“He’s a genius. Is it really necessary to know what it’s about?” (A. Vallard)

The relationship between an artist and a merchant is not a strictly commercial one – it involves a wide range of feelings and expectations, reciprocal esteem, trust and possibly a creative exchange that can last a lifetime.

This new exhibition at the Istituto Veneto, a magnificent institution based in one of the most beautiful palaces on the Grand Canal, Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, aims to underline the thin line that connects the genius of Pablo Picasso with to the French art merchant and renowned talent scout, Ambroise Vollard (who was responsible for the commercial success of artists such as Cézanne, Renoir and Van Gogh, just to name a few).

The outcomes of such a positive connection – namely a large number of never-before-displayed etchings – is indeed remarkable. It is a journey through an almost unexplored side of Picasso’s creativity, that allows visitors to really gain a sense of his undeniably immense drawing talent, something that usually goes unnoticed when facing one of his cubist masterpieces.

The curatorial style is a refined one – do not expect to find anything you’ve already seen in books here, do not expect to stumble across clashing colours or big canvases: the delicate, yet incisive, language of etching allowed Picasso to fully concentrate on trying to communicate his thoughts in a much more essential manner.

Monochromy and simple lines that convey intriguing messages – the sublty manipulative relationship between a painter and his model, the wild fury of minotaurs, gory bullfights, the illustrations for classics like L’Histoire Naturelle by Count of Buffon or The Unknown Masterpiece by Honoré de Balzac.

What we perceive in them is a fascinating touch that manages to combine elements of modernism with clear figurative stances, even though there’s nothing to be taken for granted in any of these seemingly descriptive prints.

Particular attention should be paid to the striking contrast between Picasso’s depiction of sexuality, perfectly embodied by the Minotauromachy series (which dates back to 1935), and the soft ironic spirit of his animal illustrations, that seem to hide a satirical comment to human nature behind their playful traits.

There is violence and violation, women and men turning into raging animals that engage each other in fierce fights, pets with piercing eyes, shapes and bodies that get deconstructed and recombined to re-emerge more powerful than ever imaginable, despite remaining strongly connected to reality.

Picasso was able to create poetry without being dreamy, to take the elusive fantasy of surrealism and mould it in a concrete transposition of human perception, and that is precisely what leaves the audience speechless as they try to explain the immediate fascination provoked by his works.

If you happen to be in Venice before the 8th of July, make sure to stop here and see this unbiased side of Picasso’s production, and indulge yourselves in the exploration of his truly labyrinthine imagination.