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SPECIAL ARTICLES

THE DEATH OF CASAGEMAS: EARLY PICASSO,


THE BLUE PERIOD, MORTALITY, AND REDEMPTION

David J. Chalif, M.D. PABLO PICASSO CREATED the posthumous memorial painting, The Death of Casagemas,
Department of Neurosurgery, in 1901 in Paris. The Catalan artist, Carles Casagemas, was a constant companion of
North Shore University Hospital,
Picasso during his formative years in bohemian and “modernista” Barcelona and
North Shore–Long Island
Jewish Health System, accompanied Picasso on his seminal first trip to Paris at the turn-of-the-century.
Manhasset, New York Casagemas’ suicide, the result of a failed romance, in Paris in 1901 was a seismic
event for the young Picasso and, to an extent, gave impetus to the origins of the artist’s
Reprint requests:
David J. Chalif, M.D.,
melancholy Blue Period. In his Blue Period paintings, Picasso continually attempted
Department of Neurosurgery, to exorcise the pain and guilt he experienced as a result of the death of Carles Casagemas;
North Shore University Hospital, this struggle with mortality, human suffering, and pain was a constant theme through-
9 Tower, 300 Community Drive,
Manhasset, NY 11030.
out the continuing decades of Picasso’s art. Many of his Blue Period works deal both
EMail: DChalif@nshs.edu directly and allegorically with these conflicts. Throughout his life, Picasso sought
redemption from the issues of human mortality by creating a vast world of sexuality,
Received, July 13, 2006. strength, and virility. The specter of death, and his need for redemption and survival,
Accepted, January 26, 2007.
haunted Picasso into his 90s. The Death of Casagemas is an illustration, in oil, of
Picasso’s origins, as well as the tensions and struggles that would give rise to the paint-
ings of the Blue Period and beyond.
KEY WORDS: Art, Barcelona, Blue period, Mortality, Paris, Picasso, Redemption

Neurosurgery 61:404–417, 2007 DOI: 10.1227/01.NEU.0000255482.80697.80 www.neurosurgery-online.com

Painting isn’t an aesthetic operation, it’s a form of magic pulled the trigger, crying out “This one is for me!” The police
designed as a mediator between this strange, hostile world were summoned and the critically wounded Spaniard was
and us, a way of seizing the power by giving form to our rushed, still alive, to a local pharmacy and then to the Hôpital
terrors as well as our desires. When I came to that realiza- Bichot in Montmarte, where he died at 11:30 PM (4, 7, 17).
tion, I knew I had found my way. The tragedy of the 20-year-old’s death resonated across the
— Pablo Picasso Pyrenees back to Spain. Legend has it that the mother of Carles
Casagemas died instantly of shock when she heard the news in
Barcelona. The horror of the suicide also made its way to a

O
n a cold winter’s night, on February 17, 1901 in Paris, young Spanish painter in Madrid who had been the daily com-
a group of seven friends gathered for a farewell dinner panion and confidant of the dead Catalan for the previous 2
at the Café de L’Hippodrome on the Boulevard de years. The events echoed in the mind of this young artist and he
Clichy in Montmarte. The group was composed of poor
became haunted by grief, guilt, responsibility, the specter of
Catalan expatriates, poets and painters living in Paris, and a
death, and his own need for redemption and absolution. He
young French seductress, Germaine Gargallo. The conversa-
tried desperately to internalize this horror but, back in Paris
tion was heated. The wine and absinthe flowed while dinner
was completed. A member of the group, 20-year-old Carles several months later, it detonated with explosive van Gogh-like
Casagemas, stood up with resolve. He pleaded for the last time brush strokes and intense colors in The Death of Casagemas
to the beautiful Germaine for her affection and her hand in (Fig. 1). The painting, completed from imagination, memory,
marriage. Casagemas, a Catalan poet, painter, anarchist, and and angst, recreates the morgue in Montmarte on that fateful
probable narcotic addict and manic-depressive was again February night. The flesh of Casagemas is green-hued, the over-
rebuffed. It was over; letters and suicide notes spilled from his sized funeral candle glows in memorial, and the powder burns
pocket as he pulled out a revolver, aimed it at Germaine, and and entry wound are still raw. The creator of this work was
fired. She dove under the table and the blast hit the café wall. continually haunted by the cycle of life and death, sexuality,
Thinking he had murdered the object of his obsession, he put and mortality. The seeds of creation had begun to germinate; at
the gun to the right side of his head at point blank range and 19 years old, Pablo Ruiz Picasso had just returned to Paris.

