CMA Blog

When does a 33 by 33 foot stage front-cloth become a masterpiece?

When it was painted by Pablo Picasso, arguably the greatest artist of the 20th century.

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London, which acquired the huge canvas in 2007, announced that it will finally be able to display the work as part of a late 2010 exhibition Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes, 1909 – 1929.

Picasso painted this gigantic canvas to hang at the front of the stage during the overture to a ballet by Serge Diaghilev entitled Le Train bleu (The Blue Train). This 1924 ballet featured music by Darius Milhaud, costumes by Coco Chanel, a libretto by Jean Cocteau, and choreography by Bronislava Nijinska, the famous dancer Vaslav Nijinsky’s sister.

For a number of years, Picasso had offered his talents as an avant-garde artist to the equally avant-garde Ballets Russes.  The Blue Train was, in fact, a luxury night express that carried the rich and famous between France’s north Atlantic coast and the Mediterranean, and appropriately, this ballet was a cheerful, almost burlesque look at the world of high fashion. For the stage-front, Picasso reproduced his 1922 painting of Two Women Running on the Beach as a way to literally set the stage for this lighthearted seaside romp; he signed it prominently in the lower left. Obviously difficult to display, the painting had belonged to the Diaghilev and De Basil Ballets Foundations and was then bought by an association called the Friends of the National Museum for the Performing Arts.

Eventually, the canvas found its way into the V & A’s collection, which has the largest collection of Ballet Russes costumes in the world, including many designed by Picasso, Matisse, and Chanel. Few museums can claim the space necessary to show such a monumental painting but visitors to London in the fall of this year will have the chance to see the largest painting by Picasso in the world.

Dominique H. Vasseur
CMA Curator of European Art




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