EXHIBITIONS: ‘Picasso Portraits’   National Portrait Gallery, London

October 2016

This felt to be a serious exhibition showing over 80 works focused on Picasso’s portrayal of family, friends and lovers. It may seem to be a strange description, to say that an exhibition is ‘serious’. No doubt all exhibitions are! However for me this one was a learning experience. I took the audio guide as I don’t know a great deal about this aspect of Picasso’s work and was impressed with the seriousness of the coverage. It was very comprehensive and generous in its detail and I was not surprised that I had to provide proof of identity to obtain one because there was a problem with people keeping the audio tapes.

I think the most interesting aspect which I learnt was Picasso’s interest in and skill in caricature. The exhibition contained many examples of this work next to his drawings and paintings and this assisted in understanding how his abstract images originated. The interest in caricature developed his ability to define facial elements and distort them. The exhibition contained his sculptures as well as paintings and I found it interesting to study the caricature drawing, then spend time with the sculptured head and then examine the abstracted painting and to be able to trace the process.

However the lasting image which I took away from the exhibition was the self-portrait which he did at the end of his life.



This is a large painting and very compelling to look at. The paint is applied gesturally and so there is a freedom and absence of any sense of outward conforming – I felt that the application of paint and the composition was driven entirely by his inner feelings and focus on his own mortality. It was an uncomfortable painting but uncompromisingly searching. Two of his most revered artists throughout his life were Rembrandt and Van Gogh and it seemed that these two artists were there in the painting. I could see Rembrandt’s final self-portrait in the gaze and all of Van Gogh’s colours and textures were repeated in the thick paint strokes of the composition. It was as if the three artists were morphing into this final image.

Rembrandt - Self Portrait

Rembrandt – Self Portrait

Van Gogh - Self Portrait with straw hat

Van Gogh – Self Portrait with straw hat

This is a fine exhibition.


About pbfarrar

I am an Australian living permanently in England. I have recently retired from the position of Principal of an independent school and have taken up the study of Fine Art with the OCA.
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