Although the earliest Picasso artwork is showcased by Barcelona’s Picasso Museum, the Picasso paintings titled Las Meninas are the real masterpieces.
Picasso – who didn’t shrink from measuring himself against the most celebrated painters of art history – explored and interpreted famous paintings by Courbet, Manet, El Greco, and Velazquez.
Diego Velazquez. Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor), 1656. Oil on canvas, 10’5″ by 9′ Museo del Prado, Madrid.
Between August and September of 1957, Picasso delved into a thorough analysis of Velazquez’ masterpiece (left). This excercise yielded the 58 Picasso paintings that comprise his Las Meninas series.
If anyone were to try to copy “Las Meninas” in complete good faith, and for example, got to a certain point – and if I were the copier – I would say to myself, “If I just put this a little more to the right or left?”. I would try to do it my own way, forgetting about Velazquez.
In this collection of Picasso artwork, it’s fascinating to observe which elements from the original were preserved and which Picasso altered.
Among the more prominent changes by Picasso are:
- altering the picture format from vertical to horizontal, and
- opening the windows on the right which Velazquez had painted closed.
In Las Meninas (Group) (right), Picasso retains the two groups from the Velazquez version:
1. Agustina de Sarmiento and the Infanta Margaritz, and
2. the trio of Isabel de Velasco, Maribarbola and Nicolasito in the right foreground. His variation here is nearly stripped of all color, turning this famous painting into grisaille.
Pablo Picasso. 1957. Oil on canvas, approx. 6’4″ by 8’6″. Museo Picasso, Barcelona.
Picasso reinstates color in subsequent variations as he explores studies of the intact groups Velazquez presented; in other iterations, he delves into individual portraits and portraits of each of the trios.
Pablo Picasso. 1957. Oil on canvas, approx. 6’4″ by 8’6″. Museu Picasso, Barcelona.
It’s a marvel to see this entire ensemble of Picasso paintings in one place… while it’s hard to believe that Pablo Picasso completed these paintings in only four months.
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And explore more Velazquez paintings here.