Picasso: Painting the Blue Period at The Phillips Collection
Delve into the early, formative years of Picasso’s work at this exceptional exhibit in Washington through June 12, 2022.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was 19 years old when he first arrived in Paris in 1900, living in the bohemian Montmartre neighborhood. He reveled in the vibrant nightlife and met many artists who contributed to the evolution of his work. In fact, Picasso’s first paintings there clearly show the stylistic influence of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: portraits of elegant women lavishly dressed, with plumed hats, as well as paintings of the raucous nightlife featuring flamboyant showgirls and coquettish prostitutes. At this exhibit, you’ll see Picasso’s work side-by-side with strikingly similar examples of Toulouse-Lautrec. Picasso relied on these popular themes at his first international exhibit at the Galerie Vollard.
The next year, Picasso was grieving the tragic suicide of his close friend and roommate, Carles Casagemas, at age 21. He was a key factor in Picasso’s transition to the more somber Blue Period (1901-1904). Over the next few years, his work would feature a monochromatic palette and deeply reflective mood, with some paintings showing religious undertones.
In the large, complex tableau, Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas), mourners dressed in blue grieve around the body of his friend, while higher up on the canvas is a second image of Casagemas, arms open in the shape of a cross on a white horse against a blue background, rising to the heavens above.
Picasso began visiting the women’s prison, Saint-Lazare, in the 10th arrondissement. Here, fascinated with the plight of the destitute and the infirm, he continued to primarily use shades of blue to portray their solitude and unfortunate fate. He was particularly taken by the women who had given birth in the prison and were raising their children there.
In The Soup, we see Picasso’s focus on hunger among these poor women, a timeless theme for the artist. With deep blue colours, this tableau hints at more than a mother feeding her young; the mother’s reverential posture is perhaps referring to charity or a religious ceremony.
In Crouching Beggarwoman, Picasso’s subject is a sad, solitary woman in a hunched pose, possibly grieving. Her white scarf is a subtle reference to a halo. This intriguing painting is just one of the works in the exhibit that underwent a technical analysis of the canvas, revealing evidence of an earlier painting underlying the final image.
By 1904, Picasso’s work was transitioning to a lighter mood and his colour palette expanded to include warmer tones. His subjects are represented with more realism and optimism as he begins the Rose Period, with some paintings on display here.
This extensive exhibit brings together works from 30 international collections and includes more than 90 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by Picasso and other artists who directly influenced him. It’s the first exhibit in 25 years in Washington to focus on Picasso’s early career.
“We are thrilled for our community to experience these masterpieces and learn about these iconic artworks from a variety of perspectives,” says Phillips Curator Susan Behrends Frank, who co-curated the exhibit with Kenneth Brummel, associate curator of modern art at the Art Gallery of Ontario. “The Phillips Collection is a small museum with a big museum approach to conservation as a partner with the curators. My nearly decade of research on Pablo Picasso and his work, and the efforts of our conservation team and exhibition partner, show that there is always more to discover more within art history.”
If you’re in the Washington area, do not miss this exhibit about a significant period in the life of the great Pablo Picasso.
The Phillips Collection
1600 21st Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
Open Tuesday-Sunday, 11 am – 6 pm.
Timed tickets are required for general admission.
Full ticket price is $16. The Picasso exhibit runs through June 12, 2022.
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By Phil Tremo
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