The people of the Blue Period, their metaphysical essence and their formal stylization, reflect the deep influence of old Spanish art on the young Picasso. Even prior to 1900, his concern with Gothic sculpture manifested itself occasionally in his elongated, disembodied figures, and in his emphasis on expression; and he certainly knew the medieval Catalan frescoes now in the museum of Barcelona. He was thus naturally attracted by El Greco whose Mannerism springs from'medieval roots and embodies the highest pictorial qualities.
Picasso had an early opportunity to become acquainted with the works of this great Spanish painter, who was rediscovered not in Madrid or Toledo, but in Catalonia: Miguel Utrillo (adoptive father of the French painter), a critic who belonged to the Els Quatre Gats group, was the first prophet of El Greco's fame, and a monument to him was erected in the little town of Sitges as early as 1897. It seems, however, that only in 1901, when he saw El Greco's masterpieces in Toledo, did Picasso become genuinely interested in him. His enthusiasm for this magician continued far beyond the Blue Period. Even in 1912, an El Greco was hung in a place of honor in the Picasso room at the Sonderbund Exhibition in Cologne.
El Greco's programmatic significance consists in this, that his example encouraged the young painter to free himself from servitude to naturalism and to place artistic expression above formal "truth." Greco also helped him to disregard realistic coloring—this is one of the essential features of the Blue Period. The extent to which he was inspired by his great model as regards details can be seen in paintings such as the Old Guitarist of 1903, or the water color sketch of the Madman of 1904. The gaunt forms of the tattered beggar are realistic. The ruthless deformations of the figure in favor of expressive effect in his paintings are even more striking. But the ascetic type and particularly the oversized, sensitive hands and feet directly remind us of figures such as El Greco's John the Baptist. The fluid, soft light on the surface of the figure and the greater interest in psychological—in this case pathological—features, are further elements of affinity with the great Toledan.
During the first decades of the twentieth century El Greco became the patron saint of Expressionist and all non-naturalistic painting, and the tendency of the Blue Period can be roughly reduced to this European common denominator. It would not be difficult to compare a composition such as the magnificent etching of 1904, showing a blind man and his companion and known as The Frugal Repast, with Expressionist works by painters of various countries, and to discover that they have fundamental traits in common. But all this would not bring us closer to understanding Picasso's unique contribution. At that time he followed a solitary path: his degenerately fragile, morbidly sensitive, and dolefully knowing figures were seemingly outside the general trend of contemporary French painting.
For instance, he paid no attention to the emergence of the Fauves in 1905 and their struggle for a new form. Still, we find Spanish analogies to Picasso which are not accidental. There is for instance the sculptor Carlo Mani, whose main opus, The Degenerates, falls within that period; and there is Antonio Gaudi, the brilliant builder of the Barcelona cathedral, who ventured a kind of Expressionism in architecture, and who is even said to have gone through a Blue Period of his own around 1906. Gaudi's artistic independence certainly encouraged Picasso in his solitary and dangerous path.
The Frugal Repast mentioned above perhaps gives us a better idea of the outstanding technical mastery Picasso had in the meantime achieved than the paintings whose tone- and light-values he perfectly transposed here into black-and-white. Only a comparison with Pisanello's drawing of Luxuria in Vienna, who looks just as consumptive as the female figure in Picasso's etching, will do justice to its great graphic excellence. Tile eloquent hands in this print perfectly illustrate Sabartés' sensitive description: "... the hands in Picasso's blue work seem to seek one another's warmth. Some are outstretched as if the finger tips wished to touch what they are reaching for, hands that denote fear and throb with anxiety; some timid, others frozen with cold, others astir as if to banish solitude."
Pablo Picasso, Cubism, Pablo Picasso Biography, Picasso Paintings, Picasso Drawings, The Blue Nude, Don Quixote, Enamel Saucepan, Evening Flowers, Femme A La Fleur, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Spanish Art, The Dream, The Pigeons, Guernica, Musse, Bull with Bullfighter, Mediterranean Landscape, Nude and Still Life, Toros y Toreros, Mother and Child, Girl with Red Beret, Frau Mit Turban, The Bathers, The Lesson, The Old Guitarist, Three Bathers, Violin and Guitar, Lovers, Evening Flowers, The Kitchen
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