After a five-year, roughly $65 million renovation troubled by a series of setbacks—staff protests, the subsequent ousting of museum president Anne Baldassari and multiple expansions in scope and budget—the embattled Musée Picasso in Paris’s Marais district finally reopened its doors on October 25. The results are well worth the wait.
During the long hiatus, a collaborative team of architects retrofitted the 17th-century space with modern facilities while taking care to retain the Baroque flourishes that show the heritage of the institution, the celebrated Hôtel Salé. White-cube galleries bathed in softly diffused natural light and new aluminum-banistered staircases to intermingle with the original sumptuous stone Mazarin architecture of the historic building. Thanks to the overhaul, which was commissioned in part to bring the building in line with new code requirements, there is now double the exhibition space, giving the museum 41,000 square feet to show its collection of nearly 5,000 paintings, sculptures and sketches.
The new museum experience is an immersive lesson not only in Picasso the artist, but also Picasso the man. In planning the relaunch exhibition—on view through June 2015—Baldassari curated a holistic study of his career peppered with personal ephemera—the blue paint-splattered chair he used as a palette on view on the second floor, for example, or the black-and-white photographs of his studio mid-Guernica, shown in the cellar. (Worth noting: The easy-to-miss, stone-walled vaulted cellar seems to have fallen from the exhibition path, but wander beyond coat check to see Picasso’s larger-scale sculptures, including his 1956 metal Bathers series.)
Spectators traverse Picasso’s oeuvre chronologically, starting on the ground floor where works like Portrait of Gustave Coquiot (1901) attest to the early influence of Lautrec and Degas. From there, the original Baroque grand staircase will lead us to the artist’s progression through Primitivism and Cubism in galleries arranged by theme—rooms devoted to nudes, to self-portraits, to wartime minotaurs, to the studies that led to his iconic Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon (1907).
Upwards still, in the tight corners of the low-ceilinged attic outfitted with exposed, ancient-looking wooden beams and tiny windows overlooking the Marais, we look inside Picasso’s personal collection of works by Matisse, Braque, Modigliani. This close-up of the artist’s greatest influences and friends, like the whole of the museum, gives a quiet but profound insight to one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century.
Image Credit: © Musée National Picasso