There’s no need to describe Pablo Picasso—everyone knows about him, and most of us have come across one or more of his works in an exhibition or museum, since he was extremely prolific.
For me, most enchanting were his early works, the Blue and Rose periods, which visitors to Paris have the chance to admire at the Musée d’Orsay. The exhibition is a collaboration between the museum and the Musée National Picasso, and has gathered major works that focus on the period from 1900 to 1906.
Picasso was a fantastic draughtsman, and could produce detailed academic drawings with great ease. In his paintings, however, he expressed his highly personal viewpoint, often distorting body parts, foreshortening limbs or elongating fingers.
It is difficult to comprehend today, but at the time he was derided for this by art critics, and floundered in the teeming artistic milieu of Paris, until he was picked up by American art patron Gertrude Stein. Although they did not speak each other’s language, they became friends, and she had a major influence on his career. He painted her portrait, which everyone agreed did not look at all like her, but which eventually became one his most famous portraits. After 1919 he was giving her paintings for free, since he had become so successful that she could no longer afford to buy them!
Picasso painted prostitutes, blind men, drunks, but also babies and children. He was moved by the notions of family and motherhood. His palette made up of blues gives off an aura of melancholy. He was also inspired by other artists of his time, such as Van Gogh and Gaugin, whose influence can be seen in some of his work.
It is amazing that these paintings were made when Picasso was only 20 or 21. The blue period lasted until 1904, when hints of pink started creeping into his palette, to evolve into the rose period, where joyful pinks, reds and oranges dominated, and his subjects were harlequins and circus people. This lasted for just two years, and ended with the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, the first painting of the cubist period.
It is also astonishing how prolific Picasso was. He left behind tens of thousands of works, even though, when he was young and broke, he reused canvasses and even burnt drawings for warmth.
Anyone within reach of Paris should go and see this exhibition—it is just wonderful. I left unsure whether to be greatly inspired or simply throw my pens and brushes in the bin and take up knitting!