Diary Entries From a Feminist Curator’s Encounters With Picasso

Joanna Drew and Roland Penrose installing the Picasso exhibition at the Tate Gallery, 1960. From the archive of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (photo by Alan Vines)

Miss Drew is a modest and self-effacing lady with exceptional taste and artistic probity; many crucial exhibitions (for example Arp, David Smith) have gained in clarity from her tact, and I refer to all this only because Joanna Drew works inside the anonymity of the Arts Council, which harbours several other dedicated and unsung individuals….

 

— Bryan Robertson in a review in newspaper The Spectator of Picasso: Sculpture, Ceramics, Graphic Work 

Joanna Drew had a long career at the Arts Council of Great Britain. Nearly from its inception in 1946 she worked within its structure; she acted as Exhibition Secretary for a show of contemporary British painting in 1949 and eventually served as Director of Art for nearly four decades. A steadfast feminist in a male-dominated art world, she considered herself a worker rather than a curator, and was among a small handful of individuals who shaped contemporary visual art in Great Britain post-World War II. Caroline Hancock’s book, Joanna Drew and the Art of Exhibitions, traces this history of postwar exhibition-making in the UK through Drew’s life and career. The story is largely relayed by Hancock, an independent curator who was an exhibition organizer at the Hayward Gallery from 2002 to 2008, where Drew herself created many an exhibition. It also features contributions from such notable artists and cultural producers as Marin Caiger-Smith, Bridget Riley, and Nicholas Serota. While all of these are worth reading, particularly if one works at a museum or has a keen interest in the development of British contemporary art, the book’s highlights come from Drew’s diary.

Markéta Luskačová, Portrait of Joanna Drew, 1986. All rights reserved.

Via the Arts Council, Drew collaborated with Sir Roland Penrose, a Picasso scholar, to bring Picasso: Sculpture, Ceramics, Graphic Work to the Tate Gallery in 1967. As Picasso had not allowed his sculpture to be included in the previous British exhibition of his work in 1960, the 1967 project was considered a significant coup for Penrose and the Council. Many of the 203 sculptures in the show had been loaned by the artist and Penrose had promised Picasso that “he would take personal responsibility for returning these to Picasso’s home in Provence” following the exhibition’s stops in Paris and New York. So in January of 1968, Penrose, Drew, and the American photographer and photojournalist Lee Miller (who was married to Penrose) visited Picasso’s home in the south of France to ensure the artworks were properly returned. For three days, Drew unpacked and condition-checked every object, and it was during this stay that Picasso gifted her a drawing, “The Kiss” (1967), that was henceforth to hang in her apartment and is now in the collection of the Tate.

The following excerpt from Drew’s diary of these three days is a very real and honest take on this trip, including her observations of the artworks at Picasso’s home, his mood following a visit to the dentist, and his comments on repairing contemporary sculpture. She noted, “Talking about sculpture, Picasso said it was important in his work that it should be kept intact because otherwise people would not know where to join the bits on. If you found the arm of the Venus de Milo that was alright. You knew it was an arm. But with the Woman with the pram — Douglas Cooper had taken the breasts for the eyes and the head for some kind of hat.”

* * *

Friday pm.

Arrived at Nice, drove to Cannes. Telephoned Picasso.

Sat am.

Leisurely. To Antibes to market. To Léger Museum. Rendezvous with Chenue, camion + men outside Cannes. Notre-Dame-de-Vie is in a very built-up valley with the village perché of Mougins to the west/north. Up to house — front of house is now sculpture studio; entrance through small door into narrow passage with a studio (new) on right. Clean, well-run and immensely full of things. Salon on right — white curtains at near end into a room which contains (according to Roland Penrose) many of non-Picasso collection. In salon there are sofas round walls facing windows, all covered with piles of books, coats, drawings and objects. There is a complex portrait of the artist painting on wall facing window — white, red and green; a sketchier version of 1906 self-portrait in Philadelphia; a Corot-like very early landscape; several early drawings. A wire sculpture hanging on wall. Picasso pointed out it has no base. On floor in the salon and in studio next door are two boxes of bronzes from the wood figures of 1931/32.

Picasso, Roland Penrose, and Joanna Drew on the balcony of Notre-Dame-de-Vie, Mougins, January 1968 (photo by Lee Miller. Lee Miller Archive, England. All rights reserved)

Picasso was not very well, having been to dentist. I went down to unpack. This was done on terrace outside sculpture studio and stuff stacked at entrance for Jacqueline [Roque; Picasso’s wife] to check off. 21 cases undone between about 5.15 and 8.00! Jacqueline is very beautiful in a contained way — just like all the pictures and photos of her but very slight and very small. Moves with great rhythm, moving her shoulders. Great charm and physical integrity. Recoils from Lee’s American onslaughts. Picasso seemed every one of his 85 years, with that frail transparent quality of the very old. Also rather deaf and with no fire in his eyes. He showed us a dozen or so drawings in a folder in the drawing studio — very recent. Mostly reclining woman and man in Algerian dress — bearded and turbaned — versions really of painter and his model. Sculpture studio is whole of ground floor of house but on three levels separated by two arcades. Everything is there. Other casts of several pieces including the Woman with pram, the Femme enceinte (both versions), the Tête de mort, the Little girl skipping, the most abstract of the Boisgeloup pieces. Also all the plasters from Boisgeloup onwards and a cast of Michelangelo’s Slave and of a New Caledonian (?) Islands figure in B.M. Some more têtes and the groups of bathers. (2nd casts of the Man running, the arrow figure [Man with javelin].)

