Blue on Picasso's Imagination

Picasso: Marie-Therese

Picasso: Marie-Therese
Pablo Picasso
9 in. x 12 in.

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The attraction exercised by blue on Picasso's imagination lasted until the beginning of 1904. It was so obsessive that when he had to pay his tailor Soler with a portrait-was the Barcelona equivalent of the pastry-cook Murer who used to feed Pissarro and Renoir-he Plunged him into an indigo darkness which did not fail to enhance the melancholy and the innate distinction of that excellent man. This Portrait of Soler (1903) as well as that of the poet Sabartès (1901), now also in Moscow, attest to Picasso's fundamental romanticism which he will often suppress, especially in his later portraits.

In 1904 and 1905, when he has settled down in Paris for good, Picasso gradually abandons monochrome, the lengthened proportions, and the precious arabesque of gesture. To the blues are now added ochers and pinks; there appear new themes: traveling showmen, acrobats, and their daily life. The melancholy, the poignant solitude of the figures persist for some time. In the Boy with Dog the boy, as famished as his animal friend, roams in a suburban landscape; his nostalgia is lit by a fragile blue light which envelops him on all sides.

The tone brightens, however, and the Girl on a Ball (1905), perhaps one of the last in the series of mountebank scenes, could have appealed to Morosov by its tender symphony of pinks and blues. It is also one of the finest in the series. In the opposition between the brute force of the athlete and the aerial gracefulness of the girl there is the naïveté of a street song. Picasso will always have the knack of extracting from life this essential and fresh note, the fundamental truth of a body, of an attitude, of an expression; how can one forget the exquisite uncertainty of the slender arms groping for support in the air, how can one fail to be struck by this back, muscular and vast, rugged like a dream landscape, the back of an ignudo by Michelangelo or Rosso? Which masters have surpassed the sensitive assurance of outline, the triumphant fancy in the modeling?

This silhouette of a Roman wrestler at rest announces a new spirit in Picasso's art: a world of the sun, of impassive certitude, of a flourishing physical life replaces the crepuscular and nostalgic limbo. For Picasso's Latinism the attraction of Mediterranean classicism will prove as irresistible, in these years, as later. His "classical" period will also be his "pink" period. The Nude Boy (1905), this gladiator's apprentice, comes from a race quite different from that of the little mountebank with the dog; and to the Woman of Majorca (1905), daughter of the Greeks and the Phoenicians, the melancholy of traveling showmen is entirely foreign.

We are in the heart of the Mediterranean, in the midst of a frenzy of ochers and blues; the drawing, the modeling carry memories of the spontaneous suppleness of Pompeian frescoes and the elegance of Alexandrian terra cottas. However, if the style betrays these reminiscences, they serve to endow the figures with an unsuspected youth, for there can be nothing less faithful to the classical canon than the body of this boy with its heavy legs and sinewy arms, nothing less tanagra-like than this translucid apparition traversed by tempestuous shadows.

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