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EARLY PICASSO, THE BLUE PERIOD, MORTALITY, AND REDEMPTION

encompassing everything from


puppets to posters . . . mod-
ernism is in essence an intellec-
tual, literary and artistic move-
ment with its own language,
culture and history” (17, p 110).
The Spanish modernist move-
ment was strongly influenced
by previous groundbreaking
Parisian art and modern French
culture. Catalan modernism
encompassed painting, sculp-
ture, furniture, interior design,
graphic design, and illustra-
tion. Laminated iron and
industrial glass mosaics were
all incorporated into a sensu-
ous style marked by Nordic
and folklore influences. The
exuberant architecture of the
period, epitomized by Antoni
Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, dis-
plays a gothic influence, a
sparkling modern splendor
and a decadent excess. Barce-
lona was a boiling cauldron of
FIGURE 1. The Death of Casagemas, Paris, 1901, oil on panel, 27 cm ⫻ 35 cm, courtesy of Musée Picasso, Paris, France.
creation, a Catalan version of
the French art nouveau mixed
As both a painting and a historical document, The Death of with a young and powerful vision, paralleling the concurrent
Casagemas is critical in the understanding of Picasso’s roots in rapid industrialization of Europe. Pierre Daix, Picasso’s friend
turn-of-the-century Barcelona and his formative early visits to and biographer, referred to the city as “a seething brew of ideas
Paris in 1900 and 1901. The canvas is one of the first that illu- and experiences” (2, p 14).
minates Picasso’s constant preoccupation with death and At the epicenter of this whirlwind of creativity was a bohe-
redemption, a thematic river that would run well into his last mian cabaret and meeting place founded in 1897: The Four
decade. Finally, it was the suicide of the deteriorated, depen- Cats, or Els Quatre Gats in Catalan. Located in a breathtaking
dant, and neurotic Carles Casagemas that, to a large measure, modernist building, The Casa Marti, Els Quatre Gats, modeled
gave genesis to Picasso’s melancholy Blue Period. Decades after Le Chat Noir, the famous Parisian cabaret, was at once a
later, Picasso reflected back and admitted that “it was thinking tavern, restaurant, and forum for performers, poets, theater
of Casagemas’ death that started me painting in blue” (10, p productions, and puppet shows. Of ultimate importance, it was
47). The Death of Casagemas was hidden from the outside world a place for exchange, conversation, verbal dueling, and enlight-
by Picasso; over the course of his life, through poverty, wealth enment. It was to Els Quatre Gats that the 17-year-old Pablo
and fame, world wars, mistresses, wives, studios, villas and Picasso gravitated. It was here that he left the academia of
chateaus, this exorcism in oil was kept privately sequestered. Madrid behind. It was here, from February 1899 until the fall of
He was never able to release the canvas or separate from the 1900, that he met and quickly surpassed the “modernista”
profound psychological impact of the violent event that took artists of the day. It was here that he discussed Neitzche,
place in Montmarte in the winter of 1901. Schopenhauer, Verlaine, Ibsen, Munch, and politics while
developing a draftsmanship of great range and power. It was
Barcelona and Els Quatre Gats: 1898–1900 here that the first two “Picasso Exhibitions” were installed. It
In the late 1800s, Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city and was among the “bande Catalane” of Els Quatre Gats that he con-
the capital of Catalonia, was the seat of Spanish modernism. In versed with life-long confidants Jaime Sabartés and Manuel
1888, a Universal Exposition was held in Barcelona, leading to Pallarès; and it was in Els Quatre Gats and the brothels and sor-
a subsequent explosion of “modernista” avant garde art, litera- did alleys of the Barrio Chino of Barcelona that Picasso bonded
ture, and architecture. John Richardson, Picasso’s renowned with the young artist and dreamer, Carles Casagemas.
biographer, defines Spanish modernism as “a style as vague as In the summer of 1898, Picasso sought the warmth of the
its label. It can best be described as Catalan art nouveau with Catalonian countryside to recover from a bout of scarlet fever.
overtones of symbolism; it is also very eclectic and diverse, In Horta de Ebro at the farm of friend, Manuel Pallarès,

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CHALIF

Picasso, at 17 years of age, worked the rural earth, lived in period that Picasso’s Catalan friends began calling him by his
mountain caves, tended to the animals, and painted warm mother’s somewhat unusual Italian-sounding name rather
landscapes outdoors while breathing the clear Pyrenean air. than by his father’s commonplace name, Ruiz. The artist’s
He became fluent in Catalan, the native tongue. His relation- signature changed; Pablo Ruiz Picasso or P. Ruiz Picasso
ship with Pallarès lasted a lifetime. Picasso felt at peace in the became Picasso.
Catalonian countryside and would later proclaim that “all that His drawings from this period are striking psychological pro-
I know I learned in Pallarès’ village” (2, p 12; 17, p 99). Pallarès files of his subjects. With a sure line and bold strokes, Self
would become part of his circle in Barcelona and Paris in the Portrait of 1900 is a riveting view (Fig. 2). What is laid bare, the
years ahead; furthermore, Pallarès became psychologically tied restless mind of the 19-year-old or that of the viewer? Picasso’s
to Picasso for life as he sat alongside Casagemas on the night of watercolor of himself and Casagemas illustrates their relation-
the suicide in Paris in 1901. Picasso welcomed his yearly visits ship. Intense and contemplative, Picasso is pondering his fate
on the French Riviera when both men were well into their 80s, while clutching his blue sketchbook. Casagemas is by his side,
perhaps as a final connection to Casagemas and to the friends narcotized and lost (Fig. 3). One can almost postulate that
and youth that were buried beneath the years and the fame. Casagemas’ psychological collapse and suicide are predicted in
Along with his return to his family in Barcelona in 1899, this drawing. The first paintings of another forum of death,
Picasso was drawn to the bohemian Els Quatre Gats and the the bullfight, also emerged in Barcelona during this period,
young Andalusian slowly became the focal point of the group of and in several of these, we see a gored and mortally wounded
artists and intellectuals who frequented the establishment (3). It horse. Death in the arena and death anticipated began to fill the
was here that Picasso met the young artist and “decadente” mind of the young artist.
Carles Casagemas, and they became inseparable for almost 2 A landmark event occurred for Picasso in February of 1900.
years. A year older than Picasso, Casagemas was self-destructive At the urging of his confidants, Sabartés, Pallarès, Casagemas,
and addicted to alcohol and narcotics. He was fervent about and others, Picasso’s first solo exhibition was mounted at Els
Catalonia and social issues, and was a self-proclaimed anar-
chist. Haunted by manic depression, mood swings, sexual dys-
function, and impotence, Casagemas visited the brothels with
Picasso and friends, but was unable to indulge. Years later, per-
haps in a quest to absolve his own guilt, Picasso claimed that
the autopsy of the dead Casagemas revealed an anatomic basis
for his impotence. Whatever the truth, the young Catalan
remained a morbid and psychiatrically disabled man who had
attached to the blossoming Picasso. Casagemas and Picasso
were seldom apart, and Casagemas became infatuated with
Picasso’s persona, art, and ascent. “Casagemas was charming
and bright but incurably self-destructive: one of those weak
demanding people who cannot survive without a friend to
cling to. For the next eighteen months, Picasso was fated to be
this friend…” (17, p 118).
One of the founders of Els Quatre Gats and a member of
Picasso’s circle, Ramon Casas, was an “older” accomplished
artist whose works greatly impressed the young Picasso (14).
Initially, Picasso began to emulate the style of Casas; but, like
a rocket leaving the earth’s atmosphere, he quickly burned
through its layers and soon surpassed its gravitational field.
At first, Picasso created modernist commercial art, including
posters, menus, and newspaper illustrations. But during those
18 months Picasso spent in Barcelona, his talent began to
explode. He digested and absorbed all of the art around him,
synthesizing it into his own: “Picasso [was] driven by extraor-
dinary curiosity and enthusiasm of youth. From the onset he
was on equal footing with his seniors—”masters” like
Rusinol, Casas, and Miguel Utrillo…with astonishing speed
his work became better than theirs [and he] developed a
larger vision…he was the ruler of his intimate circle. He was,
simultaneously, a solitary, entirely possessed by his art, and a FIGURE 2. Self Portrait, Barcelona, 1900, charcoal on paper, 22.5 cm ⫻
group leader, obliged to calm the anguish of his peers—an 16.5 cm, courtesy of Museu Picasso, Barcelona, Spain.
anguish that his genius provoked” (2, p 14). It was during this

