How Big is Picasso in Asia?

Private collectors in parts of Asia have snapped up many of Picasso’s art pieces. Curators say it is because his art is big, bold and colourful. For the Chinese, they are drawn to the political expressions in his work that depict a period of social and political upheaval.  

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Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko pose next to a Picasso’s painting, ‘Las Meninas’, on October 13, 1994 at the Picasso museum in Barcelona. Credit JEAN-PIERRE MULLER/AFP/Getty Images

Over 39, 000 visitors from South Korea travel to a museum in Barcelona each year to see Picasso’s art.

The Japanese come in at 31,000.

But Japan’s love affair with Picasso goes way back to the 1920s when books on the Spanish master were widely circulated.

After World War Two in 1951, Picasso’s works were one of the first Western art exhibitions held. The trend continued through the 80s, when many Japanese firms acquired a lot of his work.

Today, visitors from around the world continue to flock to private museums in Tokyo, with some exhibitions drawing crowds of over 300, 000 visitors.

But it was not a one-sided affair. Picasso too, had a fondness for Japanese art.

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Clandestine meeting, ukiyo-e art print by Kitagawa Utamaro from a Shunga series, Japanese civilisation, 17th-19th century

In 2010, it was revealed that Picasso had a private collection of iconic 18th century ‘Shunga’ prints, or Japanese erotic art. Art scholars believe it was the bold strokes and odd compositions found in those pieces that influenced Picasso’s style.

The Chinese Wave

But when it comes to owning a piece of the maestro, it’s the Chinese that are prepared to spend – in the millions.

The very first trace of Picasso reached their shores in the 1950s, distributed by government as ubiquitous postage stamps.

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Picasso’s dove motif, that graced postage stamps issued by the People’s Republic of China in August 195

But Picasso only gained popularity in China about 40 years later.

In 1996, China’s state museum received a US$27 million donation from a German private collector, which included four of Picasso’s works.

Then in 2011, Shanghai put on a three-month long exhibition – the biggest ever of Picasso works to be held in China. A whopping 48 pieces from his collection were on display.

Now, his iconic art is found across the country.

His most famous works of the 1930s can be found in Beijing, other ceramic pieces in Shandong, and more go to Nanjing and Wuhan to see his paintings.

Art observers say Chinese buyers have a penchant for liking the big, bold and colourful – signatures of Picasso.

Besides appearance, the Chinese are drawn to the socialist and communist expressions in his art, compared to other Western art names like Claude Monet and Van Gogh

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Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, regarded as one of his most powerful political statements

In 2016, China’s biggest auction house sold Picasso’s Woman under the Light (Jacqueline) (1962) for nearly USD 9 million in Shanghai.

Sotheby’s auction house recorded that it has been receiving more bids from Asian buyers each year.

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People look at a giant painting by Picasso at a shopping mall in Hong Kong 16 October 2004

They include top spenders from Hong Kong and Taiwan. In fact, in 2017, five of the top ten highest auctioned items were placed by Asian buyers.

But it’s not just private collectors who are snapping up Picasso.

Chinese real-estate firm Wanda Dalian Group bought the artist’s Claude et Paloma (1950) for about US$ 28 million at Christie’s New York in 2013.

A spokesman for the brand called the masterpiece ‘decently priced’.

There’s Still Plenty for Everyone

Picasso was a hard worker, producing an estimated 50,000 works over his 75-year career.

To understand just how prolific he was, consider how other master artists like Van Gogh, who produced over 1,000 works, and impressionist Claude Monet, with about 2,500.

The scope of work was also described as ‘breath-takingly vast’, including nearly 2,000 paintings, over 1,000 sculptures, close-to 3,000 ceramics, and countless prints, tapestries and rugs.

Many of which are in the famed Barcelona museum of Museu Picasso, where tour operators say they have brought over 100, 000 Asian visitors to the museum in a year.

What your favourite Picasso piece? Or, if you just beginning to check out one of Spain’s most famous artists, his official museum’s a good place to start.


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