In a rare pairing of original prints, a well-known Santa Fe gallery is showcasing these two modern masters in “Genius on Paper,” on view through Feb. 12.
The LewAllen Modern show features 20 works by Picasso and seven by Munch for sale. The two artists helped define modernism as we know it.
“This is the type of show you can’t see very often anywhere,” said Louis Newman, the gallery’s modernist curator. “You just don’t see many Munch prints on the market. And many of the Picassos in this exhibition are quite rare.”
Several reveal the genesis of major works. All display a mastery of the techniques of etching, aquatint, drypoint, lithography and linoleum cuts.
“They were both masters of light,” Newman said, “and they would use the white of the paper. The paper —— the medium itself —— would become part of the image.”
Prices range from $12,000 to $345,000.
A pioneering symbolist and modernist, the Norwegian-born Munch (1863-1944) is most renowned for “The Scream,” one of the most recognizable images in art history and the one that catapulted the artist into a pop cultural icon. A pastel version of this iconic work sold for nearly $120 million in 2012, a then-record price.
Munch is known for his powerful expression of intense emotion, passion, anxiety, alienation and anguish. But beyond the initial shock of his imagery lie deeper themes.
At LewAllen, “The Sick Child I” (1896) shows the artist’s favorite sister, Johanne Sophie, as she was dying of tuberculosis when he was 14 years old. His mother died of the same disease when he was 5.
Johanne Sophie appears obviously weak and in pain. Some have suggested she may be peering into eternity or the next world.
Munch said he wanted to bring out “what cannot be measured.” He called this his “soul painting.”
“On the surface is an image of his dying and beloved sister,” Newman said. “In addition to grief, it’s about love. You see his tenderness, his love, his concern. She seems to be in a realm beyond what we can see.”
Like Picasso, Munch was a master of light. Much of the print is surrendered to white paper to radiate a sense of transcendence.
The artist delved even deeper in “Inheritance” (1916), his portrait of a woman holding a dying child. It was inspired by a hospital waiting room in Paris, where he saw a syphilitic, tear-stained mother cradling a sick baby in her lap. The image offers an unflinching look at the transference of the sins of the parents to the child.
“Most likely, it was passed onto her by her husband,” Newman said. “More than 10 percent of the men carried syphilis. And there was no treatment.”
The lithograph is a frank and disturbing depiction of the taboos of the time; of sex and sexually transmitted diseases, of infidelity and prostitution. The artist captures this human tragedy with empathy.
“There’s the inherent horror of it,” Newman acknowledged. “But I prefer to see it as a tableaux similar to mother and child. She has not abandoned him, which did happen. She’s attending to the dying child. He didn’t pick the subject to shock you. This was what life was like then.”
Munch would go on to heavily influence the German expressionists. The artists of New York’s Ashcan School also owed him a debt for his unflinching look at the life that was in front of him.
Picasso (1881-1973) dominated and led many of the movements in 20th century art, from cubism to collage, assemblage and ceramics.
Many of the his prints document his personal life. At his maturity, he rarely used professional models.
“To know Picasso’s prints is to know Picasso’s love life,” Newman said.
The artist produced “Face of Marie-Thérèse” (1928) in honor of his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter.
“It’s a significant departure for Picasso in its intimacy and being such a close-cropped portrait that glows with tenderness,” Newman said. “He was obviously infatuated. You can almost feel Picasso brushing her cheek. When he did this work, he could not execute another image of her for another year.”
“The Egyptian” is one of the artist’s most important prints. The bold black-and-white composition sums up this phase of his career with its abstracted geometric approach. Another road map to his inner life, it depicts François Gilot, Picasso’s lover from 1945 to 1953. At the time, their strained relationship was at the breaking point. He poured his anger into this explosive image.
“I knew François, and she told me it was a very stormy relationship,” Newman said. “She was the only woman who walked out on him.
“He chose a sphinx-like image,” he continued. “One associates a sphinx with power, with wisdom. It has multiple sides to the face. I’m not sure if it was a coincidence, but it’s one of the most difficult techniques to portray one of the most difficult women.”
“The Egyptian” also served as the predecessor to the 50-foot-tall Picasso sculpture in Chicago’s Daley Plaza.
The artist again placed Marie-Thérèse in “Women Among Themselves With Sculpted Voyeur. Wink at the Turkish Bath” (1934).
Of course, Picasso is the voyeur.
The double images of Marie-Thérèse document the artist’s evolution during their love affair. His early portraits are naturalistic, like the figure on the left, while his later depictions feature a distinctive profile with a prominent, fused nose and forehead. The woman wearing the mask on the right reveals his lifelong interest in African art, exemplified by his famous, revolutionary 1907 painting “Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon.”
“Look to his prints,” Newman said. “These are not stepchildren. They are all variations of him. He explored storytelling in his prints.”
The prints boast pristine provenance. Nearly all hail from a prominent private collection gestating from the famous Paris art dealer Ambroise Vollard.
In 2015, Picasso’s “Women of Algiers” set the record for the highest price ever paid for a painting when it sold for $179.3 million at Christie’s.