Paper was an essential part of Picasso’s creative process, an immediate way to pin an idea down. He used every scrap he could get his hands on, wherever he found himself: pages torn from books, sheets of tracing paper, the back of a café receipt, scraps of lined note paper. Elevating the medium above its ordinary throwaway status, he treated it as carefully as canvas or ceramic, deliberately using any surface imperfections to shape the compositional layout. He later became obsessed with hunting down and collecting rare or antique types, and designed his own watermark in 1930.

Mapping out Picasso’s world entirely on paper, this curated exhibition moves through several iconic periods, revealing an ongoing love affair with the simple material. A lyrical Rose Period watercolour (Saltimbanque et Jeune Fille, 1905), and a meticulous Analytical Cubist still-life (Nature Morte Cubiste, 1910), are shown alongside several late examples of his painter and model series. The women he once categorised as ‘either goddesses or doormats’ are here too, their personalised - often cruel - imagery immortalised on paper: Olga is almost an afterthought, a faint barely noticeable trace; sweet Marie-Thérèse is subservient and softly curved; Dora is made up entirely of awkward angles and blackened spikes.

Perhaps the most poignant works on display are the philosophical studies of artist and model. Picasso began the series in 1963 as a way of coming to terms with the death of his great friend Matisse, revisiting the subject obsessively until his final years. Offering an unusual glimpse into the artist’s melancholic side, the drawings document a painful process of grief and self-contemplation: the image of the painter is worked and reworked, it appears to age with each permutation; the nude model is transformed from being the captive sexual conquest into an immortal figure, always lying just outside his grasp.

These works on paper contain the initial sparks of Picasso’s master works, they are records of his fleeting thoughts darting in and around the same motifs: the birds, bulls, horses and goats he once admitted to preferring over human companionship; the personal metaphor of the harlequin and the bullfights of his childhood; his admiration for Gauguin and the distant dreams of Tahiti. Picasso on Paper demonstrates the artist’s lifelong interest in the primal act of creation, and lays bare the bones of an extraordinary visual vocabulary.