The so-called Blue Period of Picasso begins early in the winter of 1901 and ends late in 1904. The relative uniformity of the works falling under this designation is all the more remarkable because the artist's life during those years was particularly unsettled: he frequently changed his place of residence, and was engaged in a hard struggle for existence.
At the end of 1901 he returned to Barcelona; in 1902, late in the summer, he attempted to conquer Paris for the third time (in the interval other exhibitions of his work took place there). But he was soon again penniless, and was forced to share a small hotel room with his friend, the poet Max Jacob. Early in 1903 Max Jacob too found himself in straitened circumstances, and Picasso was forced to return to Barcelona.
He worked there until the spring of 1904'when he went to Paris for the fourth time, finally succeeding in gaining a permanent foothold there. He moved to the famous Bateau-lavoir ("floating laundry"), a drab Montmartre tenement at 13 Rue Ravignan, now 13 Place Émile-Goudeau, where he lived until 1909 with struggling young writers and painters as his closest neighbors.
Fernande Olivier has given us an account of those often desperately difficult years when his genius blossomed; she vividly evokes the small, vigorous, continually restless, and curiously fascinating Spaniard amidst his friends. At no other time in Picasso's long career was his life so closely interwoven with his art as in those years when he portrayed human misery in classical works reflecting his belief that art is born of sadness and suffering.
The typical works of the Blue Period are devoid of lively colors: they are almost in monochrome—cool, passive, earthenware-blue has supplanted all the more active colors except for an occasional ghostly oxide-green. The most various hypotheses have been advanced as to the origin of this infinitely desolate blue. It is sometimes traced back to influences of other paintings; sometimes physiological or psychological explanations are offered.
The main reason why Picasso at that time chose blue as his dominant color lies probably in its negative value and its otherworldly symbolism, which are in perfect accord with the expressive form of the paintings.
These wretched figures emaciated by hunger and vice are unthinkable in any other than this sorrowful tonality, which seems to be one of their attributes. The color in no small measure transports these outcasts to an idealized realm in which they are no longer beggars, prostitutes, or mental cases, and are surrounded by an invisible aura of martyrdom that restores their innocence. The painter has evidently been chastened by his own experience: his earlier irreverent and critical attitude toward society has yielded to one of deep compassion for suffering mankind.
For the same reason, large individualized figures now dominate the foreground. The aim is to give heroic stature to a social class that previous art portrayed only realistically. A Degas laundress is a social type, an ordinary woman who does her work industriously; a Picasso laundress is a martyr of society who deserves respect. A Degas absinthe drinker is a sensual woman who finds a measure of happiness in her addiction; a Picasso absinthe drinker is a sufferer surrendered to mysterious powers, who cannot be judged by earthly standards. With such paintings Picasso became the heir of Van Gogh, whose Berceuse was also intended as a kind of lay image of a saint.
In The Glass of Beer, a portrait of Jaime Sabartés dating from 1901, which is one of the earliest paintings of the Blue Period, the influence of Gauguin and Van Gogh is clearly discernible. The spatial effect is subordinated to a purely two-dimensional order; the ascetic absence of all pictorial attractions, the economy of means which enhances the expression of inwardness point directly to Van Gogh. As for the composition, particularly characteristic are the concentrated compact forms tied together within a closed outline, and the deformations which are partly caused by the absence of spatial perspective.
These' deformations, however, serve expressive purposes, as in the flexible, wristless hand holding the beer glass. The sober colors—the jacket is dark blue against a blue background, the hair is dull brown, the glass is gray—are entirely in keeping with the austere forms, and heighten the expression of genuine purity. Sabartés has told us how this portrait came to be painted. One evening, while waiting for his friends in the Café La Lorraine near the Musée de Cluny, Sabartés fell into a reverie, from which he was suddenly aroused by the voices of Picasso and his companions. It is that moment when he surprised his friend in the café that the painter later recorded in a canvas, which Sabartés describes as "the specter of his 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