As an artist, there can hardly be bigger shoes to fill than those of Pablo Picasso. But, for his first show with Almine Rech gallery, Sean Scully is taking over Picasso’s Château de Boisgeloup in Normandy.
Next month, the Irish artist will present around a dozen new and recent works in Picasso’s historic studio, as well as in the adjacent dovecote, 13th-century chapel and across the sprawling lawn, as part of Celtique (26 October–17 November).
“Sean is someone who really understands and loves Picasso,” says Rech, who is married to Picasso’s grandson Bernard Ruiz-Picasso. Boisgeloup, now a weekend retreat for the couple, was inherited by Ruiz-Bernard in 1975 after his father, Paulo, died just two years after Picasso. “It’s very much a family home, there were good times and bad times. I think this was very interesting to Sean,” Rech says.
Two new figurative paintings, both titled Madonna (2019), are due to be installed in the chapel. They are the latest canvases in a recent departure from Scully’s familiar abstract works, which began with a 2016 series depicting his son Oisin. Rech explains: “Sean told me once that his son was looking at his paintings and asking why they never represented something he could understand as a young child. That, I think, was the beginning of his research into figuration.”
Familial relations permeate other works, including the tall sculpture, Coin Stack (2018), which is due to be installed in the domed dovecote behind Picasso’s former studio. As a child, Scully recalls his father bringing home tips and counting them in stacks on the kitchen table, hence the title. Meanwhile, paintings from Scully’s acclaimed Landline series will be hung in Picasso’s studio.
Picasso was nearly 50 when, in June 1930, he bought the Château de Boisgeloup with Olga. There he developed his increasingly abstract style, creating some of his most sought-after works, including Buste de femme (1931), which Leon Black bought for $106m from Gagosian after a lawsuit over ownership was settled in 2016.
According to Rech, Picasso left Boisgeloup before the Second World War broke out (Picasso and Olga separated in 1937, and the chateau went to Olga). “He left before the Second World War, taking all his paintings and sculptures from the property because he was afraid that things would be destroyed or vandalised,” Rech says. “He also took many plasters and he had them all cast in bronze because he was afraid plaster might be destroyed more easily.”
In 2012, Ruiz-Picasso and Rech opened up Boisgeloup, inviting artists to exhibit throughout the chateau and its grounds. Scully’s is the fourth show to be held there, and the most ambitious yet. “We have kept Picasso’s studio as is,” Rech says. “But we wanted to revive the creativity that this place had witnessed and invite artists to present their own creations there.”