Prior to a recent show in London, Pablo Picasso’s “Le Train Bleu” curtain was last seen at Brighton College as part of the Brighton Festival of 1982. The 10.3 x 11.7m curtain formed the centrepiece of The Burstow Gallery’s “Picasso and The Theatre” exhibition organised by Gavin Henderson (L.1960-65 and later overall Director of The Festival) and assisted by my father, Nick Bremer (Director of Art 1969-2000). The show attracted 7,200 visitors to the College – “The publicity is beyond price” Headmaster Bill Blackshaw proudly told the Council.
Serge Diaghilev had asked Picasso for permission to reproduce a small painting of two giantesses running along a beach - “Deux Femmes Courant Sur La Plage”. It was to appear on a drop curtain hanging in front of the stage during the overture of the Diaghilev Ballet production of “Le Train Bleu” in 1924. The scene painter Prince Shervashidze painstakingly copied the original with such precision that Picasso was delighted enough to sign it himself. He wrote on it “Dedie a Diaghilew. Picasso” (dedicated to Diaghilev) in the corner.
The curtain now forms part of the collection at London’s Theatre Museum in Covent Garden, where I am assured that it was unwrapped as carefully as we wrapped it all those years ago after the show at College.
Playing only second fiddle to the curtain were the extraordinary and gargantuan “Managers” costumes from “Parade” (by Picasso, 1917). I have fond memories of my father and I charging around the College at the behest of press photographers dressed in these huge “structures” – funnily enough this was probably the most sober and appropriate apparel I ever saw my father wear on a school day!
I myself was a willing and eager conscript in the build-up to the exhibition – carefully hanging priceless sketches and designs directed by my father, Nick, and Gavin Henderson.
I had the task of reproducing the same scenic curtain for the following year’s senior school play, “On Monday Next” by Philip King. The curtain was only slightly smaller than the original, as I remember, and was a pretty close facsimile if I say so myself.
In my research for this article I called upon the extraordinary memory of Adam Belson (R. 1979-84) to establish the name of 1983’s senior school play. Not only did he remember it, but he starred in it! At his insistence I include here a short extract from the play’s review: “He (Adam) was at his best in act two... in acts 1 & 3 he was merely outstanding”. He’d like it to be known that he is available for weddings and bah mitzvahs.