Pablo Picasso blue period is a term that refers to the series of paintings in which blue color dominated in painting between 1901and1904. Pablo Picasso’s paintings were in a way as if he saw the world in blue. During this time Picasso was going through a difficult time because of the death of his closest friend Casagemas as and he also had money problems. The blue color showed the difficult time he was going through, even the subjects in his paintings are skinny and sad depicting the rough times (Percy, et al., p.252). Some of the subjects of his paintings were about beggars, his friends who had died and blindness. The blue paintings illustrate an expression of poetic refinement contributing to Picasso’s style changing from the classic to abstract art. This paper will discuss the Pablo Picasso blue period and how the subject matter and style reflect the period it was made.
The Blue Period
Just before his nineteenth birthday, Picasso arrived in France and discovered the ancient French capital was going through a transitional period in the world of literature and art. The city then was a haven of innovative painters , writers and artists shared information in taverns, brothels and artistic studios. The city was inhabited by political radicals, prostitutes, drug addicts and prostitutes who were romanticized in literature. Picasso was immediately drawn into this world and went ahead to provide part of its artistic momentum. On his first visit there, he found friends to work with and he was in the middle of artistic movement that swept him along, content to enjoy the ride. By the fall of 1901, Picasso began to change his lifestyle because of the hard times he was going through. Unlike his earlier work that featured bright colors, he switched to somber shades for three years (1901-1904); the priod generally referred to as the Blue Period. Picasso left Paris for Spain till 1904 during this time (McNeese and Picasso, P.29-31).
The blue period started with the ‘evocation- burial of Casegemas’ (p.15) painting marking the end of friendship and beginning of another new period in Picasso’s life. The era marked the end of a friendship and a beginning of a new phase in Picasso’s life. His friend had shot himself in 1901 and during the summer of the same year he says that he began to paint in blue after his friend’s death. During summer, he started working on sketches on his first painting (of the blue period) - the burial of Casegemas. In this painting, he arranged Casagemas’ burial as a saint in an atheistic version. The burial is shown to have been attended by prostitutes on the clouds clad in only stockings. This depicts the kind of life that his friend had to miss while alive. The body is shown surrounded by his family members and Picasso is one of them as shown in figure 1 below. Through grief, he made and painted such a picture and Casagemas death was the turning point of his artistic skills for 3 years. For Picasso, blue meant that he could express his grief his pictures becoming more chrome throughout the four years (Walther, p.15- 16).
The death of Casagemas resulted to Picasso painting a monumental picture of his friend choosing a blue color to represent the mood. Blue color in this case and others shows a stylistic approach signaling that the paintings were a reality reflections of what Picasso was going through (Walther, p.16)
After Casagemas’ death, Picasso vested Toledo and saw El Grecos’ painting called ‘The Funeral of Count Orgaz’ which contained some style that Picasso wanted to express. The painting had shown elongated and stretched human bodies showing how they have passed onto a different world. A Christian, El Greco used the paintings to show how human beings are not perfect. Picasso copied painting showed a people detached from this world due to the fact that they were sick and poor (Walther, p.16). He later in 1903 painted the old guitarist in blue (shown in figure 3). In this painting, Picasso alters the human body and completely distorts the figure to portray a sad subject. Some of El Greco’s element can be seen in the painting with his elongated limbs and fingers. The body of the person is painted blue unlike the guitar (McNeese and Picasso, p.36).
Another painting considered important in the development of Picasso’s art was a 1901 portrait of a drug addict called The Absinthe drinker figure 2 below. It portrays a lonely woman at a café with a bottle of strong liqueur called absinthe. The uncanny woman is shrouded in a blue cloak and flanked by a table and a glass of her drug. This portrait may be depicting Picasso’s dark moments at the time (McNeese and Picasso, p.35).
Another painting famous work from the blue period was La Vie (life) shown in figure 4 that was painted in 1903. This is one of Picasso’s last blue paintings. It is still about his friend Casagemas. Casagemas had been rejected by a woman she loved and so he decided to shoot himself at a café in Paris. The painting shows Casagemas with a lover holding his shoulder and a mother with a child. The nearly naked lover and the mother face each other but have the appearance of hopelessness and suffering. The painting shows Casagemas while he is alive but the two women’s faces look sad. The left leg of Casagemas treads forward while his left finger is pointing upward. This painting shows an undefeated Casagemas and it seems the painting marks the end of Picasso’s blue period and thus the end of his trauma. The painting is about the unhappiness of love with some form of contentment on the mother. The painting may have depicted the kind of family and lovers surrounding Casagemas that Picasso wished his friend to have and the child is seen as a future of hope (McNeese and Picasso, p.36-37).
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The La Vive became the most important of all his blue period paintings. It became an artistic sensation as well as a financial success for Picasso and it was painted in May and sold the following month June, 1903. Other of Picasso’s paintings did not fetch much and he missed the life he used to have in Paris. Therefore, in the spring of 1904, he returned to Paris to reconnect with his old friends among them his lover Fernande Olivier (McNeese and Picasso, p.37).
The years from 1901 to 1904 were known as Picasso’s blue period. These were difficult times for Picasso as his friend shot himself and died and did not often have enough money for his needs especially to assist him do his paintings. It is during this time that his paintings were done in blue to reflect the difficult times he was going through. The subjects of his paintings were often unhappy, lonely or needy depicting a gloomy mood with very strong emotions. His subjects included beggars, women, drunkards and his friend Carlos Casagemas. Some of his most famous paintings during the blue period were evocation-burial of Casegemas, The Absinthe drinker, the guitarist and, La Vie. It is widely believed that the blue color depicted a melancholy mood, low light conditions. The people he painted during this time had some element of suffering and melodrama.