The current exhibition ‘Secret Images. Picasso and Japanese erotic prints’ at the Picasso Museum is well worth a look. It shows the work of the artist alongside erotic Japanese prints taken from his personal art collection—featuring a range of characters from nobles to peasant girls, geishas and adulterers, all involved in the act of lovemaking and various sexual practices—to identify themes and influences between the two.
The concept behind the show was born a couple of years ago during an exhibition of Picasso’s work at the Barbican in London entitled ‘Seduced—the Artist and Sex’. The curators came to perceive a dialogue that could be explored between Picasso’s erotic etchings and the Japanese prints (also known variously as shunga, makura-e, warai-e and higa, which means ‘secret images’) he owned. The artist had about 60 such erotic Japanese prints in his collection at the time of his death, and the 20 that have been chosen for this exhibition have never been on display to the public before. Picasso never proclaimed himself to be particularly influenced by Japanese art, but presented as his work is here (side-by-side with the historic shunga prints), we see an unavoidable correlation between several of his creations and those of the Japanese masters whose work he admired.
The show ends with a beautifully staged presentation of the woodblock printing process, explaining how multi-coloured prints are done using a number of blocks. One can’t help but be impressed at the intricacy and detail of the carved blocks on display and the resulting print that is produced.
‘Japonism’ was already established when Picasso arrived in Barcelona in 1895, and his designs for the menu of the Quatre Gats café and restaurant mark an interesting start to understanding its influence on his work. However, some of the Japanese prints are so elegant—especially Tori Kiyonaga’s sleeve scroll with its wonderful flowing lines and the printed textures of the garments—that Picasso’s engravings seem positively heavy-handed in comparison.
Julian gave this show four stars out of five
Imatges Secretes. Picasso i l’estampa eròtica japanesa; Museu Picasso; Until February 14th; www.museupicasso.bcn.es