Pablo Picasso’s late work begins in 1954 with Les Femmes d’Alger, one of his most important and extraordinary series of works. Long scattered all around the world, Museum Bergruen will be showing the majority of these oil paintings in what will be the first such show in Germany for 65 years. This series of paintings proposes an altered perspective on painting, and is unique in Picasso’s oeuvre in terms of its artistic variation.
Inspired by Eugène Delacroix’s famous depictions of the Women of Algiers (1834 and 1849), which he had studied at the Louvre, Picasso took the notion of painterly variation to utterly new dimensions: over three months in the winter of 1954–55, he produced 15 oil paintings along with more than 100 sketches and prints, in which he varied the arrangement of Delacroix’s figures to the point of anatomical distortion. Some of the depictions are full of vibrant colours and soft curves, while others are reminiscent of his Cubist phase with sharp edges in tones of grey. The abundance of variation and the diverse references to art history make this series into one of the great manifestoes on the possibilities of painting.
International Loans and Contemporary Responses
For years now, at Museum Berggruen, the Nationalgalerie has been the only public museum in Europe with one of the works from this series on permanent display: the twelfth version (referred to as “Version L”) forms the point of departure of the exhibition, which brings to Berlin a significant portion of this famous series (including more than half of the oil paintings) from American museums and private collections around the world. Works on paper from the Musée Picasso Paris provide an insight into the developmental stages between the oil paintings. Loans from the Louvre and the Musée Fabre in Montpellier present the inspirations behind Picasso’s images. Contemporary works, including a number by artists from Algeria, carry the theme of the Femmes d’Alger into the present day.