Friday, April 22, 2016

Pablo Picasso's Transition from the Blue Period to the Rose Period

Blue, Rose, Surrealism, African, Cubism.  Pablo Picasso is known for moving through a variety of artistic periods as he experimented with different styles and techniques.  Picasso’s earlier periods, specifically the Blue and Rose Periods, were driven by his dramatic, emotional responses to people and events in his life.  The Blue Period is characterized by somber moods and blue tonalities; often described as “melancholy,” this period reflects Picasso’s days of depression.  He painted the outcasts of society—beggars, prostitutes, and the lowly[1].  After meeting Fernande Olivier, Picasso’s mood lightened as the two started a romantic relationship.  Thus began the Rose Period; Picasso’s art became more lighthearted in content and brighter in color.  He grew fascinated in painting saltimbanques and other performers in groups.
Contemporaries of Picasso viewed the Blue and Rose Periods as one, unified period.[2]   While they saw no need to distinguish the two periods in the early 20th century, today art scholars agree on a distinction between Blue and Rose artwork.  This begs the question, which painting marks the end of the Blue Period?  Which can be called the first of the Rose?  Instead of looking for a definitive switch from Blue to Rose, viewers should consider The Actor of late 1904-early 1905 as the transitional piece connecting the two periods.  The Actor cannot be clearly categorized in either the Blue or Rose Period; instead, it displays qualities of both, making the transition between the two periods a gradual one.

1. Blum, Harold P., and Elsa J. Blum. “On the Art.” The American Journal of Psychoanalysis 67, no. 2 (June 2007): 181-96. Accessed March 17, 2016. doi: 10.1057/palgrave.ajp.3350023.

2. Carsten-Peter Warncke. Picasso: 1881-1973. Koln: Taschen, 2006. 111.

Pablo Picasso; The Blind Man’s Meal; 1903; oil on canvas; 37 ½ in. x 37 ¼ in.; Accession Number: 50.188.
The Blind Man’s Meal is a typical painting from Picasso’s Blue Period.  Not only is the man blind, but his clothes and meager meal suggest his poverty.  Like most Blue Period figures, the man is completely alone; his curved posture indicates that he bears a heavy burden and his gauntness evokes pity from viewers.  The blues are dark and have a sobering effect on viewers.  Even the colors of the painting relate despair.  The dreariness of The Blind Man’s Meal forces viewers to take part in the blind man’s hopelessness.

Pablo Picasso; Le Vieux Guitariste Aveugle (The Old Guitarist); 1903-1904; oil on panel; 48 x 33 in.; The Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago.
Source: Online Picasso Project

            Another from the Blue Period, The Old Guitarist also portrays a somber figure evoking pity from viewers.  Known through the title and his white hair, the fact that the man is old adds an element of despair and hopelessness to his situation, as if he is fated to continue on in lonely poverty.  Like in The Blind Man’s Meal, the figure’s posture curves downward, implying that he carries a heavy emotional burden.  Typical of the Blue Period, the tonality of the painting is a melancholy blue.  Interestingly, Picasso creates contrast in the color of the guitar.  This contrast reflects the irony that a guitar, which is often associated with merry entertainment, is used in a hopeless beggar’s performance.  Picasso finishes this painting the same year he began his transitional piece The Actor.
Pablo Picasso; The Actor; 1904-1905; oil on canvas; 77 ¼ x 45 3/8 in.; Accession Number: 52.175.
In 1904 Picasso moves to Paris and meets Fernande Olivier.  His life, emotional health, and artistic expression take an upward turn towards warmth and lightheartedness.  After knowing Olivier for just a few months, Picasso paints The Actor.  While this piece contains obvious characteristics of his Blue Period, The Actor marks the beginning of Picasso’s shift towards lighter subject matter and a warmer color palette. 

            A melancholy air lingers in the painting of a solitary figure.  The figure is gaunt and his back is curved like the burden-bearing figures of the Blue Period.  Similar to The Old Guitarist, the dark side of performing arts is shown in the actor’s emaciated features and the darkness of the background.  However, this painting has considerably brighter tones than Blue Period paintings; even the blues are warmer and brighter.  And while this man is somber and gaunt, he is a popular subject of the Rose Period—a performer.
Pablo Picasso; Acrobate et Jeune Arlequin (The Acrobat and Young Harlequin); Early 1905; Gouache on cardboard; 41 1/3 x 30 in.; Private Collection, Belgium.
Source: Online Picasso Project
            After The Actor, Picasso paints a series of similar performers.  As his subject matter becomes lighter and colors brighter, he begins to add secondary figures in his pieces.  In The Acrobat and Young Harlequin, the focus is on the closest figure.  While the mood is somber, the melancholy figure is no longer alone; he is accompanied by an attentive, innocent-looking young harlequin.  It is in this young harlequin that viewers find hope, which was completely lacking in Blue Period art.  Picasso also incorporates his warm Rose Period color palette as well as funny costumes and patterns to lighten the mood.
 Pablo Picasso; Acrobate et Jeune Arlequin (The Acrobat and Young Harlequin); Early 1905; oil on canvas; 75 ¼ x 42 ¾ in.; The Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA.
Source: Online Picasso Project
            In the same year, Picasso creates another work called The Acrobat and Young Harlequin.  This piece, while devoid of outright joy, is dominated by a light mood.  These performers are posing in bright costumes and funny hats in front of a cheery backdrop that includes a delightful flower arrangement.  Unlike the hunched forms of the Blue Period, these figures stand completely upright and do not seem to be carrying any heavy emotional burdens.  Looking at this painting, the viewer is not forced to feel pity or to take on the subject’s hopelessness.  Instead, the viewer can look at this pleasant painting and feel just that—pleasant.
Pablo Picasso; La Famille de Saltimbanques (The Family of Saltimbanques); Fall 1905; oil on canvas; 83 ¾ x 90 ½ in.; Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Source: Online Picasso Project
            The Family of Saltimbanques is a well-known painting from the Rose Period in which Picasso furthers his exploration of performers that was initiated with The Actor.[1]  He not only adds to the number of performers, but he also adds variety in the body shapes and the types of performers in a single artwork.  Every costume is very different, but all are equally strange.  The mood of the piece is light, with a blue sky and bright colors.  Although the figures seem to be in a serious discussion, the viewer senses that no one is deeply downtrodden or in despair.  Instead, the viewer can find interest in the figures themselves rather than their emotional state. 

3. “The Actor.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i.e. The Met Museum. Accessed March 17, 2016.

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