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EARLY PICASSO, THE BLUE PERIOD, MORTALITY, AND REDEMPTION

with photographic realism enhanced with a probing psycho-


logical view. He included his own self portrait, entitled Yo, as if
to announce his ego, his arrival, and his burgeoning persona.
Three oils were included in the show, one of which, Last
Moments, painted in 1899, was selected as one of the Spanish
paintings to be shown in Paris at the celebration of the new
century, the Exposition Universelle.
This large-scale work most probably depicted the death bed
of a dying patient, a female nude with a priest in attendance.
Today, we are only able to view this image of mortality through
preparatory sketches and radiographic analysis of a later clas-
sic Blue Period work, La Vie, painted in 1903, the posthumous
allegorical portrait of Casagemas. Obviously an enormous
event for the teenage Picasso, the selection of Last Moments set
the stage for his first trip to Paris. In October 1900, he stepped
down from the train in Paris at the bustling new Gare d’Orsay
to conquer the world. By his side, dressed in a new suit of
black corduroy, was Carles Casagemas.

First Trip to Paris: 1900


The two Catalan expatriates, soon joined by Pallarès and oth-
ers, encountered a metropolis that was the brilliant center of a
new century. All roads, artistic and architectural, led to Paris in
1900; for an aspiring and ambitious 19-year-old artist, it was the
center of the universe. One can imagine that Picasso did not
know where to turn first: to the Louvre, to works of the Impres-
sionists and Toulouse-Lautrec, to the Cézannes in the gallery of
Ambroise Vollard, to the low seedy bars and whorehouses on
the Place Pigalle, or, perhaps, to the somewhat more sophisti-
cated and famous dancehall, Moulin de la Galette, in Mont-
marte. The Exposition Universelle was a World’s Fair designed to
celebrate modernity and pave the way to the 20th century. With
its remarkable Grand Palais, Petit Palais, new train stations,
Palais de l’Electricitie, escalators, motion pictures, and five mil-
lion attendees, the Exposition was the centerpiece of a city alive
with artistic and sexual passion. How all of this must have
exploded in the mind of the young Picasso, and to have his
own Last Moments, a chronicle of death and mortality, dis-
played in this supreme city of light and art certainly must have
been an absolute confirmation of his own vision. The Mecca of
modernity, Paris was even more cosmopolitan than Barcelona.
Picasso knew this city, and only this city, would be the place
where he would prosper.
Picasso and Carles Casagemas arrived in Paris on approxi-
mately October 15, 1900 and eventually settled in the vacated
Montmarte studio of Isidre Nonell, another Catalan émigré.
FIGURE 3. The Painter, Casagemas, and Picasso, Barcelona, 1900, “La Butte” de Montmarte represented a “border” country and
ink and watercolor on paper, 18 cm ⫻ 8 cm, courtesy of Museu Picasso, a “separate village” from Paris, replete with windmills and
Barcelona, Spain.
farms, and it was here that the young Picasso took refuge
with his Catalan expatriates (2). He would end up spending
Quatre Gats. Comprised primarily of 150 serial portraits on the greater part of the next decade in this district; in its ram-
paper, Picasso illuminated the world of turn-of-the-century shackle studios, cabarets, dancehalls, circuses, theaters, bars,
Barcelona. He trained his eye on all classes, from businessmen and dives, Picasso lived, painted, and absorbed the wealth of
and friends to performers and prostitutes, and portrayed them its humanity.

