April 8, 2023 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. To honor his artistic legacy, a series of exhibitions have been organized since 2022. We had the opportunity to enjoy one of them, Picasso/Chanel, which was open to the public at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid from October 11, 2022 until January 15, 2023. We have always found this combination of art and fashion a very interesting topic, so we didn’t think twice about it.
The exhibition Picasso/Chanel shows us in an elegant and very organized way, the relationship between the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso and the designer Gabrielle Chanel, two of the great creators of the twentieth century. Picasso and Chanel met around the spring of 1917 and collaborated on two occasions.
Covering approximately 1910 to 1930, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid organized the exhibition into four sections, chronologically: Chanel Style and Cubism, Olga Picasso, Antigone and Le Train Bleu. Each section detailed in a very elegant way, the artistic particularities of both Picasso’s painting and Chanel’s fashion design of those years.
The first part of the exhibition showed us how Cubism influenced Chanel’s designs. From the geometry used, the straight lines, his predilection for white, black and beige colors, although he did not limit himself to these, as we saw in the exhibition. He worked with other shades, so we see fabrics in ocher, red, brown, pink, blue, in short, a whole range. In addition, his use in some occasions of humble fabrics and with sober textures, are elements that lead us in a certain way to Picasso’s cubism.
In the exhibition we are shown the parallelism of the first perfume launched by Gabrielle Chanel in 1921, CHANEL No. 5, with the bottles represented in two collages by Picasso in 1912. The similarity between the design of the perfume bottle, with its sobriety, the smooth and clear glass, its simple, white, rectangular label, with the typography in black, reminds us of those elements in which Picasso reduces objects to the minimum expression, drawing only the contours.
Then we moved on to the part dedicated to the Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, later known as Olga Picasso, the artist’s first wife. This section showed many of the portraits that Picasso made of Olga, who was a loyal client of Chanel. Some dresses from this early period of the French designer, of which very few examples remain today, were shown.
In 1922, Jean Cocteau’s(1) modern adaptation of Sophocles’ play Antigone premiered in Paris. This is when the museum took us to the third part of this exhibition, where these geniuses meet to show their inspiration in classical Greece. Picasso makes the sets and masks for the play and the costumes are by Chanel.
The fourth part of the “Picasso/Chanel” exhibition, is dedicated to Le Train Bleu, a 1924 work presented by Sergey Diaghilev’s(2) Russian ballet, also known as Serge, with libretto by Jean Cocteau, inspired by sports and swimwear.
A small gouache(3) that Sergey Diaghilev discovered in Picasso’s studio, Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race) from 1922, became the curtain image for the play Le Train Bleu. In addition, Picasso accepted the commission to illustrate the hand program. While Chanel, to whom sports attracted a lot of attention, created costumes for the dancers inspired by sports models designed for herself and her clients.
For the realization of this exhibition, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid was supported by the National Commission for the Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso and the Picasso Museum in Paris. Although the Picasso/Chanel exhibition ended last January 15, 2023, through a virtual tour presented by the museum on its website, you can enjoy a little of what was that great exhibition.
In 2023 and 2024 the exhibitions aimed at exalting the figure, work and legacy of Pablo Picasso continue. The exhibition program encompasses some fifty exhibitions around the world, including 16 in Spain, in cities closely linked to the artist. Malaga, Madrid, Barcelona, A Coruña and Bilbao.
(1)Jean Cocteau was a French poet, playwright, writer, art critic, essayist, painter, film director and designer.
(2) Sergey Diaghilev was a Russian businessman, artistic director and art critic, one of the key names in the renovation experienced by the ballet in the course of the 20th century. To him we owe the foundation, in 1909, in Paris, of the Ballets Russes, company that agglutinated the best choreographers, dancers, composers and painters of the moment.
(3) Gouache, also called gouache or tempera, is a type of water-based paint. This factor makes it similar to watercolor, but its higher concentration of pigments makes it more opaque than watercolor. For this reason, it is an ink that provides more intense shades if used in the right way.