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Greece Celebrates Picasso, the Master Who Was ‘More Greek Than the Greeks’

Picasso Greece
«La Source,» a drawing on canvas from 1921 which depicts a female figure clothed in an ancient Greek chiton and leaning against a rock with an amphora on her lap, is probably one of the most obvious examples of Picasso’s “classical period.” Public Domain

Greece celebrated Pablo Picasso, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, whose work was influenced by the country’s light, spirit, and spiritual essence, as the Greek President said.

The Museum of Ancient Eleutherna near Rethymno, Crete celebrated its 8th anniversary with the inauguration of an exhibition on Pablo Picasso that included Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, the former queen of Spain Sophia and her sister Irene, and daughter of Picasso, Paloma, among guests.

On the mountain site of Eleutherna, the Museum hosts the exhibition “Picasso on Crete: Joy of Life”, showcasing 62 works by Picasso, curated by the excavator of Eleutherna and currently Director of the Acropolis Museum, Nikos Stambolidis, and Paloma Picasso.

At the site, which this year celebrates its 40th anniversary since excavations began, the works by Picasso were linked to the Museum’s permanent artifacts to celebrate the depiction of the joy of life.

Picasso Greece
From L to R: Paloma Picasso, Nikos Stambolidis, Queen of Spain Sophia, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou. Credit: AMNA

Picasso: “More Greek  than the Greeks”

Although Picasso never visited Greece, he had studied ancient Greek art both through his visits to the Louvre during his student years and via Roman art, which he saw when he visited Italy for the first time in 1917 with his friend Jean Cocteau.

Visual references to antiquity begin to appear in the works of this period, also known as Picasso’s “classical period.”

The statuesque nudes, the classical compositions, but also an interest in subject matter taken from mythology (for example, the series of drawings «Nessus and Dianeira» from 1920) prevail in Picasso’s works of the time and reflect the “rappel a l’ordre,” a term coined by Jean Cocteau in his book of the same name.

Picasso had developed a special relationship with Greece’s light, spirit, and spiritual essence, President Sakellaropoulou said, and led him to abandon the distorted images influenced by World War II to incorporate figures of Greek mythology in his art, such as nymphs and satyrs, fauns and centaurs dancing.

The president cited art critic Frank Elgar, who had described Picasso as “more Greek than the Greeks”, and created works that converse with one another continuously in the present moment.

Professor Stampolidis, responsible for creating the Archaeological Park of Eleutherna and the Museum, said that Paloma Picasso selected those pieces of her father’s work where nature, animals and the Mediterranean light danced in harmony with the ancient Greek myths.

“We chose the Museum of Ancient Eleftherna as a site for the exhibition, within a magical archaeological space where the ancient breeze still blows and whispers secrets of the joy of life,” he said.

Paloma Picasso said the exhibit’s purpose is to share the directness that was characteristic of Picasso, and said the 62 works by his hands converse with 24 themes from the Museum, proving the deep influence that Greek mythology and antiquity had on her father.

She also said the exhibition was dedicated to and honored her late brother Claude (who died in 2023), and hoped to convey that sense of joy and inspiration that both experienced as children growing up in a world of imagination and reality that were linked.

Claude, she said, felt very strongly about Crete and the Aegean, where he asked that his ashes be scattered.

A book related to the exhibition and to family life with Picasso is dedicated to him. On Sunday, Paloma Picasso will be signing copies of the book for visitors to the Museum of Ancient Eleutherna.

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