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CHALIF

His first trip to Paris was


short but decisive. Picasso
inhaled the art around him:
Degas, van Gogh, Gauguin,
C é z a n n e , a n d To u l o u s e -
Lautrec. He made the rounds
of the galleries and immedi-
ately caught the eye of two
dealers, Pere Manach, a Cata-
lan industrialist who sup-
ported Picasso with 150
francs per month for the next
2 years, and the well known
Mademoiselle Berthe Weill,
who purchased three pastels
of bullfights and eventually
arranged the sale of Le Mou-
lin de la Galette. The carriages
on the grand Boulevards, the
Parisian ladies, the courte-
sans, and the lovers kissing
openly on the street shocked
the young Spaniard. With
exuberance, he portrayed
these scenes in new drawings
and vibrant paintings. Many
of his “bande Catalane” from
Barcelona joined him to see FIGURE 4. Leaving the Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1900, 21.6 cm ⫻ 25.4 cm, private collection.
the Exposition Universelle; a
small drawing by Picasso
shows the gang together at the fair (Fig. 4). Led by Picasso, Forgive us for not writing for so long…bear in mind
the four Catalans are sandwiched between the two femme- that we’ve been on the brink of running out of
fatales, Odette and Germaine. Casagemas is again depicted money… Germaine, who is for the time being the
hunched over, forlorn, and depressed at the back of the woman of my thoughts was determined to give me
group. thirty francs she had saved…we’re going to fill our
Picasso’s most important painting of this period was Le lives with peace, tranquility, work, and other things
Moulin de la Galette (Fig. 5). In this large-scale work, Picasso that fill the soul with well being and the body with
assimilated, and then went beyond, Toulouse-Lautrec and strength. This decision has been reached after having
Renoir. Electric arc lamps illuminated lustful young French a formal meeting with the ladies. We’ve decided that
women in an eerie and sinister nocturnal glow. “Modernista we’ve been getting up too late and eating at improper
shadows rather than Impressionist light” fill a canvas that is hours and everything was going wrong. On top of
charged with invitation, and eroticism (17, p 167). Behind the this, one of them, Odette, was beginning to get rau-
seductive and enticing figure in the foreground sit two beauti- cous because of alcohol-she had the good habit of get-
ful French coquettes who kiss and fondle each other. The air is ting drunk every night. So we arrived at the conclu-
thick with decadence and passion as lesbians, seductresses, sion that neither they nor we will go to bed later than
and bourgeois top-hatted suitors fill the nocturnal vision. The midnight and everyday we’ll finish lunch by one.
placidity of Renoir was now replaced with a charged and eager After lunch we’ll dedicate ourselves to our painting
dark Spanish inflection and sexuality (19). and they’ll do the women’s work, that is, sew, clean
All the while, Carles Casagemas tagged along with Picasso up, kiss us, and let themselves be fondled. Well, this is
and he immediately fell in love with Germaine Gargallo. a kind of Eden or dirty Arcadia…(12, p 31)
Picasso was obviously interested as well, and he may have por-
trayed her as the sultry whore in the foreground of Le Moulin Casagemas’ days in “Arcadia” were numbered. He was
de la Galette. Germaine, her sister, and a third friend, Odette, impotent and, despite his obsession, could not fill Germaine’s
were models and lovers of the Catalan painters. Odette became desires. Fueled by drink and narcotics, he slowly sunk into a
Picasso’s mistress. A letter written by Casagemas on November suicidal depression. Although he continued to work, his draw-
11, 1900 gives us a sense of the mood: ings also became bleak. A self portrait of Casagemas from this

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EARLY PICASSO, THE BLUE PERIOD, MORTALITY, AND REDEMPTION

Second Trip to Paris: 1901


In early 1901, after his re-
turn to Spain, Picasso moved
into a studio in Madrid with
Els Quatre Gats friend and
Catalan writer Francisco
Soler, and the pair coedited a
new periodical, Art Joven.
Picasso was the art editor
and illustrator for the five
issues that were produced.
Picasso’s art during this
period revolved around the
periodical and portrayals of
the other writers involved in
the publication. Picasso
heard about the suicide of
Casagemas and contributed
an earlier drawing of his lost
friend, published in
Catalunya Artistica on Febru-
ary 28, 1901. Picasso did not
attend the memorial service
for Casagemas in Barcelona
and he would soon abandon
FIGURE 5. Le Moulin de la Galette, Paris, 1900, oil on canvas, 88.2 cm ⫻ 115.5 cm, courtesy of Guggenheim Madrid; Paris was calling.
Museum, Thannhauser Collection, New York, New York.
The death of Carles Casa-
gemas slowly and insidi-
period appears to be that of a drugged, numb individual; his ously germinated in the mind of Picasso like a festering and
portrait of Germaine shows a young woman in profile, emo- indolent infection, not only creating a need for a desperate
tionally detached from the viewer and devoid of passion. personal exorcism but, in a larger sense, eventually totally
In December 1900, Picasso and Casagemas left Paris abruptly altering his vocabulary and vision. His grief and guilt were
and journeyed to Picasso’s birthplace, Malaga. Richardson recre- completely sublimated for the first few months while he pre-
ates the scene: “After almost two months of intense and inces- pared for a show of his work to be orchestrated by Manach at
sant work, Picasso and Casagemas returned to Barcelona. The Ambroise Vollard’s Gallery in Paris; festivity and light and
main reason for going home, Picasso said, was the deterioration color continued to fill his work. In the work of this period, we
in Casagemas’ state of mind. The sexually voracious Germaine see the beginnings of the magnetic tension and critical balance
made no secret of her frustration with this weird man who between life and death, creation and destruction, and virility
insisted on regarding her as his “fiancée” but never consum- and old age that would follow Picasso throughout his life.
mated the relationship…they took off for Malaga (and) this trip The horror of Casagemas’ self-inflicted temporal gunshot
to (Picasso’s) birthplace was intended to divert Casagemas and wound was initially completely repressed by Picasso and not
cure him of chagrin d’amour…” (17, p 174). Casagemas wrote to at all evidenced in his work. But, when it surfaced, it did so
Germaine twice daily. The brothels and bars of Malaga deep- with an overwhelming morbid power that would drain the
ened the pathos and inadequacy in Casagemas’ psyche. Picasso color from his art and would train his eye on human suffer-
would never return to Malaga in his lifetime, nor would he ever ing, misery, and pathos.
see Casagemas alive again after the latter left by steamer to Picasso arrived back in Paris in May 1901 and immediately
Barcelona, en route to his return to Paris and a desperate moved in with his dealer, Manach, occupying the very studio
reunion with Germaine. Picasso abandoned his despondent and of the dead Casagemas on the Boulevard de Clichy in
dependent, psychologically disabled friend, a move that would Montmarte, within walking distance from the site of the
generate enormous guilt for Picasso in the years to come, and shooting, and he and Germaine became lovers. Their affair
moved on alone to Madrid on January 28, 1901. Less than 3 lasted the rest of the year and she eventually married another
weeks later, in front of Pallarès, Germaine, Odette, and the rest Catalan expatriate, Ramon Pichot, in 1906. In one swift
of the expatriate Catalans, Carles Casagemas would ended his stroke, Picasso appropriated both Casagemas’ space and his
life violently on the Boulevard de Clichy in Paris and was unfulfilled sexual desires. Picasso’s exorcism of the black
buried in the Cimetière Montmarte. spell of the suicide of Casagemas had begun.

