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First trip to Mauritius, Picasso

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Initially a challenge, the idea of hosting the first Picasso exhibition in the Indian Ocean has at last come to fruition in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. This is how this extraordinary adventure came about.

Life is sometimes full of surprising comings and goings, which can swing the life balance one way or another. Nothing prepared Steve Sowamy, a renowned Mauritian art dealer working in the Parisian and European markets, for a meeting with Emmanuel Richon, curator of the Blue Penny Museum in Port Louis. Although Sowamy was born in Mauritius, he left aged 7, when his parents emigrated to France. Richon is married to a Mauritian, and came to live permanently in Mauritius in 1995, where he later became curator of the Blue Penny Museum, home to the two most famous postage stamps in the world, the Mauritius Post Office stamps.


La Pique, Gouache, brush and Indian ink, 12 November 1959

The meeting

One day in 2008, in search of his roots, Steve visited his country of origin, and, being an art dealer, felt he owed it to himself to visit Emmanuel’s museum. Enthused by what he saw, he decided to meet the museum’s curator. There ensued a warm friend ship based on the same tastes in art and the same aspiration to rediscover their respective countries of origin.


Owl with stars Signed, dated and dedicated: Picasso for you, G Vallauris 4 August 1951. Ink on paper, gift from Picasso to Geneviève Laporte.


Was it only a suggestion spoken in jest? Somewhat out of the blue, Emmanuel sparked the idea of one day hosting an exhibition together. Based on his expertise, Steve – specialising in Dubuffet, Henry Moore, Giacometti and Picasso – took up the challenge: Why not hold a “Picasso exhibition”? Might as well go all out! It was an idea out of the tops of their heads, but in fact it had real potential! The two friends began building castles in the air… but both reassuring the other that they were completely serious about it.


Slice of melon. Oil on canvas. Signed and dated Picasso 7 October 1948

Ambroise Vollard, the common denominator

Soon they were working out what might at first sight seem impossible, in spite of their experience and the conviction that Mauritius would gain an excellent reputation. Of course, Pablo Picasso never visited this part of the world. But he had some experience of it from his Reunion friend Ambroise Vollard, dealer and gallery owner of French avant-garde art, who provided unfailing support and organised the first exhibition in Paris of the young painter, then aged 19. The two friends thus held the common denominator for the exhibition!


Still life with banjo and fruit. Pastel and black soft pencil on paper glued onto cardboard, c. 1922


A grand première

After that, Steve and Emmanuel, one on either side of the world, moved heaven and earth to find lenders and convince investors and insurers. Every evening on Skype, they discussed the exhibition down to the finest detail, from the transport of the works to the exhibition design. As the days and months went by, they overcame all the obstacles, and have now accomplished their ultimate aim.

Bird. Round white earthenware bowl, engraving, 31 March 1955.



The exhibition reveals ten engravings from the famous Suite Vollard, commissioned from the artist by the gallery owner in the 1930s, ceramics, an autographed manuscript, four colour prints, two oil paintings on canvas and some fifteen dry-point engravings. Add to that a showing of the famous documentary by Henri-Georges Clouzot, Le Mystère Picasso, and the collection of 200 stamps depicting the Andalusian painter or his works.  

Taureau, marli aux feuilles. Thrown round plate, red earthenware, engraved with a knife, 22 February 1957.


Perhaps the “Picasso” fish, a popular triggerfish that swims in our lagoon, was a hint that one day Picasso might come to visit our shores. Well, today the Blue Penny exhibition is here to prove it right! A tremendous feat!

By Emmanuel Richon, Curator Blue Penny Museum & Steve Sowamy, Director Samskara Fine Art, UK