Art Emanates From Pain and Sadness: Picasso’s Blue Period
by Paul Hansen



The Blue Period (1901-1904) has long been considered Picasso’s first true evolution as an artist in creating a manner of his own. Beginning with several paintings that memorialized the recent suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas, the artist's themes grew somber and dark, and he implemented a palette consisting almost exclusively of shades of blue. The monochromatic use of blue was fairly standard in symbolist painting in Western Europe, often related to representations of melancholy or hopelessness. The figures in his works were often depicted as Bohemian-type outcasts, which happened to be the life that Picasso was leading himself, poor and far away from his family. Some examples of his subjects included beggars, prostitutes, the disabled, circus performers as well as some of his penniless friends. The Blue Period dramatizes the artist as an outcast from society and the theme of this era in Picasso’s career owes much to the eighteen-nineties when the idea of the artist as l’homme maudit, happy and dissociated from ordinary life but superior to it, was created in Western Europe.

The nearly exclusive use of blue during this time period has never been satisfactorily explained but there have been many assumptions: This period was triggered by the unfortunate fate of his best friend Casagemas who was rejected by a girl with whom he was infatuated, attempted to kill her and ultimately took his own life. Picasso stated, “It was thinking about Casagemas that got me started painting in blue.”

It was believed that Picasso was merely inspired (or uninspired depending on your take) by his living situation, as well as being unrecognized and in extreme poverty. One of his closest friends Sabartés wrote, “Picasso believed Art to [be] the son of Sadness and Suffering…that sadness lent itself to meditation and that suffering was fundamental to life…If we demand sincerity of an artist, we must remember that sincerity is not to be found outside the realm of grief.”

The use of blue has also been attributed to the fact that Picasso was too poor to buy any other colors as well his habit of working at night by lamplight. Famous Psychologist Carl Jung once regarded this as evidence of incipient schizophrenia. Picasso may have had some subconscious influences from Spanish religious paintings, which often depicted agonized martyrs with their waxen faces stained with tears and bodies streaked with blood.

It’s widely believed that the origins were much more complex and connected with Picasso’s artistic aims as blue was rich in associations and a favorite among many artists of the time. Picasso produced many famous works that are truly indicative of his presumed meanings. Most historians and critics would agree that the key painting of this time was La Vie. The work contains a deep sense of melancholy and has given rise to more mystification than any other early work by this artist. Scholars agree that the painting is unmistakably allegorical and scholars feel that this particular subject matter may be referencing the responsibilities of daily life, the incompatibility of sexual love, and the struggles behind artistic creativity. The pessimistic outlook is further captivated by the use of the cold, bleak, blue tones. An interesting subtopic is the fact that this artistic masterpiece was intended as a self-portrait. X-ray analysis reveals that the central figure was originally Picasso, further evidenced by the preliminary drawings created in preparation for the painting itself. The recent advancement of x-ray analysis is crucial in uncovering hidden intentions and original concepts of famous paintings of the past. This development in technology is further illustrated and highlights another famous work by Picasso during this time.


The Old Guitarist
is another example of Picasso evoking portrayals of the impoverished underclass in a predominantly blue tone. Relatively recent advancements including x-radiographs and infrared reflectograms have allowed researchers at the Art Institute of Chicago find clues to both the origin and meaning of the underlying groundwork. Within some sketches and letters that Picasso had sent to friend before the completion of The Old Guitarist, certain hidden elements showed an uncanny resemblance to the ideas described and sketches drawn in those very letters. There were two main compositions that were discovered beneath the final draft of his masterpiece.

Through analysis, the first composition appears to feature a mother and child with the mother’s right arm extended behind the child, which matches up with one of the sketches in the letters. In addition, there are also heads of both a calf and a cow with the cow apparently licking the calf’s head. This appears to be exactly what Picasso was describing in his letter but nobody knows why he abandoned the initial painting even though the idea was worth mentioning to a friend.


In the second composition, a comparison between the hidden elements underneath The Old Guitarist and a sketch that Picasso had just recently done was made. This pose of an imploring woman with outstretched arms can also be viewed from x-ray analysis. Scholars suggest that this particular composition was probably more closely linked to this drawing due to the obvious intent to depict an underclass citizen with a guitar.


Works Cited

Picasso: The Formative Years, Blunt, Anthony and Phoebe Pool. New York: New York, Graphic Society, 1962.
A Life of Picasso: Volume 1 1881-1906, Richardson, John. New York: Random House, 1991.
Mood of a Painting
Picasso: The Early Years, 1892-1906
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Revealing Picasso

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