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Picasso’s deep despair: the Blue Period’s paintings - by Gianluca Cimini

I'm very passionate about art. Last week, while I was reading a magazine, I read an article on Pablo Picasso. It was printed on a blue page and immediately it reminded me of the so-called “Picasso’s Blue Period”, somehow melancholic but so interestingly retrospective.

On the night of February 17, 1901, in the back room of a Paris wine shop, Picasso’s friend Charles Casagemas shot himself. Picasso was stunned by this suicide and sank in a deep despair. Although he was dogged by poverty and failure, he continued to work.

However, the paintings reflected his mood. They were all characterised by melancholic, cold tones, predominantly blue. More specifically, these paintings showed Picasso’s preference for the destitute, the blind and the lame. In other words, the outcasts of the then Paris society whose harsh he completely shared. Thanks to the mood after his friend’s suicide and the specific features of the society, Picasso created a unique, evocative style, which is known as “Picasso’s Blue Period”.

Tragedy and provocative allegory are mixed in some of Picasso’s Blue Period Paintings. This is epitomised in La Vie” (1903), commemorating the burial of his friend Casagemas. Casagemas’ body lies mourned on earth while his spirit rides a white horse and moves through a sky peopled by lush nudes. In the painting, above, there is an enigmatic picture. It contains two small pictures of nudes between the large standing figures. Apparently, it is about love, such as mother love, sexual love, platonic love, self-love and maybe, and more specifically, about the unhappiness of love. The whole picture is painted in monochrome, heralding dozens of such moody, deep-toned pictures.

 The Absinthe Drinker” (1902) is another epitome of Picasso’s Blue Period, along with “The Old Guitarist” (1903). The painting “The Absinthe Drinker” is not a portrait of an individual – as it could be easily guessed – but it is rather an abstract image of loneliness and despair. It is executed almost entirely in one colour, i.e. the blue tinged with cool green. A choice that emphasises the dejected pose.

“The Old Guitarist” shows that Picasso learnt to draw the human figure with an extraordinary precision. However, during his Blue Period, Picasso decided to distort the human figure in order to convey the moral and physical decay of his characters. In “The Old Guitarist”, this distortion is very clear. Picasso drew elongated limbs and fingers, painted bony, a fleshless body and a stylized, sexless profile. It has been noticed that some of these distortions, with particular reference to unusual stretching of hands and arms, were inspired by the paintings of El Greco, with whom Picasso met both in Madrid and in Toledo.

Picasso’s Blue Period was followed by the so-called “Rose Period”. In 1904, the artist’s life changed and, consequently, his art changed too. He fell in love for his first time and, as his mood brightened, he decided to adopt a “warmer palette”, moving from blue, cold tones to delicate roseate tones. The paintings grouped under the umbrella term “Rose Period” are mainly characterised by circus performers and their families as subjects, gentle happiness and emotion. 

Gianluca Cimini

Gianluca Cimini - Picasso’s deep despair: the Blue Period’s paintings