A brush with a modern master

A giant of the 20th century art scene, he straddled controversy as he forged a reputation as a pioneer. Slow to take note his creative talents, it wasn’t until decades after his most noted period that London’s Tate Gallery got round to buying a Picasso.

But earlier this year it staged a massive exhibition in his honour, which received great acclaim – and now it’s Edinburgh’s turn, with the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art hosting almost 100 paintings, drawings and prints as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival.

Picasso and Modern British Art, which opens today, has brought together works from major public and private collections around the world under one roof at Belford Road. But more than just an art exhibition, it traces Pablo Picasso’s life and the evolution of his critical reputation in Britain, where he was barely appreciated during what it now regarded as his most fruitful spell.

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Among the works on show is The Three Dancers, from 1925, which is considered one of his two greatest contributions to art, and Head of a Man (1912), which was among the key works which introduced Cubism to this country in an exhibition organised by renowned English artist and critic Roger Fry the year it was painted.

Other highlights will include The National Gallery of London-owned Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle (1914), Guitar, Compote Dish and Grape (1924), which is borrowed from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and Woman Dressing her Hair (1940), which comes from New York.

Patrick Elliott, curator at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, said the exhibition, which runs for three months, was a must-see for anyone with an interest in art. “This is the first exhibition with major paintings from throughout his career,” he said. “It’s a retrospective, with works from the start right through to the 1960s.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see so many works by Picasso. It’s a hard job to see one or two Picassos together, we have over 30 very famous paintings, as well as drawings and prints. It’s about 100 works by Picasso, but 20 or 30 are hugely well known. This has got some of the best things Picasso ever did.

“It really charts the career of Picasso, who was hated because he was too modern, through to his rise to fame in the 50s and 60s, when he had a big show in the Tate which was opened by royalty. From an outside figure in the 20s and 30s, he became a hugely popular artist in the 1960s.”

The exhibition also aims to highlight the artists influenced by Picasso, with works from the likes of Duncan Grant, Wyndham Lewis, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Graham Sutherland and David Hockney also on show to reveal the impact he had on British art.

Pieces from Scottish pair Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde are under the spotlight, while costume and scenery Picasso produced in 1919 during a ten-week stay in London for ballet The Three-Cornered Hat are certain to attract interest.

The show will also assess the significance of Picasso’s political status in Britain, his celebrated response to the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and his appearance at the 1950 Peace Congress in Sheffield.

Tony Penrose, whose father brought Picasso’s infamous Guernica to Britain just before the Second World War, said the Edinburgh exhibition was even better than what was on offer at Tate Britain. Mr Penrose, who at the age of three met Picassso, said: “I think its a fabulous exhibition and brilliant attestation of the collection of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and their curating ability, because they have taken an exhibition that was good enough for London and made it even better.

“I think Picasso would be very pleased to see his own work so well understood and presented. One of the key works, on an international level is the Woman Weeping. My father bought it from Picasso while the paint was still wet on the canvas. It was a last protest against the bombing of Guernica. It’s a message that’s still relevant today – it was Picasso saying ‘stop the war’. Almost 100 years later we are still doing the same thing.”

• Picasso and Modern British Art opens today and runs until November 4