Bernal's Picasso Goes On Show In London At Wellcome Collection

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 14 January 2008
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  • Archived article
photo of a panel with a faint drawing on it of a man and a woman with wings

Bernal's Picasso, chiselled out of the wall to be saved for posterity. Courtesy the Wellcome Trust

The only mural produced in England by Pablo Picasso has been unveiled to the public by The Wellcome Trust.

The mural, known as 'Bernal's Picasso', was acquired for £250,000 by the Trust in April 2007 and is now on display as part of Wellcome Collection, London’s new £30m venue exploring connections between medicine, life and art.

Drawn by Picasso in November 1950 while visiting the home of his friend, eminent scientist Professor John Desmond Bernal, the mural depicts the head of a man and woman with laurel wreaths and wings.

“The mural's history sparked our interest here at Wellcome Collection as it marks a particular and harmonious moment in the relationship between an artist and scientist," explained Clare Matterson, Director of Medicine, Society and History at the Wellcome Trust.

Bernal was an eminent Irish scientist who worked on X-ray crystallography and took the first X-ray photographs of protein crystals. Yet it was his political beliefs that attracted as much attention and led to his friendship with Picasso.

Despite being one of the scientists who worked for the government in preparing for the D-Day landings in June 1944, he was a peace activist at heart.

In 1950 he met Picasso after the aborted World Peace Congress at Sheffield City Hall left several delegates stranded in London. Bernal threw a party at his London flat as a compensation for their thwarted efforts and Picasso drew the mural on the wall of Bernal's sitting room.

a drawing in the style of Picasso of a man and a woman with laurel wreaths on their heads and wings

A copy made of the mural by Picasso biographer Andrew Brown. © the artist

Eventually the mural was saved from Bernal's flat, which was due to be demolished, and in 1969 Professor Bernal presented it to the ICA. It was displayed publicly for a number of years, and then went on loan to the Clore Management Centre at Birkbeck College, where it has remained ever since.

Both the ICA and the Bernal Family have always believed in keeping the important piece of work in the public domain and as the ICA has no permanent collection space it was a priority to find an accessible and visible home for the mural.

“It's especially fitting that its new home is a centre dedicated to the relationship between art and science,” said ICA Artistic Director, Ekow Eshun. “I'm sure the mural will continue to inspire generations in the future as it has over past decades.”

The purchase follows on from a series of highly successful partnerships between the ICA and the Wellcome Trust, and is likely to lead onto further opportunities for collaboration.

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