Rome, Picasso's Young Woman from the Hermitage for the first time in Italy

The Fendi Foundation brings to Rome, for the first time in Italy, an important painting by Pablo Picasso, the "Young Woman," now in the Hermitage and once part of the collection of the famous collector Sergey Š?ukin.

The Alda Fendi Foundation-Experiments is bringing a painting by Pablo Picasso to Italy for the first time: it is Young Woman, a 1909 work on loan from theHermitage in St. Petersburg, which from February 15, 2022 will be presented in the exhibition spaces of Rhinoceros gallery inside Palazzo Rhinoceros, the building on Via del Velabro 9 renovated to a design by Jean Nouvel and now home to the foundation’s exhibitions. Within the exhibition, Picasso’s painting is placed within an immersive, multimedia experience, with an itinerary that mixes music, dance (from Ballet Nacional de España to Erik Satie’s ballet Parade) and photographic memories of the painter’s life, plus a focus on the relationship between the Spanish artist and Italian actor Raf Vallone.

Young Woman, an oil on canvas from 1909, is a distinctive example of the painter’s research in the Analytical Cubism phase. Posing for Picasso is the model Fernanda Olivier, who was also his lover for nearly eight years. The painting openly refers to the tradition of the salon portrait, from which, however, the artist departs, going so far as to paint the woman as the idol of an unknown and mysterious cult. Outside the canonical representation of an ideal beauty, the nude woman is seated in a complexly shaped armchair and silhouetted against a neutral, dark, abstract background. Her eyes are closed, she seems either sleeping or dreaming, and her head is slightly tilted. A light source is missing, and the parts into which her body breaks down seem to glow with an internal light. The corporality described by Picasso is atypical and sculptural. The extreme simplification of form squaring off in multiple facets is the essential component of a painting that gets rid of all secondary details, celebrating the triumph of drawing with lines now straight now rounded.

“The artist rejects rigidity and material palpability,” Olga Leontjeva, curator of French painting of the second half of the 19th and 20th centuries at the State Hermitage Museum, writes in the critical text accompanying the exhibition. “His character becomes almost ephemeral, dissolves in the play of facets, light spots, blends into the background.” The painting belonged to Sergei Š?ukin, a famous Moscow collector and dealer of works of French Modernism, and was purchased by him directly from the artist. The title Young Woman, like that of other Picasso paintings that also belonged to Š?ukin, was given by the collector himself and is in keeping with the taste of his time and the prudence with which nudity was treated in the early 20th-century Moscow merchant milieu. Sergei Š?ukin became acquainted with Picasso’s art in Paris, where the painter had moved to live in 1904, frequenting the apartment of Leo and Gertrude Stein on Rue Fleurus that held the most representative collection of the works produced by the artist up to that time. It was Henri Matisse, in 1908, who first accompanied Š?ukin to Picasso’s atelier, where he was able to admire Les demoiselles d’Avignon. It took a year to overcome his initial hesitancy, but when the collector bought his first Cubist work he was soon fascinated by this new painting, previously incomprehensible to him, to the point that he wanted the entire series of Picasso canvases from 1908.

Also on view at Rhinoceros is a rare photograph of the room in Š?ukin’s palace dedicated to Pablo Picasso in 1914, in which the work Young Woman is also seen: in a room of just twenty-five square meters with white walls and a domed ceiling, fifty-one works arranged in several rows belonging to the painter’s blue, pink and cubist period were crowded together. Beginning in 1909, Sergei Š?ukin also began to open his residence every Sunday to the Russian artistic intelligentsia, including young painters who might otherwise never have seen the epoch-making canvases in his collection. This vision was fundamental to the birth of the Russian avant-garde. Requisitioned by the state following the 1917 Revolution, all the works in Š?ukin’s extraordinary collection were nationalized and kept in storage for over thirty years, branded as “decadent.” In 1948 some of them were allocated to the Hermitage and only in the 1950s did they finally begin to be exhibited. The Picasso collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg with its thirty-eight paintings (and among them part of the works collected by Š?ukin) is rightly considered one of the most important in the world because of its rare completeness and extreme quality.

