MADRID – The Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza presents Picasso/Chanel now through January 15, 2023. The exhibition explores the relationship between these two creative geniuses of the 20th century. Structured into four principal sections, it follows a chronological order approximately spanning the decade between 1915 and 1925.
Pablo Picasso and Gabrielle Chanel worked together on two occasions, both with Jean Cocteau: on Antigone in 1922, and on Serge Diaghilev’s Le Train Bleu in 1924 for his Ballets russes. The artist and the and fashion designer first met in the spring of 1917, probably through Cocteau or Misia Sert, and Chanel became close and long-lasting friends with both, who introduced her to the Picasso’s circle. She socialized with the artist and his wife at a time when he was actively involved with Diaghilev’s company. Chanel became closely associated with the Parisian artistic and intellectual world of the day, to the extent of declaring that “it is artists who have shown me how to be exacting.”
Cubism and the style of Chanel reveals the influence of that art movement on Chanel’s creations from her earliest, innovative designs: her use of a geometrical formal language, chromatic restraint and the Cubist aesthetic of the collage, expressed in clothes with straight, angular lines; her preference for black, white and beige; and her use of inexpensive fabrics with austere textures.
The second section, titled Olga Picasso, focuses on Picasso’s numerous, beautiful portraits of his first wife, the Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, who was one of Chanel’s devoted clients. Shown alongside these works are various ensembles from the designer’s early period, of which few examples survive.
Antigone, a modern-day adaptation by Cocteau of Sophocles’s play, was first performed in Paris in 1922 with sets and masks by Picasso and costumes by Chanel, both of whom were inspired by classical Greece, as this section reveals.
Le Train Bleu is the title of the fourth section and of the ballet created by Diaghilev in 1924 with a scenario by Cocteau, inspired by sport and bathing fashion. Two Women running along the Beach (The Race), a small gouache that Diaghilev encountered in Picasso’s studio, was transformed into the image for the work’s front cloth and the artist also accepted the commission to illustrate the program. For her part, Chanel, herself a keen sportswoman, designed costumes for the dancers, inspired by the sporty outfits she created for herself and for her clients.