Nude Picasso masterpiece causes drama at Edinburgh Airport

A painting by the majestic Spanish artist Pablo Picasso has been causing a certain degree of controversy in Scotland, 80 years after it was first conceived.
Technically speaking, the actual, physical copy of Nude Woman in a Red Chair wasn’t the issue – it was a poster of it at Edinburgh Airport, which was advertising the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) exhibition Picasso and Modern British Art. It opened at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art at the beginning of the month.
Several passengers had complained about the painting, because, despite its distorted depiction of a body – it is not a literal, realist portrait – the figure is nevertheless naked. This, they found a bit too rude.
In response to such disapproval, the airport decided to censor the image, but then, in a twist, later went back on this decision and allowed the poster to be shown in its entirety again. The whole charade was severely criticised by John Leighton, director-general of the NGS.
“It is obviously bizarre that all kinds of images of women in various states of dress and undress can be used in contemporary advertising without comment, but somehow a painted nude by one of the world’s most famous artists is found to be disturbing and has to be removed,” he commented.
“I hope that the public will come and see the real thing, which is a joyous and affectionate portrait of one of Picasso’s favourite models, an image that has been shown around the world.”
Indeed, the subject in question was Marie-Thérèse Walter, mistress and muse – and later mother to his daughter Maya – to Picasso for many years, a pivotal figure in what was an energetic, love-induced period of artistic productivity.
This ardent affair – he was still married to his first wife Olga Khokhlova – led to a series of breathtaking, progressive and metamorphic portraits that signalled a growing sense of confidence in post-cubist styles. This includes work like the suggestive La Rêve, the sensuous Nude in a Black Armchair and the vivid Woman in a Hat and Fur Collar.
His romance with Marie-Thérèse began outside a Parisian department store in the late twenties. She was 17 and he was 45. Despite the large age gap, the couple were very much in love, although they carried out their affair in secret. His purported “chat up” line was: “You have an interesting face. I would like to do a portrait of you. I am Picasso.”
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