The Na­tional Por­trait Gallery cel­e­brates the mod­ernist mas­ter, Pablo Pi­casso.

Ex­hi­bi­tions rarely get big­ger than this – Sam Rogg cel­e­brates Pablo Pi­casso as his por­traits come to the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery

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Pablo Pi­casso’s ca­reer spanned al­most 80 years, and over that time he cre­ated more than 20,000 works of art, in­clud­ing paint­ings, sculp­tures and ce­ram­ics. No artist be­fore or af­ter him has been more pro­lific or ver­sa­tile. Time and time again, he re­de­fined var­i­ous art forms, shift­ing his style when­ever he pleased.

‘Are we to paint what’s on the face, what’s in­side the face, or what’s be­hind it?’ he asked when it came to por­trai­ture. This month, the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery re­veals how mas­ter­fully he could do all three.

More than 80 of the Span­ish artist’s works will be on dis­play in Pi­casso-Por­traits, rang­ing from fa­mil­iar mas­ter­pieces to paint­ings that have never been shown in Bri­tain. ‘ This ex­hi­bi­tion will con­front one’s pre­con­ceived ideas of what a por­trait should be and what a Pi­casso ought to look like,’ says Bernardo La­ni­ado-Romero, direc­tor of Museu Pi­casso in Barcelona, who worked with the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery to stage this land­mark show.

Nat­u­rally, there are more than a few cu­bist por­traits on dis­play, ex­e­cuted in the style that Pi­casso him­self in­vented. More un­usual are the clas­sic draw­ings, self-por­traits and witty car­i­ca­tures he cre­ated, in­spired by artists such as Velázquez and Rem­brandt.

‘I had quite strict cri­te­ria for what con­sti­tuted a por­trait,’ says cu­ra­tor Pro­fes­sor El­iz­a­beth Cowl­ing ahead of the show. ‘ The works had to be of iden­ti­fied in­di­vid­u­als and to be set up as por­traits rather than, say, as nudes or genre scenes.’

Friends, lovers, wives, chil­dren – Pi­casso fa­mously chose to de­pict peo­ple in his in­ner cir­cle rather than work to com­mis­sion like many of his peers. The re­sult is an amaz­ing kalei­do­scope of char­ac­ters and in­ti­mate mo­ments that leap off the can­vas like pages from a jour­nal. But then, as Pi­casso al­ways said, ‘paint­ing is just an­other way of keep­ing a di­ary’. From 6 Oct. St Martin’s Place, WC2H 0HE. T: 020-7306 0055.

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