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MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - Russia's influence on Pablo Picasso was celebrated at a new Moscow exhibit on the Spanish painter, sculptor and co-founder of the Cubism movement.
Picasso paintings of bulging-eyed women and sculptures bearing his trademark triangular noses feature in a 240-piece collection of works by one of most prolific and dominant artists of the 20th century.
The largest Picasso exhibit on Russian soil in over 50 years opened on Friday and it was the Russian influence on Picasso -- by way of his Russian wife and access to her world -- that excited those in the marble halls of Moscow's Pushkin Museum near the Kremlin, which is housing the exhibit.
"At that time, Russia was the capital of revolution and this energy impacted Picasso greatly, it affected how he created," Mikhail Shvydkoy, the Kremlin's cultural envoy, told Reuters.
Anne Baldassari, director of France's National Picasso Museum in Paris, which is lending the bulk of the works, said art movements and masters in Russia such as avant-garde painters Kazimir Malevich and Vasily Kandinsky played an "undeniably large" role in Picasso's life and inspiration.
A year after the Russian revolution of 1917, Picasso, who was born in 1881 in Malaga, married ballerina Olga Khokhlova, whose pensive glances and oval eyes came to characterize many of his painted women.
Though they separated bitterly after eight years when the painter started an affair with his 17-year-old muse, Khokhlova is believed to be the inspiration for Picasso's mother and child themes.
Walking past painting "Olga in an armchair", depicting Khokhlova with her head downturned in a drapey black and floral dress, Shvydkoy added: "He was surrounded by Russian culture and this made him a man of the world."
Picasso lived much of his adult life in France, but as French Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterrand put it while attending the exhibit's opening: "Russia taught him, encouraged him, moved him."
Works from the five major tenants of Picasso's creations -- his blue, rose, African, Cubism and surrealism periods -- are on display for three months in Moscow as the Picasso museum in Paris undergoes reconstruction.
Instantly recognizable and much-loved paintings such as 1967's "The Kiss", depicting a black and white lip-locked couple with vertical eyes, the Cubist "Seated Woman" from 1937, and "Jacqueline with Crossed Hands", his 1954 painting of his second and last wife, crown the exhibit.
Russian First Lady and self-proclaimed art devotee Svetlana Medvedeva, adorned with pearls and her neck rimmed in black mink, swanned through the elaborate collection but, true to form, did not utter a word.
She paused to look at the 30 paintings and 20 photographs connected directly to Russia, from when Picasso designed for Russian ballet director Sergei Diagilyev.
Minister Mitterrand added that Picasso's relationship with Russia echoed a pre-Soviet age when the Russian elite spoke French with each other and the two countries exchanged ideas and literature.
The State Pushkin Museum contributed several of its own Picasso paintings, such as the 1903 "Old Jew with a Boy" from his more morose, reflective "blue" period.
Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Paul Casciato