the paintings of the blue period brought Picasso an early reputation in Paris, and perhaps as a consequence there has been a tendency both to minimise those prior to 1901 as “early works”, forming a prelude to his real development, and to lump together all those of 1901–1904 as “of the blue period”. The Interior of a Tavern (P1. 4b)footnote1 of 1897, whilst lacking the “originality” so prized by contemporary criticism, is a piece of robust reportage in the Forain-Steinlen tradition, with a dash of early Van Gogh. The Dwarf Dancer (P1. 26) of 1901, which the catalogue to the Tate exhibition lists under the blue period, clearly lies outside it for reasons other than strident colours and divisionist technique. La Nana, the dwarf dancer, is a clearly defined personality connecting with us through her aggressive attitude, and markedly different from the figures of the blue period which are largely generalised, posed in melancholy attitudes, their anatomy twisted into the languid rhythms of a mannered style—damp souls haunting a remote world.
Where one’s taste does not run to these despairs and sentimentalities (and Mother and Child (P1. 5a) is sticky to the very paint), one can still appreciate the underlying humanism and accept its style as a necessary stage (since it exists) in his development. But virtues should not be made of its weaknesses; so that we no longer regret the hard realism of the Dwarf Dancer, lost in the poetics of the blue period.
Picasso settled in Paris in 1904. The works of the following year show a gradual shedding of the emotionalism, the allegories and literary terms of the blue period, and fresh departures in formal structure. The improvement, in his very straightened circumstances, with the demand for his works must have been an influence here, but more than that, we have to take account of the break with Barcelona and the Quatre Gats milieu. He was now fully exposed to the fresh winds blowing in the Paris art world. The late nineteenth century had brought changes in taste throughout Europe as a whole (reflected in the writings of Wolfflin and Berenson, where the quattrocento is turned out in favour of the classic cinquecento, and formal values replace those of illustration), but it was in France that the representative artist emerged—Paul Cezanne, now, at the very end of his life, winning recognition as the giant of his time, with ten of his canvasses exhibited at the 1905 Salon. At this same Salon the Fauves assaulted a public who as yet could hardly cope with Cezanne.
The six figures of the large Family of Saltimbanques of 1905 lack the former despairing attitudes of the blue period. No longer crammed into the compositional rhythms, and drawn with increased naturalistic detail, they show a more varied characterisation. Yet despite these changes, they retain a certain elegance and avert their faces from one another, their separateness emphasised by the series of verticals and unreal space in which they are placed—the woman in the foreground no larger and therefore no nearer to us than the figures on the left. Remote from one another, they are also remote from us. In the Girl with a Fan (P1. 3b), the ritual gesture and profile head, the avoidance of fore-shortening in the arms, of measurement in depth from one shoulder to the other with the figure laid out in one plane, invests her with a hieratic solemnity. With the Dutch Girl (P1. 5b) there is an unexpected swing from elegance to a massive solemnity (the extremes indicate the continuing mannerist sources of his art), where the heavy breasts, powerful shoulders and thighs are reminiscent in their sexlessness of Michelangelo’s Sibyls. The morbidity and strained poses of the blue period have yielded to a “classicist” restraint, but within this more relaxed style lie tensions at a deeper level, maintained for the most part by the careful formal organisation. These tensions work their way to the surface in the “Iberian” portraits of 1906—e.g. Gertrude Stein and the Self Portrait in the Philadelphia Museum of Art—and break through explosively in Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon (frontispiece—colour reproduction).
Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon was originally conceived as an allegory of vice and virtue—a backward glance to the blue period—but became simply five naked women grouped around a still life. The influence of Cezanne is fully attested by the preparatory drawings, but whatever erotic flavour there is comes nearer to Munch than Cezanne—a predatory sexuality. The pose of the central demoiselle is very similar to the aggressively seductive figure in Munch’s aquatint Woman of 1895.