The Museu Picasso celebrates the humanism of Kahnweiler, the gardener of avant-garde artists

Their first meeting took place in Paris, in the summer of 1907.

Thomas Osborne
Thomas Osborne
30 November 2022 Wednesday 13:49
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The Museu Picasso celebrates the humanism of Kahnweiler, the gardener of avant-garde artists

Their first meeting took place in Paris, in the summer of 1907. Picasso, who was 26 years old at the time, was still working in one of the miserable Bateau-Lavoir premises, but his talent was already an open secret. Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, an even younger Jew of German origin (23 years old), had just opened a tiny 16-square-meter gallery near the Madeleine church. From that rapprochement between a cultured art dealer willing to ally himself with the most daring artists and a creator who was rumored to be creating a painting so radical that it was scary that same summer (Les Demoiselles d'Avignon) an alliance was born that became in engine of art and life.

In that small gallery, cubism was incubated and took its first steps, and over the following decades, "thousands of works passed through the hands of its owner, entire collections were orchestrated and shaped tastes and spirits around the world", the historian points out. Brigitte Leal, curator of the dazzling exhibition that, in addition to numerous loans from individuals, brings together in the Museu Picasso a set of more than one hundred works that were part of her private collection and today enrich the collections of the Pompidou Center in Paris.

"It is one of the great exhibitions that can be seen in Europe today," says the director of the Museu Picasso, Emmanuel Guigon, shortly after the opening of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. Art dealer and publisher (from December 2 to March 19, 2023). And although it may seem an exaggeration, the truth is that rarely can one see so many and so extraordinary works in Barcelona, ​​of course by Picasso, but also by George Braque or Fernand Léger, by André Masson, Paul Klee, Juan Gris, Gaston Louis Roux or the Catalans Josep Togores and Manolo Hugué, whom he sponsored. All of them have their own room.

The exhibition is part of the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Picasso's death, but as Guigon recalls, Kahnweiler was also an accomplice and was closely linked to the creation of the Barcelona museum, which is sixty years old. It was he who ensured that a copy of each edition of Picasso's graphic work reached the hands of his secretary, Jaume Sabartés, which gave rise to what was later the founding nucleus of the museum. And also who, thanks to his friendship with the Gaspar gallery, made it possible for Picasso's work to be seen for the first time in Spain during the dictatorship.

"He loved the artists and their courageous, solitary and clairvoyant task. In a way, he was the great gardener, protecting them from the elements and from bad days, allowing their work to develop in the best possible conditions", he recalls. Xavier Vilató, also an artist, son of Lola, the painter's sister, and great-nephew of both Picasso and Kahnweiler. Like himself, the exhibition is also full of crossed paths and communicating vessels. Conceived as a novel in ten chapters, the story begins with a photograph in which Jacqueline assumes the role of artist picking up the painter with her camera while she portrays her dealer, who at that time is also her muse. "It is a triangle that reflects a free world," says Leal, for whom after this impressive succession of works "what floats in the environment is the spirit of friendship, humanist convictions and love of art and friends."

The son of a German banking family, Kahnweiler was a cultured gallery owner who had studied philosophy and spoke four languages. It was in his first gallery that the word cubism appeared for the first time, courtesy of a critic who defined the geometry of some of Braque's landscapes as "little cubes". He edited the greatest poets and writers: Apollinaire, Max Jacob, André Malraux, Antonin Artaud... And he was a pacifist who suffered the ravages of war.

Twice he lost everything, and both times he started over from scratch. Forced into exile in Switzerland after the outbreak of World War I because of his German citizenship, his assets were seized "as enemy property" by the French state and thousands of works from his collection were auctioned between 1921 and 1923 in historic sessions held at the Hotel Drouot. "I have had the immense joy of witnessing my own execution for the second time," he wrote to his friend and client Wilhelm Uhde. With the arrival of the Second World War, he had to flee again, this time because of his Jewish status, abandoning his belongings, a large part of which he would never see again, and having to live in hiding "under the clouds of cameras." Of gas".

In the 1920s, Kahnweiler ran a new gallery, the Simon, in which, after the rout caused by the war among the artists with whom he had started his career (only Juan Gris remained), André Masson, Paul Klee and Gaston Louis Roux militated. which from the forties became the Louise Leiris gallery. Picasso and Kahnweiler will meet again from 1957 where the last Picasso portrays Jacqueline Roque and makes numerous variations of Delacroix or Velázquez.