Picasso A museum worthy of his genius

The saga of the capital’s Picasso Museum – with its renovation works, and management and director under strong and sustained fire over recent months – ended on 25 October when it reopened with double its usual exhibition space. Olivier Picasso, one of the artist’s grandsons and author of a recent book, Picasso, portrait intime, took us on a guided tour.

The museum devoted to celebrated painter Pablo Picasso recently reopened its doors to the public after a five-year renovation project. Directed by Laurent Le Bon, the Hôtel Salé, a marvel of 17th century architecture, now has twice the amount of exhibition space as before, providing ample room to explore, in chronological order, the painter’s varied artistic career from 1895 to 1972. This world-renowned collection of 5,000 items, which includes works donated by the painter himself along with permanent loans, is displayed in the cour d’honneur, attic, piano nobile and the Salon Jupiter, and explores the artist’s key stylistic periods: Monochromaticity, Primitivism, Cubism, Polymorphism, Surrealism, Metamorphoses, war painting, and the pop years. Key works produced at Bateau-Lavoir, the Château de Boisgeloup, Grands-Augustins and the Villa La Californie in Cannes can be found on the lower ground floor. With its auditorium, café, children’s workshop, and store, this museum, which is expected to attract one million visitors this year, is set to become a favorite destination for Parisians – and a great place to explore Pablo Picasso’s work.

Musée Picasso

5 rue de Thorigny 75003 Paris Phone : 01 85 56 00 36 www.museepicassoparis.fr
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Picasso said: “Give me a museum and I’ll fill it!” By doubling the exhibition area of the Hôtel de Salé, compared to the original 1985 museum, aren’t you offering him two museums?
The Musée National Picasso now covers an area of 5,300 sq.m., including 3,800 sq.m of exhibition space. It has 34 rooms, some fifteen more than before, with an inaugural display of four hundred masterpieces.

What would Picasso think of his museum?
I think he would have put down his painting-brush and said: “I’ve done a lot of work!” He was so obsessed by the passing of time and personally focused on his work that I wonder if his appetite could ever really have been satisfied. This museum begins to answer that question.

Which room do you find most moving?
When I climb the main staircase, which is an architectural marvel, I honestly feel a real sense of pride when I stand before the bust of my grandmother, Marie-Thérèse Walter. It feels like home. I find Picasso’s personal collection, on the top floor, very impressive too. There are around one hundred works – landscapes, nudes, still lives – by Renoir, Degas, Gauguin, Cézanne, Matisse, le Douanier Rousseau, which inspired his work throughout his life. You can see his work reflected in theirs. Picasso seems to be saying: “Look, I’m one of you!”


As the author of Picasso, l’inventaire d’une vie, a documentary about his inheritance, could you tell us about the exceptional donation made this summer by your mother, Maya Widmaier Picasso?
My mother wanted to respond to all the commotion surrounding the departure of Anne Baldasseri, who had the support of my uncle Claude Picasso, prompting him to shout “France doesn’t give a damn about my father” when Laurent Le Bon had been appointed as the new director. The family wanted to send out a strong signal by reaffirming its links with the museum. So my mother called us together and decided to give this unusual sketchbook to the museum. It’s worth an estimated two million dollars and contains 38 pencil studies of nudes produced in April 1960 and a drawing dating from 1908 of a woman’s face from his Cubist period. On the back, there’s a drawing of the lower part of Guillaume Apollinaire’s face, which is actually half a work. The other half already belongs to the museum.


What do you hope the museum will achieve?
I have a very American view of things. The design, by architect Jean-François Bodin, reflects the way the public experiences museums today: as a place of entertainment. He has thought about how people move around it, what they can learn, and he has used new technologies, but respected the architectural heritage of the Hôtel Salé. He has turned it into an amazing space that is fit for the 21st century. The museum’s academic team and four curators will now put in place a new approach to the archive, unique anywhere in the world, by opening it up to students and researchers.


How are you going to celebrate the museum’s thirtieth anniversary in 2015?
I’d like to contribute in my own way through the Friends of Picasso Society. This civil society organization is really gaining momentum, just like those of the Pompidou Center and the Palais de Tokyo. Exploring these archives – this unknown continent – gives you a fascinating insight into the collection. When you get handed such a great treasure, it really makes you want to empower young people around the world to learn more about it. And we’re going to bring in contemporary artists to explore how their work is inspired by Picasso’s. We want to give back to Picasso what he’s given us!

Give me a museum and I will fill it!

By Sylvie Gassot - Published the
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