It’s half term and my nose is just about peeking out over a mound of discarded tissues (the final frontier of Child Two’s faux swine flu) and scrumpled bits of revision (Child One has exams the moment she gets back to school). Sigh. I love every minute with my cherubs, but this is still an excellent moment to float away and remember my trip, last week, with a friend to the Picasso exhibition at the dear old National Gallery.
I’m such a fan of the National that I am predisposed to like anything it cares to show me – gasp, a 19th century telephone directory, how clever! – but Picasso, Challenging the Past, really was a revelation. Picasso, like Monet, the man that launched a million waterlilly mouse mats, is too too familiar – we all think we know every blue/rose/jaggedy-cuby bit of him. It’s true, there’s nothing really novel in the National’s show, but the juxtapositions pull off the clever trick of making you study naughty old Picasso at new angles.
Of course, it’s the sex that interests me. Yes, still lives, self portraits, blah blah, they’re all there, but I rush until we get to the room plastered with Picasso’s loves, splayed upon every wall. ‘Of course, he loved women’, I hear someone say as we study a monumental portrait of Picasso’s wife Olga Khokhlova. ‘Look at that, she’s got feet like a hobbit,’ whispers my friend. I do a double take. She’s quite right, those are hefty great trotters Olga’s sprouting. And the whole portrait is massive, making her look, yes, like some sort of wonderfully rounded, bronzed ancient fertility goddess but, frankly, a fertility goddess with a really major weight problem. Wait a minute, a ballet dancer with huge great feet and thighs of thunder? Did Picasso really love women? Did he love this woman?
The answer, I think, looking round the room, is that he did love them all, then he went right off them and took his revenge in paint. Poor Olga. No dancer, surely, could forgive her dainty toes, the very pivot of her professional life, being represented as huge, gnarly brown monstrosities. And a painting across the way shows a whole group of women portrayed in lumpy, cruel browns and blacks. I wonder what they did to piss him off, apart from having, somehow, lost his interest. Picasso may not always have loved all women, but he was certainly passionate, even when he hated them.
It all brings me back to the question my friend and I asked ourselves as we first entered the exhibition, under a big black and white photo of Picasso looking, mmm, rather magnificent. All right, it wasn’t my friend, it was me. ‘Wouldja?’ I nudged her, or rather, translated into middle class, I trilled, ‘would you have had a fling with Picasso?’ She just gave me a stern look. My own answer is Doh! Well, who could have resisted being a muse to all that talent?
Having seen the exhibition, I take it all back (of course I am assuming that he would have jumped at the chance). It would have been lovely to have been painted by Picasso. But my feet are ugly enough without his efforts and, frankly, I could definitely do without the extra three stone.