And to think about Picasso’s imagination is to find ourselves right back with Roger Fry and Virginia Woolf at the National Gallery, because there is no modern artist who has struggled more mightily than Picasso to reconcile the rival claims of sentiment and design. The impossible conflict of his years with Françoise Gilot was that try as he might, he could never find a structure compelling enough to crystallize her youthful beauty. Even his finest portraits of her—Richardson speaks of the Femme-fleur—feel programmatic, at least compared to his earlier responses to Fernande Olivier, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Dora Maar, or, later, to Jacqueline Roque. Perhaps the nearly endless transformations he wrecked on several lithographic studies of Françoise—the Gagosian show contains a large number of these states—suggest his unease, his inability to find a pictorial language to express his ardent emotions. Two of the finest works in this exhibition have little or nothing to do with the demands of portraiture. The 1953 painted wood assemblage, Femme portant un enfant, some five-and-a-half feet high, abstracts the mother-and-child relationship through the metaphor of a sculpture that is like something a child might dream up with building blocks. And the great 1950 Vallauris landscape, Paysage d’hiver, turns away from the affective dilemmas of portraiture entirely. Picasso had not been so fully committed to the art of landscape since his studies of the Spanish village of Horta, done in the early Cubist years.
more from Jed Perl at TNR here.