Pablo Picasso, La View, 1903.
Pablo Picasso Blue Period (1901-1904) and his Paintings:
Hailed as a defining moment in Pablo Picasso’s artistic career, The Blue Period (1901-1904) was inspired by Picasso’s own emotional turmoil and financial destitution. Following a journey through Spain and the suicide of his close friend and confidant Carlos Casagemas (1881-1901) in February 1901, Picasso’s work took a dramatic turn. Casagemas, a poet, fell victim to unrequited love and ultimately took his own life after attempting to kill his scorned lover. His suicide had a deep and profound affect on Picasso, who was struggling as an unrecognized and poverty-stricken artist living in Paris at the time.
Beginning with several paintings memorializing Casagemas in late 1901, Pablo Picasso’s themes grew solemn and dark. He adopted a nearly monochromatic palette of blues and blue greens and began to convey somber scenes of misery and misfortune. The monochromatic use of blue was commonly used in symbolist paintings in Spain and France, where it was often affiliated with the emotions of melancholy and despair, suggesting that Picasso drew inspiration for The Blue Period from his time spent in Spain observing these symbolist works.
“Picasso metaphorically allows his subjects to escape their fate and occupy a utopian state of grace. Some are afflicted with blindness, a physical condition that symbolically suggests the presence of spiritual inner vision.”
The Blue Period also directed Picasso’s attention to subjects of misfortune: beggars, drunks, prostitutes, and the crippled, hungry, sick, and destitute. However, rather than show the specific circumstances of their misfortune, Picasso elongated his subjects’ forms, endowing them with a unique sense of haunting beauty and supernatural grace. As the National Gallery of Art (2014) suggests, by idealizing these figures, “Picasso metaphorically allows his subjects to escape their fate and occupy a utopian state of grace. Some are afflicted with blindness, a physical condition that symbolically suggests the presence of spiritual inner vision.”
Pablo Picasso, The Soup, 1902.
Throughout the Blue Period, Pablo Picasso produced many works addressing symbolic, philosophical, and humanitarian themes. La Vie, one of Picasso’s most iconic and mysterious works, has been interpreted (and disputed) by historians as an allegorical reference to birth, death, and redemption, the responsibilities of daily life, sexual incompatibility, and the struggles behind artistic creativity. A nude couple and a robed woman cradling a baby stand ominously before two paintings that depict figures crouched over in despair. The composition is stilted, the space compressed, the gestures stiff, and the tones predominantly blue – features characteristic of works from Picasso’s Blue Period. La Vie began as a self-portrait, but Picasso soon found his own features transforming to those of his lost friend Casagemas (the male figure on the left), perhaps suggesting the very personal nature of this work.
Pablo Picasso, The Tragedy, 1903.
While Picasso worked predominantly as a painter during The Blue Period, he also created phenomenal prints in the style of The Blue Period. These marvelous prints are often created after the image of renowned Picasso paintings, such as The Embrace and The Two Saltimbanques (Harlequin and his Companion). Picasso also incorporated pochoir, or hand-applied watercolor, to the majority of these prints, further contributing a sense of texture and emotion. Picasso’s journey into the dark depths of The Blue Period transformed his career as an artist. As a result, these prints, created in the style of The Blue Period, are amongst Picasso’s most valuable and desirable prints in today’s market. While The Blue Period ultimately defined Picasso as a modern artist, it serves as a reflection of Picasso’s own melancholy nature during a difficult period in his life. Furthermore, it highlights Picasso’s immense ability as an artist to channel his own misery and hardship into a revolutionary form of artistic expression.
A delightful and significant surprise was discovered in 2000, when a conservator uncovered a previously unknown painting on the backside of the canvas of Picasso Blue Period work La Gommeuse, 1901. The painting was of Picasso’s friend and then art dealer, Pere Mañach. Mañach is depicted wearing a red and yellow turban with his body contorted into a position evocative of the sexual positions in the Kama Sutra. Mañach is urinating onto the landscape dotted with flowers. The image is inscribed “Recuerdo a Mañach en el día de su santo”, detailing that the painting was given to Mañach to celebrate his Saint’s Day on June 29th. Another, more official, portrait of Pere Mañach was completed in 1901 and hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
From here, there are a few narratives to explain how the painting ended up in the hands of Ambroise Vollard, Picasso’s art dealer, in 1906. Some scholars suggest that both paintings, La Gommeuse, 1901 and its reverse were given as a present to Mañach, who was insulted by his portrait and gave the painting away after some time. This takes into consideration the scholarship that details the Picasso Mañach friendship as full of difficulty, particularly during that time when Picasso was supposedly unhappy with some of Mañach’s business dealings. The other narrative supposes that the portrait of Mañach was given and then had to be reclaimed by Picasso so that he could use the other side of the expensive canvas for La Gommeuse, 1901. This story tells of the difficulty of being a young artist struggling financially in Paris in the early 20th century.
