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Another 'Genius' is Explored by National Geographic with 'Picasso'
April 24, 2018  | By David Hinckley

Pablo Picasso always knew he was going to be a famous artist. The second edition of National Geographic’s Genius series fills in some of the other things he became. 

Genius: Picasso, which premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET, stars Antonio Banderas as a charming title character. 

Like its well-received predecessor, last year’s Genius series on Einstein, Picasso adeptly sorts out an eventful life, presenting it as a collection of dramas. 

One area with no drama was the path his life would take. His father and mother doted on him, before and after the tragic death of his little sister, and since his father was an art teacher, he was both encouraged to become an artist and given quality instruction when he said, yes, that was his goal.  

Once he learned the basics, of course, he galloped down his own path, which frustrated both his father and the traditional instructors at Spain’s Royal Academy. 

We get the obligatory “you’ll never amount to anything if you insist on painting like that” scene, and the quiet, firm response that would become Picasso’s lifelong mantra: “I paint what I see.”

Genius doesn’t bother to create any false suspense about how that worked out. We know where this young rebel will end up, and much of his earlier story is told in flashbacks from his successful late middle age.  

Some of those flashbacks are mildly titillating, though never graphic. We see his first visit to a lady of the night, for instance, which ends with his asking to paint her. 

That’s not a “painted lady” joke. Picasso seems to regularly ask people if he can paint them, though he was not a traditional portrait painter in the style of, say, his contemporary John Singer Sargent. 

While he always insisted his first love was his art, women ran a strong second. At times that meant several women simultaneously, and a scene in the first episode illustrates his feelings on that matter. 

His wife Olga drops in on his studio one day and finds him in the company of his mistress, Dora Maar (Samantha Colley). After an exchange of words, the two women start fighting, as in hitting each other. Picasso resumes painting with a smile on his face. 

As this suggests, he was not as good at relationships as he was at painting, though Banderas consistently conveys a winning charm. 

He would eventually choose Maar over Olga, though the win wasn’t clean. In 1943 he dumped Maar for Francoise Gilot (Clemence Poesy), a fellow artist 41 years younger. 

That didn’t end well, either, launching a protracted, nasty battle that would ensnare the couple’s two children. 

He did make out better than his close buddy from his young artist days, Carlos Casagemas (Robert Sheehan), who shot himself at the age of 20 over unrequited love. 

Casagemas, played superbly by Sheehan, has a critical role here in helping Picasso make the difficult leap from a young artist with a vision to an artist who could sell that vision to the world. 

Part of that sale came from self-confidence and Genius suggests that to create what Picasso created, it was essential to believe he was better than the rest.  

We see him first resisting Maar’s pressure to create the anti-fascist painting that would become his famous Guernica. He paints what he feels, he says. He does not paint what others want him to paint.

When he finishes, he is glad he did it. What bothers him even more about fascists and Nazis is realizing they may confiscate his thousands of paintings, which they have labeled degenerate.  

From his youth, nicely portrayed here by Alex Rich, Picasso considers himself and his work important. Whether that’s honest evaluation or arrogance, and whether it’s not bragging if you can back it up, will depend on whom you ask. 

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