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Come for Picasso, stay for some museum hopping around Nashville
By Tom Adkinson

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of travel stories spotlighting destinations and activities to consider in a time of coronavirus and to inspire safe outings elsewhere.)

frist art museum nashville tn
There’s nothing abstract about promotion of a major Picasso exhibition at the Frist Art Museum. Image by Tom Adkinson.

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – In the year of a coronavirus epidemic, it was easier to ship 76 works of art by Pablo Picasso from Paris to Nashville than for you to travel the other direction.

That’s what the Picasso Museum Paris, the largest public collection of Picasso’s works in the world, did when it sent an eye-popping collection to Nashville’s Frist Art Museum to mark the start of the Frist’s 20th anniversary year. Move quickly, however, because the loan doesn’t last long. The “Picasso. Figures” exhibition opened Feb. 5 and ends May 2. (The Frist is COVID-conscious, and timed tickets sold only in advance control exhibition attendance.)

nashville picasso figures
“Picasso. Figures” presents 76 Picasso pieces – paintings, sculptures and works on paper. Image by Tom Adkinson.

“Picasso. Figures” has only two stops in North America. After Nashville, it goes to Quebec City, Canada. Nashville is the smallest U.S. city to showcase a Picasso exhibition of this scale.

The 76 pieces – paintings, sculptures and works on paper from throughout Picasso’s career – focus on the human body.

“People who really love Picasso come away saying ‘Picasso. Figures’ contains pieces they’ve never seen, and there’s a reason. These are pieces Picasso kept throughout his life. We get to see pieces he wanted to live with,” said a Frist representative.

An interesting side note is that many of the pieces went to the French government – and ultimately to the Picasso Museum Paris – in lieu of estate taxes when Picasso died in 1973.

barefoot girl picasso painting
“Barefoot Girl,” painted when Picasso was 14, delivers no hint of his later styles. Image by Tom Adkinson.

You are in for a surprise if all you know of Picasso is his famous Cubist period. Picasso was prolific for many decades and in various styles. He was trained classically by his art professor father, and the exhibition’s first piece is the realistic oil titled “The Barefoot Girl.” If you hadn’t taken that art history class in college, you’d probably never guess this is a Picasso, even if he did paint it when he was only 14 years old.

“The works in ‘Picasso. Figures’ range from geometric abstractions of the human body to emotionally charged depictions of family, friends and lovers,” according to exhibition material.

Among the sections are “Female figures” (portraits of women with whom Picasso was romantically involved), “Cubist figures” (pieces from the first decade of the 1900s), “Magic figures” (works showing the influence of surrealism), “Sculptural figures” and “Disfigured figures.”

A delightful component of “Picasso. Figures” is a black-and-white film of Picasso looking straight into the camera and painting on a transparent pane of glass. It is an exercise in joy to watch a genius at work – and see him peer through the glass and almost smile at you.

nashville picasso figures
Spacious galleries make viewing of “Picasso. Figures” comfortable in a COVID-conscious world. Image by Tom Adkinson.

picasso the young painter
Picasso painted “The Young Painter” in 1972, the year before the prolific artist died. Image by Tom Adkinson.

In addition to the Frist’s Picasso exhibition, Nashville has numerous other museums and special exhibitions. Among them:

• The National Museum of African American Music opened in January after two decades in development and already is a hit. It is five blocks from the Frist.

• The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum just opened a year-long exhibit about the Bluegrass Inn, probably the most famous bluegrass music joint in America, and its exhibit about Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, Nashville’s first full-time songwriters, runs through Sept. 2.

• The Musicians Hall of Fame salutes the outstanding studio musicians in Nashville, Memphis, Muscle Shoals, Detroit and Los Angeles and has a special gallery devoted to the Grammy Awards.

Trip Planning Resources:, and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published February 26, 2021

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