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CHALIF

His first major exhibition at Vollard’s gallery, which opened complimentary colors to heighten the sense of Picasso’s horror
on June 24, 1901, was a great triumph for the young Picasso. at his friend’s violent death intensifies the contrast between
Max Jacob, poet, writer, mystic, and eventual friend to Picasso, the heat-ray-like strokes of paint emanating from the candle
Modigliani, and others recalled: “As soon as he arrived in Paris, and the greenish face of the dead man...” (13, p 240). The third
he had an exhibition at Vollard’s, which was a veritable success. is vertical, perhaps suggesting a form of magical resurrection.
He was accused of imitating Steinlen, Lautrec, Vuillard, van The palette is pale, blue, and devoid of color. Close inspection
Gogh, etc., but everyone recognized that he had a fire, a real of these three paintings reveals the rapidity of their creation
brilliance, a painter’s eye….I went to see them, Manach and and the frenzy of emotion in the brush of their creator. Rapid
Picasso; I spent a day looking at piles and piles of paintings! He and explosive strokes are applied to panel and cardboard, per-
was making one or two each day or night, and selling them for haps the only surfaces available to Picasso at the instant
150 francs on the rue Laffitte” (12, p 38). moment of this catharsis and attempt to purge guilt and
The 30 new canvases depicted the vibrant figures of the absolve memory.
Parisian high life, as well as the beggars and disabled wretches Far out on the speculative end of the interpretation of the
at the fringes of society. Roland Penrose, Picasso’s friend and iconography of The Death of Casagemas is the contention of both
biographer, refers to this group of works as Picasso’s “Cabaret Norman Mailer and John Richardson that the candle’s giant
Period” (15). Confident in his abilities, Picasso worked furi- flame in the painting is shaped to suggest the female genitalia
ously and, in a matter of weeks, created the bulk of the work (11, 17). Picasso’s intent will never be known, but if these
for the exhibition, which was a critical and financial success. scholars are correct about this “incandescent vagina,” their
Despite the glory of the legendary Vollard exhibition, the concept substantiates the tense equilibrium and ambivalence
repressed demons in Picasso’s psyche slowly began to emerge. between love and death, sexuality and agony, and, as Mailer
By the summer of 1901, the color blue slowly began to infil- states, “the polar nodes of lust and grief” (11, p 60; 17, p 211).
trate, and then dominate, his palette. Vibrant and colorful still- The brilliant flame adjacent to the corpse of Casagemas lying
lifes emerged set against a background of deep blue, a grace- in state is perhaps Picasso’s graphic form of balance and
ful nude was depicted bathing in a blue tub in a blue room, redemption and his belated and veiled apology for having
innocent children were painted in blue, and high society become Germaine’s lover.
madames with all of the frills of their outfits were cast in pale Ultimately, the large scale oil, The Burial of Casagemas
blue. A recurring theme, the forlorn and lost absinthe drinker, (Evocation) was the supreme culmination of this initial com-
wears a shapeless blue shirt. The impressionistic view of the memorative exorcism (Fig. 8). Repeated preparatory drawings
Parisian roofs from his window, Blue Roofs, Paris, became suf- and a painting entitled “The Mourners” were created. Over and
fused with rich enveloping
blue shadows (Fig. 6).
Finally, in the autumn of
1901, in rapid succession, like
a volcano’s stuttering erup-
tion with pressurized gases
and lava, three posthumous
images of the dead Casage-
mas were created by the 19-
year-old Picasso (Figs. 1 and 7,
A and B). All depict Picasso’s
imagined, and private, wake
for his Catalan friend. In all
three, the head in profile is
viewed from the right; two of
them demonstrate the fron-
totemporal entry wound. The
two horizontal images are
quite different; one is set in
ghastly green and blue and
the other in bold strokes of
color, with an enormous can-
dle lighting the corpse. “Pic-
asso turned to van Gogh, who
had also shot himself, for the FIGURE 6. Blue Roofs, Paris, Paris, 1901, oil on cardboard, 40 cm ⫻ 57.5 cm, courtesy of Ashmolean Museum,
palette of the smallest of the Oxford, England.
three paintings. The use of

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EARLY PICASSO, THE BLUE PERIOD, MORTALITY, AND REDEMPTION

FIGURE 7. Left, Casagemas in his Coffin, Paris, 1901, oil on cardboard, Right, Head of the Dead Casagemas, Paris, 1901, oil on cardboard,
72.5 cm ⫻ 57.8 cm, private collection. 59 cm ⫻ 35 cm, private collection.