Both sides of the painting are special and significant. La Gommeuse, 1901 is an exemplary Picasso Blue Period piece, combining the coloration of the period with the intimate subject matter of Parisian demi-monde performers. The woman, with rounded shoulders, stands naked against the wall of Picasso’s studio where another painting hangs. Gommeuse is a French word with sexual connotations used to describe café singers and performers.
The painting was sold at Sotheby’s Auction House in 2015 for $67.5 million.
Brown, Mark. “Blue period Picasso – with a little secret – goes under the hammer,” The Guardian. October 9, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/oct/09/picasso-la-gommeuse-blue-period-auction
Ghorashi, Hannah. “Sotheby’s Announces Sale of Rare Double-Sided Picasso, Monet Masterpiece,” ArtNews. October 9, 2015. http://www.artnews.com/2015/10/09/sothebys-announces-sale-of-rare-double-sided-picasso-monet-masterpiece/
Pogrebin, Robin. “Warmer Response at Sotheby’s 2nd Night of Auctions,” The New York Times. November 6, 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/06/arts/design/warmer-response-at-sothebys-2nd-night-of-auctions.html?_r=0
Singh, Anita. “The US billionaire who got two Picassos for the price of one,” The Telegraph. October 9, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/artsales/11922971/The-US-billionaire-who-got-two-Picassos-for-the-price-of-one.html
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Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973)
“Yet Cubism and Modern art weren’t either scientific or intellectual; they were visual and came from the eye and mind of one of the greatest geniuses in art history.”
As one of the most influential Modern artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso is renowned as a legendary artistic master to this day. Born on October 25, 1881 in Malaga, Spain, Pablo Picasso was a child prodigy who was recognized as such by his art-teacher father, who ably led him along. The small Museo de Picasso in Barcelona is devoted primarily to his early works, which include strikingly realistic renderings of casts of ancient sculpture.
Picasso was a rebel from the start and, as a teenager, began to frequent the Barcelona cafes where intellectuals gathered. He soon went to Paris, the capital of art, and soaked up the works of Edouard Manet, Gustave Courbet, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, whose sketchy style impressed him greatly. Then it was back to Spain, a return to France, and again back to Spain – all in the years 1899 to 1904.
Before he struck upon Cubism, Picasso went through a prodigious number of styles – realism, caricature, the Blue Period, and the Rose Period. These distinguished styles are apparent in the unique original works as well as Picasso ceramics, lithographs, linocuts, and etchings that he created later in his life.
The Blue Period dates from 1901 to 1904 and is characterized by a predominantly blue palette and focuses on outcasts, beggars, and prostitutes. This was when he also produced his first sculptures. The most poignant work of the style, La Vie (1903), currently located in Cleveland’s Museum of Art, was created in memory of his childhood friend, the Spanish poet Carlos Casagemas, who had committed suicide. The painting started as a self-portrait, but Picasso’s features became those of his lost friend. The composition is stilted, the space compressed, the gestures stiff, and the tones predominantly blue.
The Rose Period began around 1904 when Picasso’s palette brightened and is dominated by pinks and beiges, light blues, and roses. His subjects are saltimbanques (circus people), harlequins, and clowns, all of whom seem to be mute and strangely inactive. One of the premier works of this period is Family of Saltimbanques (1905), currently in Washington, D.C. at the National Gallery, which portrays a group of circus workers who appear alienated and incapable of communicating with each other, set in a one-dimensional space.
In 1905, Picasso went briefly to Holland, and on his return to Paris, his works took on a classical aura with large male and female figures seen frontally or in distinct profile, as in early Greek art. One of the best examples of this style is in the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, NY, La Toilette (1906). Several pieces in this new, classical style were purchased by Gertrude Stein (the art patron and writer) and her brother, Leo Stein.
With his groundbreaking 1907 painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Picasso, along with Georges Braque, developed a revolutionary style of modern art that was formed in response to the rapidly changing modern world: Cubism. He simplified and distorted figures and objects into geometric planes, often including elements of text and collage in his works.
Picasso enjoyed creating his art in many different artistic mediums throughout his life and, in due time, became a master in each medium. From Picasso ceramics to paintings to lithographs, etchings, and linocuts, all of his works are a testament to his artistic skills. There are even hand signed Picasso prints that are worth more than unique original works.