PARIS, NOV. 20 -- France's newest treasure trove of Picassos could be called an embarrassment of riches, with its 47 paintings, 42 drawings, 24 sketchbooks, two sculptures and 245 prints.
Viewing it today at the Grand Palais, Barbara Bush certainly found "Picasso, a New Donation" rich in the complexities of Pablo Picasso as an artist, a man and a lover.
"It had about 18 different ideas," she said of one painting showing a boy with his father. "Either the thing they were holding was a paintbrush or a knife and either the father was passing on his artistic skill or the boy was handling the knife and thinking about killing his father."
Nor was there any question that the collection, which Picasso's stepdaughter donated to France to avoid inheritance taxes after the suicide-death of her mother in 1986, is rich in monetary value -- so rich that the French flatly refuse to discuss it.
"They know," a U.S. Embassy official said of the estimated worth of Catherine Hutin-Blay's gift, "but they won't talk about it because it's a matter of taxation."
The price tag notwithstanding, appreciating the artistic value of the Picassos and understanding the late artist's work "takes a little imagination," Mrs. Bush observed.
On her tour of the exhibit, Mrs. Bush paused to study two realistic bedroom scenes hanging next to three variations of a single face, painted in 1945, but she and her companions, including the wives of several other world leaders, passed straight through another room where paintings from Picasso's later period portrayed exaggerated, contorted human figures, some with oversized genitals.
If the paintings bothered Mrs. Bush, spokeswoman Anna Perez said later, "she didn't say anything to me about it, and I talked to her quite a bit on the tour."
Mary Curley, wife of U.S. Ambassador Walter Curley, said she "loved" the exhibition. As for whether she thought any of it was erotic, "Why not?" she replied.
Photographers, also aware of Picasso's suggestive pictures of nude models and painters, had waited in vain to take Mrs. Bush's photograph in the room. They got a chance for a picture later -- this time with a fully clothed Jacqueline Picasso in the background. The painting, known as "Jacqueline aux Mains Croisees," is one of several in the exhibit out of the 70 an adoring Picasso painted of his wife during their 20 years together. Picasso died in 1983 and she never recovered.
Another painting, "Femme Nue Allongee," shows Jacqueline Picasso reclining a` la Rubens, and Mrs. Bush looked that over before moving on. She especially liked "L'Acrobate Bleu," which Picasso painted in 1929.
Picasso's sketchbooks seemed to fascinate Mrs. Bush as she bent over the cases to see them better. When her tour guide, Gerard Regnier, chief curator of the Picasso Museum here, said he was somewhat worried about their safety, Mrs. Bush replied, "Well, you should be. They're extraordinary."
Regnier told her that in addition to those on display, another 39 sketchbooks were in storage. Picasso used anything he could find, including an account book, various pads and the front page of a Russian newspaper.
"I love these. It's amazing he saved them," she told Regnier, going back for a second look.
Her favorite painting, if such a distinction could be made, was "Enfant Jouant Avec un Camion," showing a child playing with a toy truck. "I loved that one too. This made me think of Matisse," she said, then added that "I loved the whole thing."
When asked, however, what she thought of Picasso's perception of women, she held her tongue and looked skyward.
Later in the day, Mrs. Bush and the spouses of other world leaders at the Conference on Cooperation and Security in Europe attended a luncheon at l'Hotel Matignon and heard a presentation on AIDS research at the Pasteur Institute.
The luncheon, hosted by Michele Rocard, wife of Prime Minister Michel Rocard, featured lobster stew with sea urchin sauce, beef filet, duck pate', cheese, fruit and assorted sherbets. The wines were a 1986 Chateau Fieuzal and a 1981 Chateau Latour.
Not there was Hannelore Kohl, the German chancellor's wife, who was struck by a falling camera Monday at a luncheon Danielle Mitterrand gave at Versailles. Today, a spokesman described her condition as "not serious."
"It was a hard hit and she was a little dizzy yesterday afternoon. But she feels better today and wanted to rest up for tonight's dinner at Versailles," the spokesman said.