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Massive Picasso Curtain Finds Home at New-York Historical Society

By Emily Frost | May 27, 2015 5:39pm
 "Le Tricorne" will live permanently at the New-York Historical Society. 
Picasso's "Le Tricorne"
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A stage curtain painted by Pablo Picasso nearly a century ago that has hung at the Four Seasons for 55 years has a new permanent home in an exhibition hall at the New-York Historical Society

"Le Tricorne," painted by Picasso in 1919, is believed to be the largest painting by the Spanish artist in the United States, according to the museum. 

The Vivendi Corporation bestowed the painting as a gift to the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2005. Two years ago, the Conservancy sued the new owner of the Seagram Building to prevent removal of the painting, believing the process would damage it.

A settlement was reached this past November whereby the 20-by-19-foot curtain — painted on canvas and depicting a group of onlookers at a Spanish bullfight dressed in mantillas and traditional garb — would move to the Upper West Side museum. 

"It was always intended to be a very public Picasso...and is one of the most well-known," said Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, at an opening for the exhibit Wednesday.

Now, "everyone who could never get into the Four Seasons can enjoy it," she added. 

The painting, originally commissioned for an experimental ballet based on a Spanish novella of the same name, hangs at the center of a second-floor exhibition hall and opens to the public May 29.

Surrounding the curtain are paintings by European and American artists who were Picasso's contemporaries to inform the viewer about the style and form art was taking at the time of its debut, explained curator Roberta Olson. 

The curtain is also accompanied by a set of older Spanish paintings that influenced Picasso, as well as two tapestries that show how the artist mirrored and departed from this traditional form, she said. 

In preparation for painting the curtain, Picasso made 60 sketches and then took three weeks to paint it, Olson said. 

"It was a big hit," she said of its unveiling on opening night of "Le Tricorne" ballet in London in 1919.

The curtain and ballet set off a kind of Spanish "mania" in London, with Spanish-style items like lace and dolls for sale everywhere, she said.

While the curtain tells the story of that time in terms of Picasso's trajectory and interests, it also represents the timeless themes of life and death, Olson added.

At the center of the curtain Picasso depicted a boy with a pomegranate — a symbol of resurrection — while in the background the head of a bull is being dragged by a bullfighter.

He painted "the tension between life and death in the struggle of the bullfight ring," Olson said.