Visit to the Met, and a Picasso Enigma

My friend Bernie and I went to the Metropolitan Museum the other day to see the Turner show. The beautiful, inspiring, elegant Turner show I should say. Seascapes, landscapes, and some of the best watercolors you’ll ever see in your life. It’s the talk of the town not only among art world insiders, but also plain old art-loving New Yorkers who are Met “regulars”. And deservedly so. It’s one of the best Met exhibits of late. Much better than that tacky, overrated and ridiculously overhyped Courbet show a few months back. Hey, what can I say, that just wasn’t my thing. But Turner is glorious. Sensitive, aesthetic, graceful, and sincere. A beautiful artist.

Since I mentioned “Met regulars”, of which I am one, I should point out that it’s a common practice for us to linger in the museum even after we’ve finished viewing the “hot” show. You have to. You can’t just leave, it’s the Met! All of us have to make some kind of detour before we exit the building; a detour that leads us to a personal favorite which consistently pleases us, makes our inspiration soar, and fills us with awe. You guys, my New York friends and artists, all know what I’m talking about. The detour is different for everyone, and that’s fine. As long as you pay a pilgrimage visit to your special work of art while you’re still on the premises. In general, the Met Museum is a hard place to walk out of, it’s that great.

For me, the exit-delaying detour is the second floor, where one can find some of the finest pieces of the Met’s permanent collection, specifically early 20th century European works. Among them is one of my all-time favorite paintings, Picasso’s Woman in White. So after we finished viewing the Turner show, I just had to stop in and see it, for the 800th time.

Bernie accompanied me to the Picasso and we enjoyed it immensely. And while I was looking at it, it occured to me that I have so far neglected to post it on my blog. What an oversight! I should be ashamed of myself! So I’m doing it now. But for Museworthy, I have to discuss the identity of the sitter, which turns out to be shrouded in mystery and confusion. Of course, make my life difficult!

For many years it was held that the model for this painting was Picasso’s wife at the time, Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova. Now, thanks to the inquiring, investigative minds of Picasso biographers and art historians, it’s speculated that the model may be not Olga after all, but American socialite and expatriate Sara Murphy.

Sara and her husband Gerald Murphy moved to the French Riviera in the 1920s. Active patrons of the arts and “Jazz Age” icons, the Murphys became the central vortex of an impressive clique of friends and luminaries, which included writers such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and John Dos Passos, the composer Igor Stravinsky, and artists, most notably Pablo Picasso, with whom they had a close friendship. The Murphys are believed to have been the models for the Nicole and Dick Diver characters in Fitzgerald’s book Tender is the Night.

Although no hard evidence exists of an actual affair between Picasso and the vivacious Sara, he was at the very least, infatuated with her. By all accounts, Sara was a charismatic and somewhat eccentric figure. Attractive and intelligent, she was famous for wearing her pearls while sunbathing on the beach. She had all the captivating qualities of an inspiring muse, that’s for sure.

I’m inclined to believe that the Woman in White is, in fact, Sara Murphy. Poor Olga! But either way, the painting is exquisite, and while I’m happy to post it here on Museworthy, it can’t compare to seeing it in real life, hanging on the wall of the Met.

3 thoughts on “Visit to the Met, and a Picasso Enigma

  1. dougrogers says:

    One of the things that constantly impresses me about your blog is that it is about people. History, cast as the lives of people, in context, brings it alive – to speak the cliche. Art History, studied in high school and college, was about the pictures.

  2. artmodel says:

    Doug,

    Your comment means so much to me, as it reflects perfectly my whole approach to blogging, understanding history, and appreciating art. I agree with you 100%, that things “come alive” when they are understood through the biographies of the people who made things happen.

    Thank you so much, Doug, for what you said, and your wonderful compliment about the blog. I make a conscious effort to present things the way I do, and it’s so gratifying to see it acknowledged the way you did.

    Best,
    Claudia

  3. swatch says:

    Hey Claudia – thank you for your notes on the life and women of Picasso. Imagine being able to go to see art like this when you want. What a beautiful picture. I keep going back to look at it. Ai!

    Have you written any notes about Turner? I would love to read your take on him. He was such an interesting man. I have just finished reading “Standing in the Sun” a biography. It was quite a heavy read, full of detail but worth it. He seemed to really struggle with communicating in words. Sometimes. Apparently John Singer Sargent was the same. How common is that with painters I wonder? Like the Flying Man in the TV series Northern Exposure. He could not speak because the words weighed him down so that he couldn’t fly.

    I agree with Doug – you have a special way with your postings. The way you tell the stories is special. It is a gift.

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