After Picasso

The earlier blogpost Before Picasso examined the journey from Pimlico Underground Station to the Tate Britain. The author is indebted for this blogpost to the excellent booklet produced as part of the Picasso and Modern Art Exhibition. The following blog effort is a reflection on the show and its London connections.

Picasso & Modern British Art is a fabulous show, tracing Picasso’ connections with Britain and showing how his work, in the evolving stages of his life, influenced some of our best-known British artists. It continues at Tate Britain until 15 July 2012.

We have arrived.
 

Throughout the booklet references are made to London locations associated with Picasso and/or those artists. Could we identify some of these? Here is a go, using headings from the booklet:

Picasso in Britain: 1910-1914

Picasso’s works were first exhibited in Britain at the Grafton Galleries, in the Manet and the Post-Impressionists exhibition organised by Roger Fry in November 1910. Time to head into Mayfair, and Grafton Street.

Here is what seems to be the gallery, adorned at its base by Boris bikes. The vast bay window denotes the premises of Monika Spruth and Philomene Magers, but the “G” on the flag above suggests the business once there.

Picasso appeared in a further exhibition organised by Fry – Second Post-Impressionist – in 1912, held at the Stafford Galleries. Cue to move slightly east intuitively to Stafford Street; Not a guarantee that if the gallery still exists, it is there, but worth a shot.

Stafford Street - Nobody at home
 

A long shot, and a blank. It could not be guaranteed that a combing of neighbouring streets would not reveal a physical presence, but the probable answer is that we are into the first manifestation of the virtual gallery – online business presence but no premises presence, at least in the pricey West End. See Stafford Gallery - possibly some historic connection?

Wyndham Lewis and Picasso

It has been suggested that Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), an avant-garde 20th c. artist, was influenced by one of Picasso’s best-known works, Les Desmoinelles d’Avignon.

In April 1921 Lewis had an exhibition at the Leicester Galleries (in London),  shortly after Picasso’s first post-war exhibition in London, but by this time Lewis had become critical of what he considered the introspective world of Picasso and his supporters.

We peruse the internet and find Peter Nahum at The Leicester Galleries, and when the address is 5 Bloomsbury Square, it looks promising. Images flash up of the Bloomsbury Group, the set of writers, artists and philosophers from the first half of the 20th century..

5 Bloomsbury Square
 - to the right of the door are wires hanging out of the wall, and not an art installation
 

The physical presence is pretty anonymous, and not on the Square as such, being just round the corner with the traffic of the one-way highway, Bloomsbury Way, hammering past a few metres away.

Picasso in Britain: 1919

In summer 1919, Picasso came to London to design sets and costumes for Serge Diaghilev’s ballet, The Three-Cornered Hat. This premiered at The Alhambra, Leicester Square, on 22 July 1919.

The Alhambra Theatre?
Thank goodness the oppressive Leicester Square hoardings have started to come down
 

The Alhambra Theatre stood on the site of the now Odeon Leicester Square from  1854 to 1937, and as well as being a ballet venue was also known for music hall and even circus. Today the cinema hosts many UK film premieres.

While in London Picasso stayed with the Diaghilev Company at the Savoy Hotel in The Strand....

The commentary opportunity beloved of every London guide
 - traffic on the right-hand side in an out of the entrance road
 

.....and worked in the studio of Diaghilev’s set-painters, Vladimir and Elizabeth Polunin in Floral Street, Covent Garden.

Floral Street - On the right is the side of the Royal Opera House
 

There is a nice story that at Picasso’s request, Clive Bell took him to Savile Row as Picasso wanted to buy a suit and bowler hat in the style of an “English Gentleman”.

Gieves & Hawkes at No.1, the most prominent tailors' shop in the street
 

Picasso in Britain 1920-1939

The London connection here is subjectively chosen. Amongst those who had amassed collections of Picasso’s work was Roland Penrose, who lived in Hampstead, North London, and who has works displayed at the Erno Goldfinger National Trust house, 2 Willow Road (just round the corner from his house) where the author does house guiding from time to time (see tabs).

Francis Bacon and Picasso

It is said that Bacon gave up interior design and started painting, after seeing an exhibition of Picasso’s works in Paris. One of Bacon’s most famous works, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, was first exhibited at The Lefevre Gallery in Bruton Street (we are now back in Mayfair).

A stylish entrance
 

The business does not have the ground-floor frontage that it would once have had, but the elegant door to presumably an upper floor gallery, indicates a continuing strong presence.

Picasso in Britain: 1937-39

Penrose appears again, masterminding an exhibition in 1938 at the New Burlington Galleries in Mayfair, for which the major work was the masterpiece Guernica, based on a theme from the Spanish Civil War.  However, a trawl along New Burlington Street yielded no clues, and before a Londonista points out New Burlington Place, that was no use either.

Picasso in Britain; 1945-60

The related London locations now become so well-known that photographs add no value to this piece. After the end of World War II Picasso was exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum alongside Matisse. His works started to become shown regularly at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. In 1960 the Arts Council presented at the Tate Gallery the largest exhibition up to that time of Picasso work.

Penrose’s presence, as friend of Picasso and his first biographer, was a constant thread, and in 1965 he achieved the triumph of persuading Picasso to sell his The Three Dancers work to the Tate Gallery.

As the last search for a gallery location was a non-event, let’s end with something dramatic and beautiful. You’ll recall 5 Bloomsbury Square. But if you go round to the Square proper, what about this for a back entrance?

Impressive, eh?
 
And a closer view
 

This is Victoria House, the London Headquarters of the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society, built 1921-34 and described by Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner in The Buildings of England, London 4: North, as a “very large Beaux Arts Grecian composition”.

The great thing is that you cannot get this vista from Southampton Row, the front side of the building.

The building also carries a delightful Pevsnerian summary description as being “..quite dignified and acceptable”. Would that we could all aspire to this characterisation...

The author is a City of London and City of Westminster Guide, and former law firm partner, who does walking tours in the City and in Westminster. See tabs for details.