Joanna Drew with Henry Moore, David Sylvester and Monika Kinley (the architect Fred Darke is in the background) at the Tate Gallery during the installation of Henry Moore’s exhibition in 1968 in honour of his 70th birthday (photo by Martine Franck/Magnum Photos)

Sunday

Out of Cannes and up the mountains by the routes des mimosas — the route d’or. Bad skid on icy patch in a gully which scared Lee (me driving). Marvellous views, marvellous air. Up to Mougins and to Picasso at 3.30 for 2nd envoi. Picasso working. Took us into studio on floor above to see new work. Biggish pictures — mostly single women, sometimes man + woman, very free, cool whites, lilacs, greens, very sensual or perhaps explicitly sexual — every one. Picasso showed us many new pictures mostly on same themes but one course de taureaux and one of spectators. Talked about paints. I went down to supervise unpacking and came up later when they had all returned to salon. Picasso in very good form. Roland asked him to sign two catalogues and then he asked whether I hadn’t got anything for him to sign. When I said no he sent Jacqueline to find something. When she said what — he said “n’importe quoi.” She returned with his favourite book of old comics to tease him — Les Bandes des Pieds Nickelés. His face fell a mile. Then she produced Notre-Dame-de-Vie and Picasso signed and drew in it for me. Down again to finish unpacking big [sculptures] and see the men off. Then a drink and watch television — all-in wrestling! We were talking and Picasso was saying how quickly he modelled L’Homme au mouton and how bits kept falling off so it had to be cast straight away. I said how I had found butterfly cocoons in the crevices and he said he remembered that at Vauvenargues he had one day put his hand between the legs and found a wasp’s nest. I asked whether the wasp’s nest had eaten the sex but he said he didn’t think they were so discriminating. I said that it bothered me that the man had no sex and he said “tiens c’est vrai c’est bizarre chez moi; it’s true I am more interested in women’s sex than men’s but still one must respect these things.” I couldn’t watch the wrestling too long and wandered round the room looking at things. Picasso saw me looking at an awful Guttuso drawing and asked me whether I knew who it was by. I said yes, but I didn’t like it very much and he said he didn’t either. I said I liked things [Guttuso] was doing some 10-14 years ago and Picasso said yes, the still lifes especially.

Earlier when we were talking about paints and Picasso was showing us some stainers I asked him whether he liked oils best. He said it depended what you wanted to do — then unfortunately Roland interrupted asking him for a paint colour card of which he had two. Roland said about one picture — “But this is quite new and different colours you are using” and Picasso said “Yes, I didn’t have these colours before.”

Talking about sculpture, Picasso said it was important in his work that it should be kept intact because otherwise people would not know where to join the bits on. If you found the arm of the Venus de Milo that was alright. You knew it was an arm. But with the Woman with the pram — Douglas Cooper had taken the breasts for the eyes and the head for some kind of hat.

Picasso told Roland that the Personnage with the spoon was broken. He said it didn’t matter — he would put something else instead.

Jacqueline Roque Picasso and Joanna Drew at work, Notre-Dame-de-Vie, Mougins, January 1968 (photo by Lee Miller.  Lee Miller Archive, England.  All rights reserved)

Cannes evening of 22 January.

Bar at the port. It’s good after two meals a day for three days to eat a ham sandwich and drink a glass of wine. Also good to walk. The day started at 7.30. Up to Picasso’s by 8.30. All unpacking finished by 11.00-11.15 and the studio full — no, not full because there is a lot of space, but crowded in certain places. Jacqueline burned packing in the big fireplace at the back to warm us as the big glass doors were open to the terrace. Men thanked, tipped and departed — rather an anticlimax as they had to push the van to start. Picasso came down and we talked a little of the sculpture. Again about L’Homme au mouton. He says they all change colour as he moves them from house to house — I think he meant the ones which are outside. He remarked on the fact that yesterday we were both wearing blue and today cream and yellow. He asked us to come back in the afternoon as he wanted to give us something and we all left together. Back to Cannes. On to Vallauris to see chapel. Too small for the paintings. Peace is better than War but it doesn’t look as if he was much interested in either. The conventional symbolism of bloody daggers, skulls, ploughs and hour glasses seems banal chez Picasso. L’Homme au mouton on the other hand looks very good. To Madoura to say hello and check good arrival of their ceramic. Back to Cannes and on to Notre-Dame-de-Vie. Picasso in very good form — even better when a young Spanish journalist/writer arrived from London with Carnaby Street shirts + ties for him. Picasso called Roland away into the drawing studio and after a bit Roland called me to show me the drawings which Picasso has given us. I like Roland’s best but I think I like mine too very much — but I’ve had hardly more than a glimpse of it.

Joanna Drew, January 19-22, 1968

Edited by Helen Luckett from Joanna Drew’s notes in Tate Archive, Joanna Drew Papers TGA 200319/3/35. Printed in Joanna Drew and the Art of Exhibitions, Skira, 2019, pp. 47-50.

Pablo Picasso, “Le baiser” (The kiss), graphite on paper.  Signed “Pour Joanna Drew/Picasso le 22.1.68” (Collection of the Tate. Bequeathed by Joanna Drew ©Succession Picasso/DACS, London)

Joanna Drew and the Art of Exhibitions by Caroline Hancock (2019) is published by Skira and is available from Amazon and other online retailers.

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