Emotional Expression in Works by Pablo Picasso

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For centuries art has been a form of emotional expression when words could not convey such emotion as effectively. Let it be through the use of color be it cool or warm tones, the choice of subject matter, or the techniques used for example strong harsh brush strokes versus soft gentle strokes. Personal struggles and experiences have repeatedly been the inspirations behind many artists, most famously, artists like Vincent Van Gogh who was well known for his struggles with mental illness and depression, and Pablo Picasso whose struggle with depression and his eventual recovery from it was clearly reflected through his work from the blue period and the rose period respectively.

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso more often identified simply as Picasso was a well known and influential Spanish artist that was renowned for his ability to produce artwork in a wide range of styles from realism to modern art such as cubism.

Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain on October 25, 1881, from Jose Ruiz Blanco and his wife Maria Picasso Lopez. Given that his father was a professor of art, Picasso learned to draw at an early stage and his talent was quickly noticed and appreciated. Thus resulting in him entering the La Lonja, the Academy of fine arts in Barcelona at the mere age of 14. From where he went on to study at the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid.

But the late Spanish artist wasn’t always so confident or successful. In fact, his early years were fraught with poverty, tragedy, and emotional struggles—and it was these struggles that he channeled into his work. In 1895, his seven-year-old sister Conchita died of diphtheria, and in 1899, the painter Hortensi Guell, a member of Picasso’s circle in Barcelona, threw himself off a cliff. In 1901 when Picasso was only 19, his closest friend Spanish poet Carles Casagemas shot himself and that was what really triggered his depression and marked the start of his series of canvases that will later be collectively identified as his blue period.

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Picasso’s grief for his sister and friends mingled with his own internal creative conflicts all collectively led to his depression which had a major effect on his life especially given that he was so young when he experienced it all. This is made clear by a 1901 self-portrait in which, while he was only 20 years old when he painted the piece, he depicts himself as gaunt, sallow, and fragile, a man who looks 50, rather than an energetic young man at the start of his career.

“It was thinking about Casagemas that got me started painting in blue,” Picasso later stated. The death of his friend affected him deeply leading to the work he began soon after to be characterized by melancholy blues, sickly greens, and dusky greys.

His work centered around themes of poverty, loneliness, and despair. Outcasts such as lonely drunks, the homeless, beggars, blinds became Picasso’s favored subjects during this period.

The most renowned painting from his Blue Period “La Vie” (Life), best summarizes the blue period and Picasso's depression. The scene conveys vulnerability brings all his struggles into a single canvas such as poverty, despair, creative anguish, and grief for those lost, like the man shown in the painting who is believed to be Casagemas. Meanwhile, the two canvases seen behind Casagemas depicting the dejected figures huddled up could resemble his internal artistic struggles. Earlier versions of the painting, hidden beneath the final work have been revealed by X-rays, show a painting of him and Casagemas as well as another under that inspired by his sister’s death. This may symbolize the final stages of Picasso processing his grief over the deaths that influenced his life which he kept trying to overcome and face instead of hiding it under layers of paint and his final work accurately named ‘life’ is his representation of all his struggles in life and finally accepting it.

Specially give that soon after he finished this painting he moved to Paris and evolved from his Blue period into a palette of soft, joyful pinks and reds called the Rose Period. This period from 1904 to 1906 depicts his recovery from his depression. During this time he turned his attention to happier themes such as carnival performers, harlequins, and clowns.

“Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions,” Picasso later stated clearly showing that his journey from a palette of melancholy blues, dusky greys, and sickly greens to more pleasant reds and pinks reflected on his own emotional journey.

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