As Picasso himself said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” So Dalí began his career by “stealing” from Picasso, stimulating the development of his own unique style. Picasso was 23 years Dalí’s senior, and was already an established figure in the art world when Dalí was a young aspiring artist. He was a huge admirer of Picasso’s work and sought inspiration from him. The fascinating exhibition Picasso/Dalí Dalí/Picasso at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona highlights the creative tension between these two geniuses of Modern Art. Previously on display at The Dalí Museum in Saint Petersburg, Florida, it is the first exhibition that analyses the relationship between Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí, bringing together 78 pieces from over 25 museums, galleries and collections.
Dalí’s first associations with Picasso were very literal – he boldly stole from Picasso’s style, themes and visual language. This is perhaps most obvious in the two pieces Group of Female Nudes (1921) by Picasso and Bathers of Es Llaner (1923) by Dalí, which are astoundingly close in their style and content. As he progressed, however, Dalí developed his own personal and distinctive expression while still retaining elements of Picasso’s visual language and symbolism, and when Dalí’s career took off, Picasso went from being his greatest source of inspiration to being his biggest rival.
The exhibition is arranged in a thematic and loosely chronological order and takes the viewer through various stages of their relationship and personal development. Starting with Dalí’s early artistic exertions, presented alongside the pieces by Picasso which inspired them, and moving on to the time of their first meeting: in 1926 when Dalí visited Picasso’s studio in Paris. At the time, Picasso was reworking a style of cubism infused with surrealist ideas of dreams, sexuality and the irrational. The visit equipped Dalí with a newfound maturity in his artistic language, making him more conscious of composition and symbolism in his work.
Subsequently, we begin to see their development in parallel, from their work with surrealist “objects of symbolic function”, their powerful responses to the atrocities of the civil war, their work inspired by Velázquez, and ending with Dalí’s 1947 Portrait of Pablo Picasso in the Twenty-First Century (One of a series of portraits of Geniuses: Homer, Dalí, Freud, Christopher Columbus, William Tell, etc.), a slightly horrific portrait which sums up their deeply contradictory relationship. The painting uses heavy symbolism to criticize the “ugliness” that Dalí saw and disliked in Picasso’s later work while putting him on a pedestal and evoking his genius .
Apart from exploring the fascinating relationship between the two artists, the exhibition houses a fantastic collection of paintings. Some highlights are Dalí’s View of Port D’Alguer, Cadaqués (1918), Aphrodisiac Dinner Jacket (1970) and Study for Premonition of the Civil War (1935) and Picasso’s Still Life with Antique Bust (1925), Glass of Absinthe (1914), and his etchings for Ovid’s Metamorphosis (1930), pieces which are intriguing in themselves, but even more so when placed in the context of this very important exhibition.