Throughout his life, Picasso kept returning to the motifs of the simple country life: hard-working animals and humans in an ancient landscape. The exact kind of life that he came from himself. The donkey, men, women, and children. It was never a matter of glorifying or romanticising over this primitive lifestyle; rather, he seemed to want to depict his own compassion for and identification with those who toil away in silence, without complaining.
In this little painting, animals and people are lined up as if to be photographed. The landscape is merely suggested, much like in the paintings of the early Renaissance, in which the perspective is kept as simple as possible and the figures are positioned at the lower edge of the paper, as though it were their floor. Picasso was a divinely gifted draughtsman. Although he’s used a fairly big brush, each individual has distinct facial features and expressions (apart from the hat-wearing man with the donkey to the left of the picture). The donkey, perhaps, looks the most alive of them all. Her eyes express curiosity, and connection, and her front ear has been turned up, to listen. In just a few brushstrokes, he has evoked the moment of a silent encounter.
This ink wash painting is from the summer of 1960, which marked the beginning of a highly experimental and intense period that would last until his death in 1973. The artwork came to Sweden thanks to a very special and influential person in the Swedish art scene: Agnes Widlund. She was born in Hungary in 1911, and migrated here after meeting her future husband Erik Widlund.
In 1943, she opened the Samlaren gallery–quite a bold move to make in the middle of a raging World War! On the other hand, perhaps it was precisely because Sweden was staying out of the war that Picasso, or maybe rather his art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, was so open to the idea of introducing modernism to the Swedish public. Over the years, Agnes showed the best works from the continental avant-garde, as well as supporting talented Swedish artists. It was through her gallery that Moderna Museet managed to acquire one of the most essential works in their collections, the large collage Apollo by Henri Matisse.
— Viewing a Picasso is always a magical experience. ‘Scène Villageoise’ expresses an unusual degree of intimacy and presence. The fact that Agnes Widlund herself once showed it in her legendary gallery only serves to makes it no less sensational.
Pablo Picasso ‘Scène Villageoise’, 1960
Exhibition view: ‘Showroom: Spring Show’ featuring Pablo Picasso