Picasso consecrates El Greco in Basel as the first cubist painter

Picasso stood on the shoulders of giants to become the great colossus of modern art. From his first recorded visit to the Prado Museum at the age of 14, the young painter engaged in a face-to-face dialogue with the old masters, especially Velázquez, Goya and El Greco. With disarming self-confidence, he signs one of his first drawings: “I, El Greco.” And towards the end of his life, become a world star and clinging to his brushes to prove to himself that he was alive, he painted the figure of a musketeer on whose frame he inscribed an enigmatic legend: “Domenico Theotocopulos van Rijn da Silva”, the less familiar names of El Greco, Rembrandt and Velázquez, whom he not only continued to admire but among whom he already felt an equal.


The Holy Family with Saint Anne and Saint John

Prado National Museum

Man, woman and child, 1906

Man, woman and child, 1906

Kunstmuseum Basel

“Basically, what is a painter? A collector who wants to put together a collection by making himself the paintings that he likes from others”, Picasso confessed one day to his dealer Kahnweiler. Over the next few months, with On the occasion of the centenary of his birth, we will see him starring in multiple duets, jumping from museum to museum, measuring himself with those who were his friends and with his best enemies; dancing with artists he admired and cannibalized and with those others with whom he had difficult love-hate relationships and an uncertain ending.Ahead of the celebrations of the Picasso Year, which will be held in 2023, the Kunstmuseum Basel brings him together -from this Saturday and until September 25- with which, according to the main curator of the exhibition , Carmen Giménez, was his “first love of youth” and one of the most persistent over time: El Greco.

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”Portrait of a Gentleman of the House of Leiva’, 1580-1585, by El Greco and ‘El Mosque’tero’,, 1967, by Picasso

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts/Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest

But Picasso El Greco, which in a reduced version will travel next autumn to the Prado Museum, is much more than a face to face between two giants. The fascination that Picasso felt for El Greco has been the subject of exhibitions such as the one that could be seen at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona, ​​in 2015, under the title Picasso’s Greco Passion, curated by Malén Gual. But now Carmen Giménez goes further, splendidly displaying in the rooms the thesis that Francisco Calvo Serraller always defended, with whom he projected the exhibition before his death in 2018. El Greco would have been the first cubist painter three centuries before one of the key movements of the 20th century avant-garde. “Or at least it was born from him, he had a decisive influence,” says the curator. Ignoring Braque, Picasso himself claimed his invention and subscribed to the theory that his origin was Spanish, pointing to El Greco as his greatest inspiration.

The Virgin Mary, 1590

The Virgin Mary, 1590

Museum of Fine Arts in Strasbourg

Bust of a woman, study for 'The Young Ladies of Avignon', 1907

Bust of a woman, study for ‘The Young Ladies of Avignon’, 1907

Picasso National Museum, Paris

“When I go into a museum I’m not going to see my dad but Pablo Picasso,” says Paloma, who says about #MeToo: “As a daughter, I think he was a feminist”

Just a few hours before its opening, Carmen Giménez walks through the rooms of the Kunstmuseum Basel accompanied by the co-curator Ana Mignot and Paloma Picasso, the artist’s daughter, amazed to see some of the preliminary drawings of The Ladies of Avignon with The Coronation of the Virgin, by El Greco, the image of the Immaculate Conception suspended on a crescent that in Malaga, blasphemous, moves to a brothel, with the central figure stepping on a fleshy slice of watermelon. “When I see a Picasso it is as if I were seeing a Matisse,” says Paloma. “When I go to a museum I’m not going to see Dad’s works but Pablo Picasso’s,” she says, and heaves a weary sigh when she’s asked about the Picasso emerging in the new light of #MeToo. “It’s absurd,” she cuts off. “As a daughter, I think she was a feminist.”

''The Lady with an Ermine' by Alonso Sánchez Coello and 'Madame Canals', by Picasso

”The Lady with an Ermine’ by Alonso Sánchez Coello and ‘Madame Canals’, by Picasso

Galsgow Museums/Picasso Museum

The exhibition consists of some thirty couples who bring to light a whole world of elective affinities, with moments such as the meeting of the Portrait of Madame Canalsrecently arrived from the Barcelona museum, and the lady with the ermine, which for years was thought to be by El Greco and currently attributed to Alonso Sánchez Coello. Picasso was one of the earliest proponents of Cretan when it was not yet in fashion. He discovered it as a teenager during his time as a student at the San Fernando School of Fine Arts and immediately afterwards in modernist Barcelona, ​​where painters such as Rusiñol championed his claim as a great pioneer of modern artistic freedom (in 1984, together with Zuloaga, they led in procession from Barcelona to Sitges the two paintings they had acquired from Paris to deposit them in the Cau Ferrat). What did Picasso see in him? “A champion of radical expression, he was an eccentric who was lucky enough to be rejected as court painter to Philip II and was thus able to embrace artistic extravagance. It gave him the poise he needed to make a permanent break with the art of the past.” “. He paved the way for an artistic avant-garde that was later followed by so many others.”

Saint Jerome, 1610

Saint Jerome, 1610

The Metropolitan Museum

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Unknown in the style of El Greco

Picasso Museum Barcelona

Exceptional loans have reached Basiela, such as the splendid St Geronimo of the New York Metropolitan, here accompanied by Unknown in the style of El Grecoalthough it is largely nourished by the splendid collection of picasso of the Kunstmuseum, to which the artist himself, now 86 years old, gave four oil paintings in gratitude for what is known as ‘the miracle of Basel’, when the Swiss city -which today has forty art centers in just 30 km2- took to the streets in 1967 to prevent two paintings by the painter from Malaga from leaving the city and voted for their acquisition in a referendum

The Adoration of the Name of Jesus, 1577-79

The Adoration of the Name of Jesus, 1577-79

National Heritage/Royal Collections

'Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas), 1901

‘Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas), 1901

Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris

The sample stops at the Blue period, perhaps the most studied and where its influence is best recognized, with The worship of the name of Jesus (about 1577-79) and his dance partnerEvocation (The burial of Casagemas), an oil painting from 1901 made after the traumatic suicide of his friend. As he had also observed in The Burial of the Count of Orgaz in Toledo, he divides the canvas into two separate planes, the earthly and the heavenly, but eliminates the religious content, showing a sky that has more to do with pleasures and sex. But the true heart of the exhibition is the room dedicated to cubism, where you can amazingly see the poses of the Apostles from the Museo del Greco and the compositions of other religious images hidden in monochrome paintings, of barely hinted at fragmented figures.

'Self-portrait', 1901

‘Self-portrait’, 1901

Musée National Picasso

Portrait of a single man, 1595-1600

Portrait of an Old Man, 1595-1600

The Metropolitan Museum, New York

At the end of his life, Picasso even created a parody of the Burial of Count Orgaz, transforming the protagonist’s body into a roast chicken and replacing a figure that was a self-portrait of El Greco with an image of himself in a striped sweater. The quote is from Hélène Parmelin in Picasso unknown: “I have the feeling that Delacroix, Giotto, Tintoretto, El Greco and the rest, as well as all modern painters, the good and the bad, the abstract and the non-abstract, are all behind me watching me as I work”.