The death of Picasso’s friend Casagemas Carles Casagemas, the son of the American consul in Barcelona, forged a close friendship with Picasso in the summer of 1899. He shared a studio with him in Barcelona and then accompanied him to Paris in the autumn of 1900. His failed love affair with a young model prompted him to commit suicide on 17 February 1901 in a Montmartre restaurant, after he fired a shot at his lover and missed. Picasso heard the news while he was in Madrid.
When he returned to Paris several months later, the artist addressed this tragic event in a painting produced in the very studio where Casagemas spent his final hours. In the summer, The Death of Casagemas, with its Fauvist expressionism and thick layers of impasto, recalls of some of Picasso’s works exhibited in the Vollard exhibition.
The palettes of the other portraits of the deceased man are tinged with the blue that Picasso gradually introduces into his paintings that autumn. Blue is also the dominant colour in his large painting Evocation, the last composition in the cycle, which parodies the binary structure of El Greco’s Burial of the Count of Orgaz in an irony-tinged final farewell.
“Of Sadness and Pain” In the autumn of 1901, Pablo Picasso went to Saint-Lazare women’s prison in Paris. The inmates were mainly prostitutes, some of whom were incarcerated with their children. Women infected with venereal diseases were singled out with bonnets. These visits initiated a series of paintings on the theme of motherhood, produced in the final months of the year.
When the artist returned to Barcelona in late January 1902, he continued to paint female figures embodying loneliness and misfortune. This marked the beginning of the Blue Period, characterised by the dominance of this colour, sentimental themes and a quest for expressive forms. Stiff, solemn female bodies are bowed under the weight of curves. Mother and child groups are idealised and stylised. The bonnets worn by the women inmates of Saint-Lazare prison are transformed into hoods and their clothes become long tunics modelled on the paintings of El Greco.
“The blues of the abyss” Although the term Blue Period instantly conjures up painting, Picasso’s art extends well beyond this medium. Paintings, sculptures, drawings and engravings all stem from the same aesthetic experiments, the same quest to express suffering.
These ink and pencil sheets, which belong to the significant body of graphical work produced between 1902 and 1903 depict the suffering, emaciated bodies of men and women and demonstrate mastery of a wide array of techniques. They reveal the virtuosity of Picasso the draughtsman. The paintings offer numerous variations of the colour blue. For Picasso, “the need to paint in this way was driven from within”, but he was probably also influenced by his habit of painting at night by the light of a paraffin lamp.
In tandem with these tragic depictions of the destitute, whose deformed limbs are reminiscent of paintings by El Greco, Picasso produced portraits of his Barcelonan friends through lenses of both benevolence and sarcasm.