Picasso and Modern British Art exhibition at Tate Britain

Picasso’s only sustained period of work in Britain was in summer 1919. He came to London with the impresario Serge Diaghilev and his Russian Ballet to design sets and costumes for The Three-Cornered Hat, which premiered at the Alhambra, Leicester Square, on 22 July.

Picasso had worked with Diaghilev previously and had married one of his dancers, Olga Khokhlova. The Picassos stayed with the company at the Savoy Hotel and he worked in the studio of Diaghilev’s set-painters, Vladimir and Elizabeth Polunin in Floral Street, Covent Garden. Picasso produced many costume designs, sets and the drop curtain. He also made drawings of dancers rehearsing Boutique Fantasque, and portrait drawings of company members.

Nothing is known of the British museums and galleries Picasso visited, though several lunch and dinner parties have been recorded. He probably visited the National Gallery which was close to the Savoy and Alhambra, and the British Museum. He might even have gone to the Tate Gallery to see those British paintings that he had admired in reproduction, including works by Edward Burne-Jones and Luke Fildes’s The Doctor. At Picasso’s request, Clive Bell took him to the East End of London and to Savile Row to buy a suit and bowler hat in the style of ‘an English gentleman’.