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The Picasso Effect

The Art Institute's museum-wide celebration of Picasso is certainly anchored by Picasso and Chicago, but you'll find evidence of the artist in almost every corner of the museum. No fewer than nine curatorial departments have explored Picasso's wide-ranging artistic interests and influences, with some being more familiar than others.

Mask for Ntomo

For example, Picasso's affinity for African art is well documented. Paintings like Les Demoiselles D'Avignon (which is not in the exhibition) clearly illustrate how he took inspiration from African masks. In fact, Picasso was an avid—and early—collector of African art. The presentation in our African galleries includes pieces that would have been comparable to works once owned by Picasso. At the time of his death, Picasso had collected some 100 African objects, of which nearly one third were masks from present-day Mali. Many of these Malian masks, including the Art Institute's mask above, depict human-animal hybridity and metamorphosis, themes often explored by Picasso  in his work.


Similarly, the museum's Ancient Art department has also taken a look at another of Picasso's influences, although this one is arguably less well-known. In his quest for a modern aesthetic, Picasso looked back in history to the art of the ancient Mediterranean. He studied Greek antiquities at the Louvre, including Cycladic sculptures and Greek vases painted int he black-figure technique. Mythological figures from these pieces appear in works throughout his career. In particular, satyrs—half-man, half-horse creatures driven by insatiable appetites for food, sex, and wine—appear on both ancient Greek vessels and in Picasso's work. In the Art Institute's storage jar, horse-eared satyrs appear on the neck, suggesting that it may once have contained undiluted wine.

Image Credits: Mask for Ntomo. Late 19th/early 20th century. Segou region of Mali. African and Amerindian Art Purchase Fund.

Amphora (Storage Jar). c. 520 B.C. Greek, Athens. Close to the style of the Antimenes Painter. Costa A. Pandaleon Endowment.