over, Picasso depicted death and burial, finality and sorrow; the Orgaz. The influence of El Greco is undeniable. In the exor-
horror of the suicide had surfaced with a vengeance for the cism of the young Picasso, the ascension of the dead is sexual,
young Picasso. not spiritual. Elizabeth Cowling, a noted Picasso scholar, dis-
This allegorical canvas, painted primarily in blue, shows cusses the dichotomy:
nine mourners, all dressed in blue robes, in grief at the
(In this) imitation of The Burial of Count Orgaz the
shrouded body of Casagemas. The mausoleum awaits the
composition is split into contrasting lower and upper
corpus. Above the death scene, Casagemas ascends to heaven
halves. In the earthly realm the dead man in his
on horseback, embracing his obsession, Germaine, while sur-
shroud…is attended by a line of mourners…in the
rounded by three erotic whores and a vision of maternity, a
heavenly sphere which is peopled not by Christ, the
mother with three children, as well as two other nudes. The
Virgin and the Saints, but by naked whores flaunting
nine figures in the “heavenly” realm give balance to the nine
themselves before the soul of Casagemas who,
earthly figures below (6). Here, Picasso juxtaposed the sacred
mounted on a white horse, robed in black like a
against the profane. “Obviously about love, the ultimate
Dominican and with arms stretched out in the pose of
cause of Casagemas’ death, the allegory centers on the con-
the crucified Christ, is being ardently embraced (1, pp
trast between two traditional types of love…as embodied (by
85–86).
the whores and) the mother and the children. Ironically the
latter looks downward, towards the corpse on the ground, The divided structure of heaven and earth in the work is
while the former look upward, at the soul ascending to not the only element borrowed from El Greco. The blue
heaven” (16, p 85–87). palette is on loan as well; many of the iconic El Greco master-
The canvas is the first evidence of Picasso’s cannibalization pieces, with which Picasso was quite familiar, were painted in
of the old masters; in this case, El Greco’s The Burial of Count grays and shades of ethereal blue.

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acters: in the Minotaur and the musketeer, in the harlequins of


his last large scale canvases, and in the fantasies of his later
erotic resurrections.
The Burial of Casagemas represents Picasso’s departure from
his portrayals of elegant Parisian high society and, to an extent,
a return to Spain, Spanish painting, Spanish renaissance mas-
terpieces, Spanish fears and religion, and, ultimately, to death
(2). In her book on Picasso, Gertrude Stein discusses the signif-
icance of Picasso’s origins:
Very soon the Spanish temperament was again real
inside of him. He went back to Spain in 1902 and the
painting known as the blue period was the result…the
sadness of Spain and the monotony of the Spanish
coloring, after the time spent in Paris, struck him
forcibly upon his return there. Because one must
never forget that Spain is not like other southern
countries, it is not colorful…Spain in this sense is not
at all southern, it is oriental, women there wear black
more often than colors, the earth is dry and gold in
color, the sky is blue almost black, the star-light nights
are black too or a very dark blue…(18, p 11).

The Blue Period and Redemption


By the end of 1901, Picasso settled into a poor bohemian
existence in Montmarte and, during the course of the following
2 years, his palette would be almost entirely bathed in blue. He
would become obsessed with the miseries of poverty, depriva-
tion and disability, old age and ill health, and psychological
depression. Exuberance and color were gone, replaced by a
morbid melancholy. The subjects of his paintings became the
living dead, sad and pained disabled sufferers without hope of
salvation, and mothers and fathers detached from their chil-
dren. Cachectic, blind, begging, desolate, and lost, these figures
became a mirror of Picasso’s psyche and fears as he struggled
for meaning, and perhaps redemption, in his early 20s.
In the latter part of 1901, Picasso made many visits to the
FIGURE 8. The Burial of Casagemas (Evocation), Paris, 1901, oil on infamous women’s Saint Lazare Prison in Montmarte, and used
canvas, 150 cm ⫻ 90 cm, courtesy of Musée d’Art Modern de la Ville de the jailed prostitutes, their children, and the venereally infected
Paris, Paris, France. syphilitic inmates in their shawls and prison bonnets as mod-
els. Nuns served as guards in this female penitentiary, which
was established in the 17th century and subsequently became
The ambivalence and tension about mortality is depicted in a women’s prison in 1824. Picasso returned repeatedly with
the balanced halves of The Burial of Casagemas. Death is coun- his sketchbook to assimilate the pathos. Why was Picasso infat-
tered with life, entombment with sexuality, and solitude with uated with these miserables? Was it his fear of disease and dete-
intimacy. Perhaps as a mechanism to assuage his own guilt rioration? Was it simply the utter sadness of their existence
and fears of mortality, Picasso first depicts death and then and fate, or was it something more, that same balance and
rejects it. Roland Penrose similarly notes: “He had lived dynamic tension between life and death that is seen in The
through his friend’s tragedy so closely that it had become his Burial of Casagemas? There, in the Saint Lazare Prison, sexuality
own….Since he had been led to descend into Hades it was was criminalized. Lust became desolation and femininity
essential for him to discover his own salvation. The rider on became syphilis; the vibrancy of life became depression and,
the white horse mounting into the clouds and the huddled ultimately, death.
mourners below were both subconsciously symbols of him- The first cycle of major Blue Period works emanated from
self” (15, pp 76–77). This struggle with mortality would, for the these visitations. Saint Lazare Woman by Moonlight, 1901, (Fig. 9)
next 72 years, be visible in all of Picasso’s creations and char- is a typical work of this period depicting great loneliness and

