March 4, 2024


The spark between two geniuses ignited in the spring of 1917. Coco Chanel, a tireless creator capable of striking down corsets on the female silhouette of the previous decade, was already laying the foundations of her future empire with the opening of her first stores in Deauville and Biarritz. “A new world was coming to an end and another was about to be born. I was there, an opportunity was offered to me and I took advantage of it ”, she would tell Paul Morand for his book The air of Chanel. It is not surprising that on the other side of that coincidence was Pablo Picasso, whose works were already on the rise and whose Parisian circle included colleagues such as André Breton and Gertrude Stein. One of the feats of the man from Malaga that year would be to design the set design for the ballet For the for her friend Jean Cocteau, to whom Chanel would go in the company of the couple formed by José María and Misia Sert. That was the germ of a friendship that has been written about on multiple occasions, but that until now had never been the subject of an artistic exhibition.

The Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid has achieved it with Picasso/Chanel, that can be seen until January 15, 2023, an exhibition that is part of the exhibitions that celebrate the Picasso Year, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death. The exhibition is a tribute where fashion and art merge into an interesting dialogue. A selection of 65 works by the painter coexist with five dozen pieces from the French house, largely from his estate, but also from private collections, some of them unpublished to the general public to date. Divided into four sections, it covers Chanel’s link with cubism – the designer explored the straight line and the composition through planes, something that breaks with the volumetric sumptuousness linked to the belle époque —, the figure of Olga Khokhlova – the artist’s first wife, until 1935 – and the two projects that both shared in their years of friendship.

“Cocteau and Misia Sert introduced Coco to Parisian art circles, where Picasso was already a frequent figure,” says Paula Luengo, curator of the show and head of the Museum’s Exhibition Area. “Soon they would become friends, to the point that Olga ended up being a regular client of the designer, and the artist himself would be in charge of collaborating with her on several projects”. The first of them would be the adaptation in 1922 of the Greek tragedy Antigone, directed by Charles Dullin and with an extremely experimental staging. The work would premiere in December of that same year at the L’Atelier theater in Montmartre, with a Picasso decoration in ultramarine blue and Doric columns painted on a canvas. Chanel would be responsible for the wardrobe, although the disappearance of the original pieces has forced it to be recreated with models of similar inspiration or pieces such as the exceptional vase from 380 BC on loan from the British Museum.

“We spent two weeks working on an extensive letter to London, so that they would understand why we needed a vase of Antigone appearing before Creon in an exhibition on Picasso and Chanel,” the artistic director of the museum, Guillermo, commented on Monday at the opening of the exhibition. Solarium. “But we ended up being convincing.”

The 'Chanel/Picasso' exhibition will remain open from October 11 to January 15, 2023.
The ‘Chanel/Picasso’ exhibition will remain open from October 11 to January 15, 2023.
Luis Millán (EFE)

The second collaboration between the two would come with the blue train, a danced operetta that premiered in 1924 with the production of Sergei Diaghilev, founder of the Ballets Russes. Jean Cocteau’s script was an acid look at the Parisian bourgeoisie, covered by scenes of the beach and recreation, whose title was due to the luxury express that linked the French capital with the Costa Brava. In the sample you can see uniforms for tennis players and bathers designed by Chanel, a video of a performance from 1992 and up to gouache original Two women running on the beach of Picasso, which would be used as an image for the curtain of the work.

Chanel evening dress in yellow velvet from the private collection of Martin Kramer (Switzerland).
Chanel evening dress in yellow velvet from the private collection of Martin Kramer (Switzerland).Christin Lostra (Thyssen Bornemisza Museum)

“When Coco Chanel said that fashion goes out of style, but style remains, it was by no means an empty phrase,” said Chanel Heritage Director Hélène Fulgence at the opening of the show. “She spoke of going against the canons that prevailed in a period to create something that would revolutionize us as a society, and that is precisely what united her with Picasso”. His words make the selection between the sample of a bottle of fragrance No. 5 —“a complex and vibrant perfume, presented in an austere bottle baptized by the sample number chosen in the laboratory”— or a small handbag in silk crepe, traversed by square figures in a trompe l’oeil. “The fabrics in many cases could be modest, but her way of cutting them and constructing garments were what set her apart from any other designer of the time,” says Fulgence.

One of the first visitors to the 'Picasso/Chanel' exhibition at the Thyssen Museum, on October 10, 2022, in Madrid.
One of the first visitors to the ‘Picasso/Chanel’ exhibition at the Thyssen Museum, on October 10, 2022, in Madrid. Luis Millán (EFE)

Picasso/Chanel It is one more step in linking Thyssen to fashion, an industry that certain museums look down on and to which it, in contrast, has given itself unreservedly in shows such as Hubert de Givenchy (2014), Sorolla and fashion (2018) or Balenciaga and Spanish painting (2019). In Chanel’s legacy, it is not new to be the subject of an exhibition, since since her death in 1971 there have been multiple and disparate exhibitions dedicated to the woman who struck down the corsets of the female silhouette to weave a new freedom in clothing. her. Of all of them, the most extraordinary of hers to date was the one that the Metropolitan Museum of New York dedicated to her in 2005. But never until now had her figure been sewn together with that of another of the cultural titans of the era of she. Only for that, Picasso/Chanel and part of a premise as disruptive as the minds of its protagonists, who say goodbye to the exhibition with their open hands portrayed, respectively, by Nick de Morgoli and Andre Kertész.

A man visits the exhibition "Picasso/Chanel" that explores the relationship of two great creators of the 20th century: Pablo Picasso and Gabrielle Chanel that is shown in the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid.
A man visits the “Picasso/Chanel” exhibition that explores the relationship of two great creators of the 20th century: Pablo Picasso and Gabrielle Chanel that is displayed at the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum in Madrid. Luis Millán (EFE)

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