What is usually designated as the Rose Period of Picasso extends from the end of 1904 to his first Cubist experiments in 1907. The name is evidently meant to suggest an analogy with the preceding Blue Period, but the Rose Period cannot be demarcated as clearly as the other (in fact, according to some writers it begins in the second half of 1905) nor do the works produced during it display the same characteristic uniformity as those of the Blue Period.
In his basic monograph on Picasso, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., does not follow the usual classification; and he deserves special credit for having distinguished the various developmental stages within the Rose Period, most of them covering no more than six months, and also for having established their correct chronological sequence. We shall nevertheless retain the usual designation here, not merely because it has become customary, but because it actually has a certain symbolic significance. In the first place, Picasso's material well-being improved at that time, and as a result of his growing success he began to discover the brighter aspects of life.
The stimulating circle of friends from the Bateau-lavoir was enriched by, among others, the young Spanish painter Juan Gris and the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who encouraged Picasso on his path toward self-liberation. At the same time collectors like the American writer Gertrude Stein And the Russian merchant Sergei Shchukin, who bought many of Picasso's works (these were later placed in the Museum of Western Modern Art in Moscow), encouraged him by their interest and financial help. Finally, the transition from the shadow-like blue to warmer, positive colors also marks a change in the artist's attitude toward his work.
During his Blue Period Picasso had striven to express his innermost feelings; between 1905 and 1907, as his palette became neutralized and acquired a more positive tonality, this subjective approach yielded increasingly to objective expression. His effort to eliminate subjective moods from his paintings led him gradually to Cubism.
During the last months of 1904 and the first half of 1905, Picasso produced a group of works that are closely related even from a purely thematic point of view: all of them treat the world of acrobats or saltimbanques. They belong to what Barr calls the "Circus Period."
We know from Fernande Olivier with what enthusiasm Picasso frequented the Medrano circus at that time. Feats of physical skill which become an "art"—whether it be bullfighting, boxing, or the Russian ballet—have always stimulated his creative imagination. In addition the circus offered the illusionary reality of the footlights and the heady smell of horses and wild animals. But we cannot say that the paintings and drawings of 1905 convey much of this. They occasionally show an athlete lifting a girl high in the air, a child juggling balls, or a rider pirouetting on a horse, but by far the greater number of these works represent circus people in intimate attitudes reflecting their family life. Like the outcasts of the Blue Period, the acrobats are characterized by a slender, fragile physique, this time as a prerequisite of their trade, and by a melancholy seriousness, sign of a heightened awareness of their dangerous and futile occupation.
The central figure in these works is the harlequin with the twocornered hat and checkered costume; he is usually represented as a passive onlooker with a gentle and doleful facial expression. This figure appears standing and watching a woman at her toilette or bathing a child, or seated as one of a group which includes a monkey with a noble and intelligent animal face. An acrobat's close friendship with a dog in still another picture expresses the sympathy obtaining between all living creatures, which is emphasized in this group of works.
Only rarely do the figures enter into active relationships, even in the largest canvas of the group, The Saltimbanques, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., which enjoys particular' fame because Rilke refers to it in the fifth of his Duino Elegies. Because the figures in these paintings are self-enclosed or arranged in loose groups, they leave much scope for interpretation, and there is danger of reading too much in these groupings. At all events, as representatives of a humanity that has become insecure in its very foundations, the acrobats who escape from solitude only by trusting each other are of a deeply moving symbolism. These compositions, which seem to reflect Picasso's predilection for Puvis de Chavannes, mark the culmination of his tendency to linear expression, which was clearly marked even in his Blue Period, and which brought him into open opposition with his Fauve contemporaries, and their emphasis on color. At that time he occupied a lonely outpost, from which he was gradually to conquer unknown or forgotten realms of the line.
Among the compositions representing harlequin families, some take up again the subject of maternal love; the figures of mother and child now display a tender, moving humanity, free from the social anxiety and symbolic alienation of the Blue Period. This is especially true of a study dating from 1905, showing an infant at the breast of a slender but earthy mother, who still has some of the physical characteristics of the women of the older period—a narrow head, angular shoulders, pendulous breasts, flexible hands, and long sensitive fingers. These features no longer denote morbidity, but a lofty, noble sensibility: in brief, their effect is positive. This is in no small measure achieved by the new coloring: the flesh has a warmer tone, which is stressed by the dull rose drapery covering the mother's arms and the infant's body. This color recurs with greater vigor in the pink flower and in the black, helmet-like coiffure where it appears side by side with a very strong sapphire blue, whose radiant potency is no longer broken by decaying greens.
The whole blue background, even where it is clouded, no longer relegates the luminous rose figure to a frosty inferno, but serves as a magnificent foil for her ethereal, humanly transfigured forms. In all the works of this period the warm tones break victoriously through the cool. This can be observed, for instance, in a marvelously delicate still life of 1905. The horizontal canvas shows a table covered by a dove-blue cloth; the vessels on it, in a severe arrangement, are all seen in profile; a vigorously warm brown teapot is placed between a small jade-green cup and a violet-gray bottle.
At the extreme right a blue box ornamented in a warm glittering gold stands next to white and lightgray vessels. Set off against the beige background we see a white drawing sheet and a small painting with a cool gold frame representing a woman in a dark-green and madder-lake Spanish costume. This description may suggest the subdued colors of the composition, which displays all degrees between coolness and warmth, and which, for all the differences in technique, is not unworthy of the similarly counterpointed mature still life compositions of the great Velazquez.
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