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EARLY PICASSO, THE BLUE PERIOD, MORTALITY, AND REDEMPTION

FIGURE 10. Self Portrait, Paris, 1901, oil on canvas, 81 cm ⫻ 60 cm,


courtesy of Musée Picasso, Paris, France.
FIGURE 9. Saint Lazare Woman by Moonlight, Paris, 1901, oil on can-
vas, 100 cm ⫻ 69.2 cm, courtesy of The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit,
Michigan. In January of 1902, Picasso returned to Barcelona; however,
the seismic events of the previous year, the inmates of Saint
Lazare Prison, and his visions of Casagemas, Germaine, and
suffering, enveloped in the gloom of a nocturnal blue. Picasso melancholy would follow. The images of desolation in the
later called the Saint Lazare inmates in their prison garb his prison had now been burned in his memory and subcon-
“suffering machines.” His haunting Self Portrait of 1901 shows scious. Picasso returned to Els Quatre Gats and the seedy
the young Picasso bearded, vacant, ashen, and cold, with his underworld of Barcelona. He painted monochromatic por-
dark blue overcoat drawn up to his neck, superimposed on a traits of his Catalan friends and dismal images of wretched
monotonous field of empty desolate blue (Fig. 10). In his 1932 and dejected women, portraying broken inmates in typical
essay, Carl Jung suggested that Picasso chose blue, the classic prison headdress. Two Sisters, 1902, is a treasure of this period
color of spiritualism, compassion, and sadness, to echo “the which portrays a Saint Lazare prisoner with a nun, or, alter-
Tuat-blue of the Egyptian underworld, the blue of night, (and natively, a vision of maternity with a mother and child. This
the blue) of moonlight and water” (9). work further exemplifies the tense harmony between pathos,
The association between femininity and suffering remained sorrow, alienation with life, reproduction, and health. For the
quite potent for Picasso; it resurfaced some 35 years later in his next 2 years, moving between Barcelona and Paris, Picasso
portrayal of his mistress, Dora Maar, in the series of “the weep- would go on to create the classics of the Blue Period. These
ing women.” Beauty had become broken, his mistress had somber and melancholy pictures of poverty are paradoxically
become misery, and was a symbol of war. Picasso’s lover had some of the most expensive of all art works on record and
assumed the role as a mirror of universal suffering and angst. now fill the great museums and collections on all continents.
In a parallel fashion to The Burial of Casagemas, mourning and The blue paintings were not, in that era, commercially suc-
grief were projected on images of innocence, youth, and beauty cessful, and Picasso depended on his family in Barcelona for
in these World War II-era portraits. financial support. His depravity was psychological as well;

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the ghosts of Casagemas and Germaine and the events of the


previous year had yet to be fully exorcised.
A remarkable painting was created in Barcelona in 1902.
The angst of the suicide erupts again in Portrait de Germaine,
a small Blue Period canvas (Fig. 11). Without doubt, Picasso
was brooding. Germaine, who was in Paris at that time, resur-
faced in Picasso’s psyche to such an extent that she material-
ized in this beautiful Barcelona oil. Young Germaine, eager
and sexual, with full pouting lips, gazes into the distance.
Picasso dresses her in the robes and bonnet of the whores of
the Saint Lazare prison and places her under one of the
prison’s distinctive archways. It is one of the most touching
and tender of all the Blue Period works. The suffering here is
sanitized, immortalized, and, to a degree, the woman in pain
becomes timeless and classic. She is attractive and available,
just the opposite of the typical elongated, forlorn El Greco-like
Blue Period characters. Is the portrait an apology, a tribute, or
a condemnation? Is Picasso making her into a whorish and
miserable inmate condemned to solitary confinement with
himself as the warden, or is he indirectly jailing his own psy-
che after a guilty verdict in the shooting of Casagemas? Is
she looking back in angst and regret? Is he praising her, or
perhaps himself? Is he burying Casagemas or resurrecting
him? In the end, it remains an enigma, but the ambivalence
and tension in the picture is palpable and it again underscores
Picasso’s life on the thin, high wire: erotic desire and mistress
versus Saint Lazare inmate; youth, passion, and innocence
versus syphilis; and death versus redemption.
Germaine remained with Picasso’s Catalan friend, Pichot,
and settled in Montmarte. Pichot died in 1925 and Germaine FIGURE 11. Portrait de Germaine, Barcelona, 1902, oil on canvas,
50.2 cm ⫻ 41.6 cm, private collection.
became chronically ill, debilitated, and poor until her death in
1948. Almost as a form of a permanent connection to
Casagemas, Picasso continued to support her financially. later claimed that during that winter he would burn his draw-
Françoise Gilot, Picasso’s mistress in the 1940s, recounts a jour- ings in the furnace to keep warm.
ney up to Montmarte: Back in Barcelona in early 1903, Picasso embarked on the
richest and most productive phase of the Blue Period. The
We made our way up the hill…we went into a small nocturnal views of the bleak and barren roofs of Barcelona in
house. (Picasso) knocked on the door and then 1903 are entirely vacant, monochromatic and blue, and repre-
walked inside without waiting for an answer. We saw sent a quantum leap into melancholy compared with the
a little old lady, toothless and sick, lying in bed… Parisian roofs painted in 1901. Four classic works of 1903, The
Pablo talked quietly with her. After a few minutes he Old Jew, The Tragedy, The Old Guitarist, and The Blind Man’s
laid some money on the night table. I asked him why Meal emphasize alienation, loneliness, poverty, hunger,
he had brought me to see the woman. “I want you to searching and yearning, blindness, and, ultimately, death. The
learn about life,” he said quietly. “That woman’s name infamous La Celestina, from 15-century Spanish literature, is
is Germaine Pichot. She is old and…poor and unfor- also portrayed in blue by Picasso, ragged and partially blind.
tunate now . . . but when she was young she was very Blindness, which may relate to Picasso’s belief in the presence
pretty and made a painter friend of mine suffer so of man’s profound inner vision and self awareness, and paral-
much that he committed suicide. She was a young ysis were recurring themes in the Blue Period works, pre-
laundress when I first came to Paris….(In those days,) sumptively reflecting Picasso’s persistent fear of syphilis;
she turned a lot of heads. Now look at her (5, p 82). whether or not the artist had ever contracted venereal disease
remains unknown.
Picasso briefly returned to Paris in the winter of 1902–1903 Picasso needed a balance for these monochromatic melan-
and lived with poet Max Jacob on the rue Voltaire, sharing the choly lamentations in blue; thus, sex and eroticism, in all
same bed. Picasso would sleep during the day while Max forms of graphic permutations, filled his smaller drawings
worked, and then, as would be his custom the rest of his life, and sketches. What a contrast these explicitly erotic and
he would work into the night. They were destitute. Picasso pornographic drawings make to the Blue Period canvases.

