Mother and Child

We visited the Chicago Art Institute earlier this year and they were celebrating the centennial of the Armory Show with a huge Picasso exposition. This exposition was pure big shoulder hubris as the Institute took the opportunity of this anniversary to once more lord it over their Big Apple brethren. Way back in 1913 Picasso made his first trip to America. He wanted to show off his artwork in New York, but none of the museum there were willing to host this then upstart artist. He had to display his art in the NYC Armory. Conversely, the Chicago Art Institute welcomed Picasso with open arms extending from broad shoulders. This began a life long embrace between city and artist and Chicago has been lording it over New York ever since. Here is the museum’s description:

During Picasso’s 1917 trip to Rome with the Ballets Russes, the artist became deeply impressed by the city’s ancient and Renaissance treasures. The subject of this antiquity-inspired painting is a monumental mother and child, which commemorates the birth of Picasso’s son Paulo in February 1921. The robust baby reaches his hand upward, while his mother, dressed in a classically, inspired gown, gazes down at him, in an elemental scene set against a simplified backdrop of sand, water and sky.

In 1968 William Hartmann, an architect at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and a trustee of the Art Institute, visited the artist after the debut of his large sculpture in the Richard J. Daley Center plaza. Hartmann gave the artist a copy of a museum publication that featured a reproduction of Mother and Child, delighting the artist. Picasso then located among his studio possessions a fragment of the painting that he had removed from the larger canvas in 1921 and made it a gift to the museum. The presence of the man in the fragment suggests that Picasso may well have first had in mind the mythological subject of Danae and Perseus, Jupiter’s lover and child who were abandoned in a box at sea and rescued by a fisherman.

I’ve attempted to recreate the museum’s staging in the gallery above. It seems more likely that mother and father were originally painted back-to-back. Perseus aside, I have to believe that Picasso’s Spanish Catholic upbringing would have held more sway than any ‘weekend’ in Rome. Especially tonight, these two paintings speak to me of the Nativity. In them I see the baby Jesus, mother Mary and Joseph off to the side. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

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