The exhibition at Rhinoceros Palace was conceived by Raffaele Curi, who is responsible for the installation design, as a theater centered on Pablo Picasso’s painting. “Pi-cas-so a man’s fate in a surname!” says Curi. “I was a seven-year-old boy when my teacher first pronounced the concert sound of Pi-cas-so, an artist strongly connected to music. And his pictorial revolutions from figurativism to analytic cubism follow Satie’s classical quasi-jazz, Ravel’s Pavanes, Stravinsky’s golden steel. For me it has always been music: PI-CAS-SO.” It is musical the key to interpretation proposed by Raffaele Curi along the exhibition route of the exhibition, and it is intended to enhance the intimate harmony of Picasso’s art. The underlying motif of Curi’s installation intervention is dance. It starts with an enveloping video projection of the rehearsal of the performance La Templanza by the Ballet Nacional de España, in which the audience finds itself directly immersed in Miguel Angel Berna’s choreography, amidst the rhythms of castanets and lively directions given to the dancers, and we come to images of Parade, the famous 1917 one-act ballet by Sergei Djagilev’s Russian Ballet company, with music by Erik Satie, subject by Jean Cocteau, choreography by Léonide Massine, program by Guillaume Apollinaire and with artistic direction by Pablo Picasso, who designed the curtain, sets and costumes.

All the rooms of the Rhinoceros gallery are contaminated by Picasso’s suggestions that alter the perception of volumes. Leaving behind the vestiges of ancient Rome that surround the building, visitors thus find themselves catapulted into early 20th-century Paris, in front of the historic Café de Flore on boulevard Saint-Germain, a meeting place for artists, writers, philosophers, and intellectuals. The café is evoked in the exhibition with a video window, like a dream in which the voices of Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet echo. A focus in the exhibition, as anticipated, recounts the relationship between Picasso and the actor Raf Vallone, one of the few Italian figures with whom the artist was a friend, through photographs from the archive of his son Saverio Vallone. A major international figure, not only an actor but also a partisan, soccer player and journalist, Raf Vallone was a true intellectual with a highly original profile. One photo shows him at Picasso’s house in Paris. In another from 1958, taken in his dressing room, Vallone is in the company of the painter, Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Prévert, after his Parisian debut in Arthur Miller’s play A Look from the Bridge, directed by Peter Brook, which counted a public success of no fewer than six hundred performances. Alongside Vallone’s photographs is a selection of images from Pablo Picasso’s private life: shots of him alongside so many personalities of the time from the worlds of art, film, literature, and politics, and recounting the constellation of his friendships, loves, worldliness, and intimacy.

The exhibition also wants to insist on the value of patronage, and in particular that of Alda Fendi, who wants to mirror herself in Gertrude Stein: the portrait of Picasso’s supporter, made by the painter between 1905 and 1906, is evoked in the exhibition on the large video wall that welcomes visitors. With her brother Leo, poet and writer Gertrude Stein was a patron of artists and in their studio in Montparnasse, which became one of the liveliest cultural coteries of its time, and here found a place for one of the first admirable collections of Cubist art in history: not only Picasso, but also Matisse and André Derain. “Gertrude Stein with her welcoming gesture chose Picasso’s talent, she was his muse and sometimes his adviser, and among the very many women loved by the painter, perhaps his favorite,” declares Alda Fendi. “Force of Patronage and merciless law of talent, so sparkling with pardons and follies. Picasso, Stein’s diamond, gives, through her, the irradiation that only genius can bestow, denying itself to the world.”

Alessia Caruso Fendi, director of the gallery, stresses the importance of the third appointment with the Hermitage. “The rhinoceros gallery is unique: a space that presents artists’ works, cultural evocations, conceptual junctures rendered through digital transformations, musical inspirations. It is a container of multifaceted artistic afflatuses.”

Pictured is Picasso’s Young Woman. Photo by Pavel Demidov

Rome, Picasso's Young Woman from the Hermitage for the first time in Italy
Rome, Picasso's Young Woman from the Hermitage for the first time in Italy