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Picasso’s Portraits

Until 5th February, National Portrait Gallery

This riveting exhibition explores Picasso’s restlessly-diverse approach to portraiture, with over 80 pieces on show in various media, some of which have never been seen in Britain. They’re drawn from every stage of the artist’s career and reflect his tendency to both respect and play around with the conventions of the genre. They include caricatures which demonstrate his ability to re-create a vivid likeness with just a few dashes of pencil on paper, exquisitely-expressive paintings that capture the spirit and character of his sitter, radical reworkings of portraits by old masters like Rembrandt and Velázquez, works from his Cubist phase that abstract the human figure, and others from his old age that grotesquely distort it. The sitters are often people from Picasso’s intimate circle, including lovers and wives, many of whom he painted several times over a long period, during which time his emotions towards them evolved. And there are several self-portraits that not only reflect Picasso’s sense of humour but also capture the arresting good looks of his youth and his intensely-attractive charisma. This exhibition may be about celebrating the artist’s extraordinary work, but with Picasso you can never escape the presence of the man. Watch his home movie from 1931 and try not to shiver when he stares directly at the camera.

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