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The Prado is exhibiting one of the most important works from Picasso’s Rose Period, loaned from the Pushkin Museum in Moscow Saturday, September 17, 2011

Acrobat with a Ball will be on display for three months (16 September to 18 December 2011) within the Prado’s “Invited Work” programme, which is sponsored by the Fundación Amigos del Museo and also includes Caravaggio’s Entombment loaned from the Vatican Museums and on display until this Sunday. 

The Prado is exhibiting one of the most important works from Picasso’s Rose Period, loaned from the Pushkin Museum in Moscow

De izda. a dcha.: Miguel Zugaza, director del Museo del Prado; Carlos Zurita, presidente de la Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado; Juan José Herrera de la Muela, embajador especial para el Año Dual España-Rusia 2011; Plácido Arango, presidente del Real Patronato del Museo del Prado; Mercedes de Palacio, subsecretaria del Ministerio de Cultura; Irina Antónova, directora del Museo Estatal de Bellas Artes Pushkin (Moscú); , Aleksandr Kuznetsov, embajador de Rusia en España; y Javier Barón, jefe del Departamento de Pintura del siglo XIX del Museo del Prado y comisario de la exhibición de la obra en este museo.

As part of its 'Invited Work' programme, the Prado is now offering visitors the exceptional chance to see Acrobat with a Ball, one of the most important works from Picasso’s Rose Period. It will be on display at the Prado for three months and represents the first occasion in forty years on which the painting has left the Pushkin Museum as well as its first presentation in Spain.

The painting, acquired by the American writer and collector Gertrude Stein, passed to Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’s gallery from where it was sold to the Russian collector Ivan Morozov in 1913. After the Russian Revolution the Morozov collection became part of the State collections and was principally divided between the two great Soviet public museums: the Pushkin in Moscow, which added Picasso’s painting to its collection in 1948; and the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg. Further significant works from the Hermitage previously in the Morozov collection will also be seen in Madrid this November with the opening of the exhibition The Hermitage in the Prado, thus bringing about a temporary reencounter between these paintings.

In the words of Irina Antonova, Director of the Pushkin Museum: “Picasso is not just a painter” for Russia but rather “a reformer, the figure around which that great dramatic step took place, the radical transition that was personified in Russian Avant-garde through figures of the stature of Malevich and Kandinsky.” Due to the importance for the Pushkin Museum of Acrobat with a Ball the painting has only been loaned on four occasions, all of them major international exhibitions of which the most recent was the one on Picasso held at the Tate Gallery in London in 1960 preceded by the major retrospective to mark Picasso’s 90th birthday held at the Louvre in Paris in 1971.

Another indication of Picasso’s importance for Russia was the sensation caused by the first exhibition on the artist held there in 1956, which included works sent by Picasso himself and by the Russian writer Ilya Ehrenburg, a personal friend of the artist. For Irina Antonova, that exhibition marked the definitive acceptance of Picasso as a “brilliant artist” given that he had previously been seen as a relatively controversial figure.

Acrobat with a Ball

From 1904 onwards Picasso regularly went to the Cirque Medrano, which was located near his studio in the Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre. The Impressionist painters had already been interested in the circus, attracted by its light and movement. Picasso’s interest, however, was of a more universal and profound nature. Through the symbolic figures of the world of the circus he offered a reflection on the life of the artist while also using this theme as part of his process of investigation on fundamental issues of painting. The two principal figures in the present work reveal the two poles of Picasso’s art: creativity and fantasy on the one hand and seriousness and rigour on the other. The figure of the female acrobat on a ball, which is also to be seen in another important painting of this date, The Family of Saltimbanques (Baltimore Museum of Art, The Cone Collection), reveals Picasso’s characteristically playful temperament. His close friend, the writer Guillaume Apollinaire, interpreted this motif as a dance of the stars in reference to the radiant harmony of the cosmos.

Following the intense and melancholy expressivity of the Blue Period, during his next phase, which began in Paris in 1905, Picasso focused on some of the key visual aspects of painting: precise and energetic line; closed, perfect form; and a pronounced sense of volume. His investigations led him to take a direction very different to that of the contemporary young French painters who were fascinated by the violent chromatism of Fauvism.

At that period Picasso was short of materials and thus reused one of his large canvases on which he had previously painted a portrait of the painter Francisco Iturrino (1864-1924), as photographs and x-rays reveal. The portrait had been exhibited at the Ambroise Vollard gallery in Paris in 1901 within Picasso’s first exhibition, which he held jointly with Iturrino.

Picasso studied the composition of Acrobat with a Ball in various preparatory drawings. It reveals a meditated balance between the lightness of the young female acrobat and the solid weight of the athlete. The sphere and the cube on which they are respectively supported emphasise those characteristics and hence the contrast between the two figures. In addition, the sphere and cube are geometrical solids that have been associated with the concepts of perfection and stability since the classical, Platonic tradition. Lastly, the young girl almost seems to be painted in two dimensions, thus emphasising her weightlessness in contrast to the volume of the male figure, which is modelled through gradations of light and shade. The colour, suggesting mural painting in its limited range of pink and ochre tones, and the austere landscape in the background, which has been associated with Picasso’s childhood in Malaga, are both vital elements in creating the sense of a work reduced to its absolute essentials.

The Pushkin Museum

Located in the centre of the city, the Pushkin Museum has one of the most important collections of European art in Russia, only surpassed by that of the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg. Its collections include more than 500,000 objects and works of art from antiquity to the early years of the 20th century.

Founded for educational purposes by the university professor and philologist Ivan Vladimirovich, the Pushkin was opened in 1912 as the Museum of Fine Arts and named after Czar Alexander III.

After the Russian Revolution it became the State Museum of Fine Arts and saw a major growth in its holdings between 1924 and 1930 due to the nationalisation of works of art in private collections and the arrival of old collections from Saint Petersburg, particularly the Hermitage.

The Museum, which received its present name in 1937, houses Egyptian mummies, Greek ceramics and sculptures, and European paintings, including works by leading artists such as Bronzino, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Poussin and Canaletto. Its collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century paintings has made the Pushkin world famous and includes works by Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso and Kandinsky.

Irina Antonova (born Moscow, 1922) has been Director of the Pushkin Museum since 1961, making her the longest serving director of that institution as well as that of any major art museum world-wide. Her distinguished career has been recognised with numerous honours including the State Prize of the Russian Federation and the French Order of Arts and Letters.