The Avant-guard

Palazzo Blu
Italy, Pisa
28 September 2023 - 7 April 2024

Days of exhibition

The Philadelphia Museum of Art dominates from above the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Despite the extraordinary richness and variety of the collections, the works of the European Avant-gardes are a particularly dense and significant presence. Great credit must go to the collectors, thanks to whom bequests the Philadelphia Museum of Art that continued to grow throughout the 20th century, especially during Fiske Kimball's 30-year directorship. Marcel Duchamp himself, commissioned to survey major North American museums to identify the best location for twentieth-century art, singled out Philadelphia as the most appropriate venue.

The presence in Pisa of a selection of early 20th-century paintings and sculptures from the Philadelphia Museum of Art is an exciting opportunity, not only to admire some of the absolute landmarks of European art, but also to trace a path through some of the salient moments of the "short century," in dialogue with the sensitivity to international history that has characterized Fondazione Palazzo Blu’s initiatives for several years. The exhibition also coincides with the conclusion of a renovation of the spaces, lighting and facilities of the historic building overlooking the Arno River.

The tour is conceived as a stringy and intense "timeline": the works are accompanied by visual, sound and multimedia installations that allows them to be placed in the sequence of historical and cultural events from the end of the Belle Ėpoque to the outbreak of World War II.

The exhibition opens, most significantly, with a Self-Portrait by the 25-year-old Picasso. The young painter harnesses his palette and, literally, rolls up his sleeves: it is the first, conscious step toward becoming the great protagonist of the artistic story of an entire century.

The center of gravity of art at the beginning of the twentieth century is undoubtedly Paris. The group of pre-World War I works shows a variety of themes and approaches, united by a desire to give face to a new time, breaking with the academic past. Together with his friend Braque, perched on the hill of Montmartre Picasso elaborates Cubism (and Man with a Violin is exemplary proof of this), Robert Delaunay evokes evocative atmospheres (Saint Severin, 1909), while the irreverent, brilliant Marcel Duchamp provokes and surprises the public with paintings out of all precedent, well in advance of Surrealism, such as the extraordinary Chocolate Grinder of 1913.

Then, Europe is shaken by the long collective tragedy of World War I: a Still Life with Chessboard, Glass and Plate by Juan Gris (1917) seems a silent metaphor for a delicate situation in which the game is by no means decided. The War also opens up new scenarios and expands the boundaries of art: the poetic figure of Marc Chagall emerges,  with his Purim Feast (1916-17) seems to contrast the reassuring, millenary religious and folk tradition of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe with the disjointed rush of war events.

With the end of the conflict and the controversial Peace of Versailles (1919) a phase of difficult social and cultural reconstruction begins. On different but parallel fronts we find the "constructivist" efforts of Fernand Léger (Animated Landscape, 1923) and a memorable work by Vassily Kandinsky (Circles in a Circle, 1923). The painting lies at the heart of the Bauhaus experience, an art movement, a school of education, a global project of architecture, design, and applied arts in the sign of geometric rigor, the renunciation of decoration. An experience that coincides, in Germany, with the years of the Weimar Republic, will be shared by other artists represented in the exhibition (such as Paul Klee and Alexey Jawlensky), and will come to an abrupt end with the rise to power of National Socialism.

The 1920s are very well represented in the exhibition, showing the general international orientation toward the search for new horizons, alternative to reality. Marie Laurencin explores the territories of myth and fairy tale, Klee and Miró look to the world of circus and magic, Max Ernst (Forest, 1923) is among the founders of Surrealism. A great protagonist is Henri Matisse, in the full maturity of his refined art, full of feeling and color-related sensations: Woman Seated in an Armchair (1920) and Still Life on a Table (1925) communicate a desire for peace, for affectionate intimacy.

With Dog Barking at the Moon (1926), catalan Joan Miró seems to sympathetically mock the "words in the wind" of propaganda and growing authoritarian. These are the years of Surrealism, shared by Picasso himself (Bather, 1928). Of great refinement is Yves Tanguy's Tempest (1926), a lonely, dark landscape.

Piet Mondrian's rigorous geometric compositions acquire, in this climate, a sense of moral rigor, of trust in the purest and most rarefied geometry, of order in the face of mounting chaos. A feeling also shared by the simple forms of Jean Arp's sculptures.  After a final, poignant canvas by Klee, the exhibition closes with a work of very strong suggestion and high symbolic value: the Crucifixion painted by Chagall in 1940. With Europe nailed to a new cross, and again with art becoming the interpreter and the witness of history.


  • From Monday to Friday: 10am - 7pm
  • Saturday and Sunday: 10am - 8pm


  • 01.11.2023: from 10am to 8pm
  • 24.12.2023: from 10am to 8pm
  • 25.12.2023: from 10am to 8pm
  • 26.12.2023: from 10am to 8pm
  • 31.12.2023: from 10am to 8pm
  • 31.03.2024: from 10am to 8pm
  • 01.04.2024: from 10am to 8pm


  • Full price: 14,00 € (2,00 € pre-sale rights)
  • Reduced: 12,00 € (2,00 € pre-sale rights)
    Visitors over 65 years old, youngsters from 18 to 25 years old, Disabled, Groups of over 10 people and up to a maximum of 25 people, AmicoBluFriend Card holders
  • Special Reduced: 6,00 € (2,00 € pre-sale rights)
    Children aged 6 to 18
  • School Groups: 5,00 € (1,00 € pre-sale rights)
  • Universitary students: 7,00 € (0,00 € pre-sale rights)
    Students regularly enrolled in a university institution and holding the university card
  • Family Adult: 12,00 € (2,00 € pre-sale rights)
    Valid for families made up of 1 or 2 adults + children aged 6 to 17 (can be used together with Family Youth)
  • Family Youth: 6,00 € (2,00 € pre-sale rights)
    Valid for families made up of 1 or 2 adults + children aged 6 to 17 (can be used together with Family Adult)

Photogallery |

The Avant-guard

Artworks |

Trailer |

Take a look at the preview of the exhibition

Extra |

Interviews, insights, curiosities, anecdotes

Official website of the Exhibition: