Vintage Pablo: Berlin Hosts 'World's Oldest' Picasso Collection

PHOTO: A collection of 180 Picasso artworks is being exhibited in the Staattliche Museum in Berlin this fall.PlayCourtesy Staatliche Museum
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A collection of 180 Picasso artworks is being exhibited in a Berlin museum this fall. Its director claims the collection is the oldest in the world, with the first etching acquired decades before other European museums took an interest in the artist.

The run-up to the Picasso exhibition opening Friday at Berlin's Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Prints and Drawings) has been oddly low key. But despite the fact that it's received hardly a mention in the German media, the exhibition is unique. The museum's director Heinrich Schulze Altcappenberg claims the Picasso collection is the oldest in the world.

The institution acquired its first Picasso in 1912, shortly before the outbreak of World War I. "There was nothing happening in France at this time. The country's state museums didn't acquire Picasso artworks until the 1950s," the director told Berlin's public broadcaster RBB.

That first acquisition, "Les Pauvres," or "The Poor," is an etching of a starving family during the winter of 1904. The century-old artwork is one of 180 exhibits to be displayed at the museum, which specializes in copper engravings. The majority of the exhibits are from the museum's own archives, while 40 are on loan from various private collections around Europe. The exhibit includes sculptures, engravings, drawings and ceramics by Picasso, covering much of his 70-year output.

The City's History with Picasso

The exhibit has been divided into themes representative of several of the main phases of Picasso's art. Aside from the artist's portrayal of circus performers, his still lifes and literary illustrations, the exhibition includes three themes already alluded to in its title "Frauen, Stiere und Alte Meister" -- "Women, Bulls and Old Masters".

The title prompted a heated discussion internally because of its chauvinistic tone, says Schulze Altcappenberg. "Picasso would be considered a macho by today's standards," he told RBB.

The German capital has its own unique relationship with the artist. The West German government was supposed to host the country's first-ever Picasso exhibition in 1953, but the effort was called off last-minute due to Cold War tensions. A West German official declared that the artist's famous Peace Dove was too similar to a symbol used by the Communists on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

A series of crates containing Picasso's work, which had been sent to Berlin for the purpose of the exhibition, had to be sent back unopened. Ironically, the country's first Picasso exhibition was ultimately held at East Berlin's National Gallery four years later.

fh -- with wires