Picasso to Julie Mehretu: modern drawings from the British Museum collection

7 October 2010 – 25 April 2011
Room 90
Admission free

This survey of modern drawings from the British Museum’s extensive collection will explore the significant interchange of ideas between artists mainly working in Europe and America during the past hundred years.

It will showcase some of the greatest artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, starting with Picasso’s study for his masterpiece Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon, the painting that changed the world in 1907, and concluding with Julie Mehretu, the Ethiopian-born artist and one of the stars of the contemporary international art scene. The exhibition will feature 70 works all of which have been added to the British Museum’s collection over the past 35 years and most of which have never been on public display at the Museum before. The British Museum has an unparalleled collection of graphic art from across the world, and actively collects modern and contemporary works today.

Unfettered from academic codes of practice that traditionally valued displays of skill over imagination and individuality, artists of the twentieth century and beyond have availed themselves of an increasing variety of materials and modes of expression. Impromptu sketches and compositional studies such as Picasso’s working out of his ideas for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, are shown alongside works that are complete in themselves. Some drawings are intended to provide a template for the final product, others to capture retrospectively something executed in another medium. As well as Pablo Picasso, the exhibition features works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Georgio de Chirico, Henri Matisse, René Magritte, David Smith and Louise Bourgeois and major contemporary artists, including Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter, Francesco Clemente, Judy Chicago and William Kentridge.

A particular highlight is Picasso’s double page composition Leaping Bulls dating from 1950, the first entry in the Visitors’ Book for the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Roland Penrose, a founding member of the ICA in 1947 and friend of Picasso, donated the Visitors’ Book to the British Museum in the mid 1970s, by which time it had become an invaluable document of the international art scene in London in the immediate post-war era.

seated nude and head of a woman

Picasso, seated nude and head of a woman, a preparatory study for Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.
Bodycolour and watercolour, 1906–1907. © Succession Picasso/DACS 2010.
Purchased with the assistance of The Art Fund.

Notes to editors:

  • There will be a number of public events held in relation to this exhibition including: Alastair Sooke in conversation with Picasso’s model, Saturday 9 October, 14.00, BP Lecture Theatre, Admission free.

  • The British Museum has an unparalleled collection of graphic art from around the world, from the beginning of printing in China in the 8th century AD to the present day. This may be consulted online at www.britishmuseum.org/research and through the Students’ Rooms of the relevant departments (Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, Asia, Middle East and Prints and Drawings), when not on display. Individual library details are shown here: www.britishmuseum.org/research/libraries_and_archives


For further information or images please contact Esme Wilson on 020 7323 8394 or ewilson@britishmuseum.org

For online exhibition information