Nearly 150 masterpieces from master modernist Pablo Picasso's personal collection are being prepped for a vast exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

When the Musée National Picasso in Paris — where the collection is usually on display — needed to close temporarily for renovations, it decided to send its treasured artwork on a rare, worldwide road trip.

The result is Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris.

The extensive show covers nearly every phase of the artist's long, diverse career and features notable pieces he saved for himself and for his family, including his studies for the iconic Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon), his Second World War-era sculptures and his famed self-portrait The Matador, which he painted three years prior to his death in 1973.

"Picasso's artistry was constantly evolving, and this particular collection offers our members and visitors a rare opportunity to experience the entire trajectory of his artistic achievement," AGO director Matthew Teitelbaum said in a statement.

Teitelbaum said it took three years of discussions before the AGO landed the exhibition. He described it as "one of the great privileges of my job" to display such key artworks.

"When it comes out of the crate… there's that moment of 'Eureka! It's here!'" he told CBC News. "It's the greatest display of Picassos in the world, at the moment, and it’s here!"

The Toronto venue is the sole Canadian stop for the exhibit.

In conjunction with the Picasso display, AGO staffers have planned a host of related programming, including activities for children and a lecture by art historian and Picasso's granddaughter Diana Widmaier-Picasso.

Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris opens to the public on May 1 and runs until Aug. 26.


Masterpieces from Pablo Picasso's personal collection, including the 1931 canvas Figures au bord de la mer (Figures on the Seashore), are part of the travelling exhibit from the Musée National Picasso, Paris being displayed in Toronto. (© Picasso Estate SODRAC (2012) )