Pablo Picasso may be best known for cubism in the history of modern art, but his early works are equally as impressive. I will discuss the period 1892-1906.
I visited the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC in April of 1997, but I passed up the opportunity to see "Picasso, The Early Years" as I didn’t think the show would be worthwhile.
The exhibit then came to the MFA Boston in September 1997 and lasted until January 1998. As I live in New England and was attending an art history class at the time, we went as a group to the exhibit.
I was first impressed by Picasso’s academic study of a male nude done in chalk at age 13. He captured the flesh tones so precisely that I became a believer. I came to the realization that Picasso was indeed a genius in his artistic ability.
The lines and shapes of his compositions were true and accurate. I felt he had paid his dues and his work could stand up to scrutiny with any artist, past or present. I was convinced he was a superb artist.
I particularly enjoyed a painting from his Blue period, "Seated Woman and Child." The medium was oil on canvas, it measures 4’X3’ and was painted in 1901. Unlike his earlier works in charcoal, this painting differed greatly, not in just the medium he used.
Firstly, the woman’s torso is out of proportion: exaggerated in size and shape. Her hands are extended and her body takes on many curves (head and knees). She seems to be enveloping the child with her entire body. (This is reminiscent of work by El Greco who also elongated his subjects.)
Executed in blue tones, this color expressed Picasso’s mood and became the theme of his work at the time. Isolation and a feeling of rejection (the artist and his central figure) played a key role during his Blue period.
Upon learning that the woman was a prostitute from the prison hospital at Saint-Lazare in Paris, I felt compassion and sorrow. She is clutching the infant and showing great tenderness. We are told the woman wears a white cap because she has venereal disease. Ironically, instead of mocking her, Picasso has elevated her status to that of ‘Madonna’ the essence of ‘motherhood’ to Christians.
Despite the blue color and its inherent negative connotation, I instead found serenity and love within this painting. Picasso turns the white cap of shame into a shawl that she uses to protect her child from the world that caused her disease and sadness.
I saw Picasso’s "Seated Woman and Child" as a symbol of family, bonding between a mother and child, love, and life itself.
Interestingly, this exhibit at the MFA Boston in 1997-1998 cost a whopping $15 entrance fee. At the time, it was the most expensive exhibit in the museum's history. It was well worth the visit!
This is a collectable print of a painting by Picasso with a similar theme, "Mother and Child."