Picasso and eroticism In Paris and Barcelona, between 1901 and 1903, Picasso produced numerous lively erotic drawings which verge on caricature and which offer a counterpoint to the somber, melancholic paintings of destitute figures in his Blue Period. They are an extension of his exploration of the shady world of brothels, made manifest in his paintings by the prostitutes of the Saint-Lazare prison, and by the portrait La Célestine inspired by the Barcelonan brothel keeper Carlota Valdivia.
These works, long kept hidden, were in many cases quickly sketched on the back of business cards for his friend Sebastià Juñer-Vidal’s factory, but they represent a recurring theme in Picasso’s work: the permanent and inextricable association between love and death.
Life Life was painted in the spring of 1903, and represents the culmination of the aesthetic experiments carried out by Picasso since the start of the Blue Period. It is painted on top of Last Moments, which Picasso presented at the Universal Exhibition in 1900. A number of sketches and an x-ray analysis of the painting reveal the development of the composition and figures. Although the man on the left was initially a self-portrait, he eventually adopts the features of Carles Casagemas, Picasso’s friend who committed suicide in February 1901 after a failed love affair. The artist also planned to position an easel and winged figure in the centre of the picture.
The final painting has given rise to many different interpretations. It is often seen as an allegory for the cycle of life from childhood – embodied by the pregnant woman – to death, symbolised by the crouching figure in the background, and therefore reflects the metaphysical ideas of certain artists such as Paul Gauguin.