Picasso and Chanel’s reciprocal influences showcased in Madrid

Pablo Picasso’s avant-garde art juxtaposed to Coco Chanel’s austere, timeless fashion: the two 20th century creative giants feature in an exhibition that opens on Tuesday at the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid.

The ‘Picasso/Chanel’ exhibition is part of the commemorations for the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death. Picasso was born in Málaga, Spain, in 1881, and died in Mougins, France, in 1973. His death is being remembered via more than 40 retrospectives the world over.

From October 11 to January 15, the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum will showcase some 50 creations by the great French fashion designer, alternating with paintings and drawings by Picasso, to highlight their similarities.

The exhibition features “a succession of stimulating conversations between Pablo Picasso’s avant-garde works and Chanel’s innovative creations,” said curator Paula Luengo, speaking on Monday at a press conference.

The exhibition’s first section presents chronologically a series of paintings and garments that show “the influence that Picasso had on Chanel’s fashion design,” said Guillermo Solana, the museum’s creative director.

A coat designed by Chanel Pillow between 1918 and 1919 appears to be inspired by the black and brown hues and the sinuous lines of the cubist painting ‘Tête d’homme’ (1913). The fabric of a 1928 day outfit seems like a reflection of the wings of the dove placed at the centre of ‘Naturaleza muerta con paloma’ (1919).

In the exhibition’s second section, focusing on Olga Khokhlova, Picasso’s Russian muse and first wife, “the influence’s direction changes,” said Solana.

Portraying Olga, who was a regular customer of the French designer and frequently wore her creations, Picasso “was confronted with the problem of Chanel’s straight lines (…) He strove to recreate Chanel’s own work, envisaging a creative-to-creative conversation,” said Solana.

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This section features for example a Chanel day dress from 1922, grey with white fur on the collar and cuffs, very similar to the outfit worn by the character in the painting ‘Arlequin au miroir’ (1923).

The exhibition’s last two sections focus on the opportunities that Chanel and Picasso – who met in 1917 and had many friends in common – had to work together.

Their collaborations illustrate “the dialogue between fashion and painting, poetry and music, theatre, dance and the arts in general, which lay at the heart of the innovative, experimental cultural scenes of the interwar period, and which is the very subject of this exhibition,” said Cécile Debray, president of the Picasso Museum in Paris, which lent several pieces to the Madrid museum for the exhibition.

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