Life imitates art

A viewing of the exhibit ‘Picasso Looks at Degas’ is best followed by a libation that is an artwork in itself

By Luke O'Neil
Globe Correspondent / June 25, 2010

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It’s well known that Pablo Picasso was fascinated by Edgar Degas, but until now no one has done an in-depth study of the connection between the two artists. “Picasso Looks at Degas,’’ showing this summer at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, is the “first exhibition to really take the whole idea and investigate it thoroughly, and to look at the ways in which Picasso gave evidence of interest in Degas throughout his career, as well as in a few particular moments,’’ says Sarah Lees, one of the museum’s curators.

When Picasso first arrived in Paris in the early 1900s, “he was very interested in the same types of subjects, people in cafes, sort of lowlife subjects in a way, that Degas was particularly well known for,’’ Lees says. Later in his life Picasso managed to track down a handful of Degas prints that he had coveted for years. These were the inspiration for a series of prints Picasso did depicting Degas as a creepy voyeur.

Displaying this large collection of prints, drawings, and sculptures together provides an eye-opening point of comparison. One of the most striking instances comes in a grouping of three sculptures of dancers. “Degas’s are very classical, with women in definable ballet poses. Picasso’s are very humorous. He takes that idea and makes it funny and abstracted in a way. It’s a clear instance of Picasso taking a Degas theme and making it his own.’’

“Picasso Looks at Degas,’’ Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, through Sept. 12. 413-458-2303,

Since the theme of people sitting in cafes and bistros is something that runs throughout the exhibition, you may find yourself getting thirsty and hungry along the way. The nearby Mezze Bistro and Bar is a work of art in its own right.

“We are currently offering a selection of ‘cultural cocktails’ in support of some of our cultural comrades,’’ says owner Nancy Thomas. “We like to say ‘food is culture.’ Many of these, like the Picasso With a Twist, take their inspiration from the art at nearby museums. And like most of the food and drink items on the menu here, it gets its base from locally produced ingredients, in this case Berkshire Mountain Gin. It’s rounded out with Campari, sweet vermouth, and a Basque Rosado. (Picasso’s periodo rosado comes to mind.) In addition Mezze features a wide range of French and Spanish varietals that Degas and Picasso may well have enjoyed themselves. These small-production wines “have rich traditions of small farmers working their particular parcel of land to tell their story,’’ says Thomas. “Mezze Bistro is trying to help tell the story of our region, the Berkshires, and offer a sense of place.’’

Mezze Bistro and Bar, 777 Cold Spring Road, Willamstown. 413-458-0123.

Luke O’Neil can be reached at