Pablo Picasso and Coco Chanel, united in exhibition

The exhibition is part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the death of the Spanish artist

It was the 1920s and one of the most multifaceted and groundbreaking artists of the time, Frenchman Jean Cocteau, declared: “Chanel is to fashion what Picasso is to painting.” He himself had been a direct witness to the meeting of these two great geniuses who transformed the world: she liberating the woman’s body through her clothes, and he unraveling the history of art with his influence on the avant-garde. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum de Madrid inaugurated an exhibition that brings together and confronts Pablo Ruiz Picasso and Gabrielle Chanel, also known as Coco Chanel, highlighting the simultaneous creative process and the feedback of the works.

Picasso/Chanel is one of the most complex exhibitions of recent years at the Madrid museum, above all because to carry it out it was necessary to move dozens of extremely valuable and fragile pieces, many of them belonging to private collections. But the purpose was to bring together in the museum rooms a careful selection of dresses, oil paintings, drawings and other objects that explained one of the most fruitful artistic complicities of the 20th century, which Cocteau himself stirred up on two occasions, uniting them in two vital projects in his career: Antigone, in 1922, and Sergei Diághlivev’s ballet The Blue Train, in 1924.

The exhibition coincides with the activities organized around the Year of Picasso, since in 2023 it will be 50 years since the death of the artist from Malaga, whose figure is as important as it is controversial, due to the fact that several books have addressed his alleged misogynist facet; They have even pointed him out for having treated severely, even violently, the women who lived with him.

In this regard, the director of the Madrid museum, Guillermo Solana, pointed out: “Now that there is so much talk about Picasso’s toxic masculinity, this exhibition deactivates that argument and enriches the vision of a Picasso far removed from stereotypes.”

The exhibition focuses on the artistic meeting between Chanel and Picasso, for which Cocteau served as a bridge, but which also worked to further revolutionize Paris in the 1920s. Both changed the history of their activities.

The exhibition brings together up to 77 pieces by Picasso, on loan from large collections and museums, especially the Picasso in Paris, and 52 Chanel models, all from museums.

The value of the exhibited works forced the Spanish State to sign a historic guarantee, the highest to date, of 521 million euros to guarantee the transfer of the pieces and provide financial coverage for any damage or problem that might occur since they left their places of origin until the end of the exhibition.

The exhibition is divided into four sections, in which Chanel’s relationship with Cubism and the influence of the movement on her first designs are analyzed. It is perceived how the geometric formal language, the chromatic austerity or the cubist poetics of collage are transferred to suits with straight and angular lines. Also, her predilection for the masses of color –white, black and beige–, or the use of humble fabrics.

The second section delves into the relationship between Olga Jojlova, a dancer in Diaghuilev’s Russian ballets and Picasso’s first partner, with the iconoclastic dressmaker. Jojlova was wearing Chanel on the day of her wedding with the painter and he later portrayed her with other designs of her signature. Several of the paintings she made of Olga, a devoted Coco Chanel client, are exhibited alongside dresses from the French designer’s early period, of which few examples survive.

The last two sections address the fruitful collaboration between Chanel and Picasso in two theatrical productions promoted by Cocteau: Antigone and The Blue Train. Cocteau adapted the work of Sophocles, which he premiered with sets and masks by Picasso and costumes by Chanel, thus showing their common inspiration in classical Greece, while The Blue Train, a ballet produced by Diaghilev in 1924 with a libretto by Cocteau, was inspired by the sports and swimwear.

The director of the museum explained that Picasso and Chanel “met in the spring of 1917 through Cocteau or Misia Sert, when the painter was already an established and wealthy artist. He had achieved success, and fashion was part of his new way of life, in a world far removed from the bohemian one he lived in in his early years in Paris”.

Since then, Chanel, closely linked to the artistic and intellectual world of Paris at the time, frequented the couple of artists.

Among the works on display there are several of enormous importance in Picasso’s career, such as The Bathers, painted in Biarritz in 1918, and Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race), from 1922. The exhibition can be seen in Madrid until January 15, 2023.