle

Pablo Picasso, the revolutionary genius of modern art, shared a complex and intriguing connection with Monaco during his lifetime. Though this relationship may not be as well-documented as his associations with Paris or Barcelona, it undeniably left an indelible mark on both Picasso’s life and the Monegasque artistic landscape. To mark the 50 year milestone of his passing, the Principality dedicates a prestigious exhibition to the Spanish painter’s legacy.

Running from 16 September through 15 October 2023 and organised by Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso (FABA), “Picasso et l’Antiquité” is held at the Palais Princier in Monaco. Set against the backdrop of the recently restored 16th century frescoes, it focuses on the painter’s interest in the lead cultures of Antiquity which marks many of his works.

pablo picasso palais princier monaco

Pablo Picasso, Man looking at a sleeping woman, Dinard, 1922, pencil and oil on wood, 19×24 cm, Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, © FABA Photo: Hugard & Vanoverschelde, © Picasso estate 2023

Spanning from the immediate aftermath of his Italian voyage to his Mediterranean residences in the 1940s and 1950s, and exploring the juxtaposing twin themes of ruin and decline, and resilience and renewal, the collection shows how Picasso approached the Greco-Roman artistic legacy through a variety of media. It highlights the radical ways in which the artist rethought the codes of the classical world through subject, style and materials, rejecting the dogmatism and idealized vision of the academic tradition.

For me, there is no past or future in art. If a work cannot always live in the present, there’s no point in dwelling on it. The art of the Greeks, the Egyptians and the great painters who lived in other eras is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it has ever been.”
— ​Pablo Picasso

Picasso’s interest in classical art dates back to his academic training at the end of the 19th century, when he first discovered black-and-white reproductions or casts of these works. Fascinated by their colorless yet elegant aesthetic, he would make reference to them numerous times over the next eight decades, both in terms of style and subject matter: mythological figures, classical compositions and naturalistic visual idioms abound in the artist’s prolific oeuvre,

At the time, the foundations of modern Western culture were rooted in a widespread, distorted, and highly idealized vision of classical antiquity, and art academies advocated the imitation of classicism as a coherent style, encouraging students to conform to what they saw as a model of formal clarity, visual harmony and compositional balance. The aim was to convey a taste for the rigor and ideological purity considered the prerogative of Greek and Roman civilizations.

Picasso in Pompei

Pablo Picasso e Leonide Massine in una strada di Pompei. Foto di Jean Cocteau 1 March 1917 – Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons

In 1917 – as the First World War ravaged Europe – Picasso visited the archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as the ancient cities of Naples and Rome. Here he discovered aspects of the art of Greco-Roman antiquity that his academic training had largely overlooked: colorful murals, shattered sculptures, eroded surfaces and buried buildings appeared in these once mighty cities, now left abandoned. The spectacle of these ruins challenged the regularity and presumed impermeability of classical art, and lead Picasso to reconsider this heritage in terms of rupture rather than integrity.

This exhibition suggests that Picasso’s privileged encounter with the remains of the Greco-Roman past in Italian archaeological sites enabled him to approach classical antiquity through notions of erasure, resilience and recovery in the face of environmental, social and politicalchange. Following his travels in Italy, Picasso frequently referred to the art of ancient Greece and Rome, both by adopting classically inspired styles and by depicting mythological scenes, isolated limbs evoking Greco-Roman statuary or eroded, sedimented surfaces, like ancient wall frescoes. In this way, Picasso presented the iconographic heritage of classicism as a collection of fragmented images demanding not only to be rediscovered and deciphered, but also revisited and reinvented.

The Picasso-Monaco connection began in the early 20th century when the artist first visited the picturesque enclave. Based in Paris at the beginning of his career, the artist started making a name for himself in the Capital, but from the mid 1930s on spent more and more time on the French Riviera. Like all painters, he fell under the spell of the Mediterranean light but he also wanted to put some distance between himself and his turbulent personal life in Paris. This is why at the time he also often used his father’s name Ruiz (Picasso being his mother’s family name.)

Over the course of the next decades, and particularly in the 1940s and 50s, Picasso’s stays in Monaco were marked by a synergy between the artist’s need for inspiration, tranquility, and social connection, and the Principality’s aspiration to be a haven of luxury and culture. These visits left an enduring mark on both Picasso’s work and Monaco’s cultural identity. Many significant relationships with art supporters were forged here, among them those with HSH the late Princess Grace and shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis.

Monaco has also played a pivotal role in introducing Picasso’s art to new audiences. Since the mid 20th century, the Principality’s commitment to cultural enrichment has led to several exhibitions showcasing his work, thus bringing his avant-garde creations to an appreciative audience. These exhibitions helped to deepening his ties to affluent patrons during his lifetime, and have rendered his art accessible to younger generations ever since. In the past ten years alone, the Grimaldi Forum and the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco hosted five major shows in honour of the artist.

Picasso at the Palais Princier

Courtesy FABA

Curated by Francesca Ferrari and designed by Cécile Degos, the exhibition “Picasso et l’Antiquité” is part of the international collaboration “Célébration Picasso 1973-2023” marking the 50th anniversary of Pablo Picasso’s death. A second commemorative exhibition is currently underway at La Casa Encedida in Madrid, Spain, until 7 January 2024.

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Address: Palais des Princes, 98014 Monaco

Opening hours: Daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Palace closes at 6 p.m.

Accessibility: Unfortunately, as the building dates back to the 13th century, accessibility is limited and cannot accommodate for people with disabilities.

Tickets (€10 full price, concessions available) can be purchased online or on site at the ticket office located on Place du Palais.

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Lead image © Natja Igney; all other images as credited

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