Picasso. Blue and Rose In 1900, at age eighteen, Pablo Ruiz, who would soon begin signing his work Picasso, already had all the makings of a young prodigy. His work was divided between academic paintings to please his father, a teacher who dreamed of an official career for his son, and more personal works inspired by his contact with avant-garde circles in Barcelona.
It is his salon painting which took him to Paris, having been selected to represent his country in the Spanish painting section of the Universal Exhibition. He presented the large canvas Last Moments, which he painted over in 1903 with his masterpiece Life. This marked the start of a period of intense creative activity punctuated by travel between Spain and the French capital, Paris. Between 1900 and 1906, Picasso’s work gradually shifted from a rich palette of Pre-Fauvist colours – which owes a great debt both to the post-Impressionism of Van Gogh and to Toulouse-Lautrec – to the almost monochrome blues of the Blue Period, followed by the rose shades of the Saltimbanques Period, and the ochre hues of Gósol.
For the first time in France, this exhibition will span the Blue and Rose Periods, organised as a continuum rather than as a series of compartmentalised episodes. It also aims to reveal Picasso’s early artistic identity and some of the enduring obsessions in his work.
“The strongest walls open at my passing” When he arrived at the Gare d’Orsay in October 1900, Picasso plunged into a very vibrant contemporary art scene: he discovered the paintings of David and Delacroix, but also works by Ingres, Daumier, Courbet, Manet and the Impressionists. Like other artists of his generation, the young painter was a great admirer of Van Gogh, as demonstrated by his transition several months after this first trip to Paris to painting with strokes of pure colour.
Some self-portraits reveal how the artist embraced and absorbed the successive influences of the “modern masters”. In the summer of 1901, his Self-Portrait in a Top Hat was a parting tribute to Toulouse-Lautrec, nightlife and the cabaret scene; and in Yo Picasso, he depicts himself as the new messiah of art - elegant, arrogant and provocative - in homage to Van Gogh.
Seven months later, in his blue Self-Portratit, Picasso makes another reference to the Dutch painter, not in terms of style, but in the pose of a misunderstood genius sporting a red beard. A comparison with the self-portrait he painted on his return from Gósol in 1906 reveals just how much the artist developed in the space of a few years. Here, Picasso is experimenting with a new idiom, restricting his palette to complementary shades of grey and pink and reducing his facial features to an oval mask shape.