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EARLY PICASSO, THE BLUE PERIOD, MORTALITY, AND REDEMPTION

impotent Casagemas, are balanced with maternity, a mother


protectively holding her child.
The allegorical La Vie gives us back Casagemas, holding a
fertile and perhaps pregnant Germaine. Behind them, in the
artist’s studio, are two canvases of wretched and defeated nude
women; to their left is a strong statuesque woman with her
child. Radiographic analysis of the canvas is astounding.
Originally, and in the four preparatory drawings, the male fig-
ure of Casagemas in the foreground is clearly Picasso himself.
A flying “birdman” was originally on the lower canvas in the
background and may have represented a hovering symbol of
death. A bearded man may have predated the maternity scene
on the right. Of greater significance is the fact that the entirety
of La Vie was painted over Last Moments, Picasso’s work exhib-
ited in Paris in 1900 at the Exposition Universelle, in a pro-
found memorial to Casagemas. Picasso selected what was per-
haps his most famous painting to date, which had been
exhibited at a World’s Fair, a painting which he traveled to see
with Casagemas, to be the foundation and surface of his final
tribute to his dead Catalan friend.
The meaning of the pose of the central characters remains an
enigma. Perhaps Casagemas is lifting his index finger to
heaven to indicate his inevitable end (14). John Richardson’s
contention is that the posture of the central male, with the
raised index finger of the left hand, is based on the Tarot card
for the magician (8). Picasso had been introduced to mysticism
and the occult by poet Max Jacob in Paris in the previous
months. Magically, Picasso changes himself into Casagemas,
revives and resurrects him, makes Casagemas potent and sex-
ual, and gives him a child. The canvas suggests the mysterious
and supernatural. It is Picasso’s ultimate absolution for the
suicide, his gift to Casagemas, his catharsis, and his apology.
Elizabeth Cowling writes:
Picasso never had a fully worked out allegorical
FIGURE 12. La Vie, Barcelona, 1903, oil on canvas, 197 cm ⫻ 127.3 cm, program (for La Vie)…possibly he decided to give the
courtesy of Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio. young man a suicides features not just in order to dis-
guise the original autobiographical motivation, but
because it was crucial to his conception of Life that
These gracefully drawn and fully exposed young lustful fig-
Death should haunt even the youthful characters. The
ures, with himself included, were certainly indulging in each
general mood of La Vie is also unambiguous, its reli-
other. More importantly, they served to counter the dark side
gious overtones inescapable: this is a world of “sad-
and functioned as a form of redemption for the young artist,
ness and pain” and Picasso reminds the spectator of
a reminder of his virility and carnal desire and need for pro-
the familiar images of Adam and Eve after the Fall in
creation in the midst of the psychic blue abyss. Picasso would
his bleak depiction of the couple and in the inset of
once again return to this protective “shield” of sexuality in his
the huddled, weeping figures (1, p 103).
final decaying years.
In the spring of 1903, Picasso began the powerful and enig- Picasso has attempted to make peace with his demons. In the
matic, La Vie (Fig. 12). No Blue Period painting has received end, La Vie, or “Life,” is about death and magical resurrection.
more analysis, speculation, and dissection. Its true intent and In retrospect, why did a healthy and vibrant Spanish artist
themes will forever remain unknown; however, the work is sink into this realm of sorrowful, demoralized, and pathetic
suggestive of concepts of sorrow and impotence, fertility and blue melancholia from 1901 to 1904? There is not a single,
creation, magic, and death and redemption. Casagemas is at specific answer; these works are certainly not simply those of
once condemned for his human frailties and simultaneously a bohemian and destitute painter who was depressed. In the
resurrected for eternity. Picasso becomes Casagemas, as final analysis, the overwhelming pathos and depression in
Casagemas becomes the painter, standing in his studio. Picasso’s art was surely multifactorial. Triggered and sus-
Images of magic, Germaine pregnant with the child of the tained by the relentless horror of the suicide of Carles

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CHALIF

Casagemas, fueled by his dread of death and disability, and


substantiated on a daily basis by his own poverty and lack of
commercial success, the Blue Period works suggest yet
another element, one that is more complex and ephemeral.
Through the lens of the young Spaniard, the most powerful
and basic emotions and tensions of life were registered and
laid bare: passion and pain, suffering and redemption, life
and death. The young artist had touched the very core issues
of human existence. The burning fire of this realization, and
the struggle to overcome it, were the culminating elements
that propelled Picasso through the psychic and pictorial blue
netherworld in his early years in Paris and Barcelona. Picasso
had unknowingly become a warrior in a cataclysmic battle, a
confrontation as old as mankind itself.
As Picasso survived through the decades, the parade of mor-
tality, war, massacre, and bereavement was continual; lovers,
friends, countrymen, fellow artists, and family all came to their
final end before him. Only Pallarès, the sole surviving link to
Catalonia, the “bande Catalane,” and the suicide of Casagemas,
outlived him. In the end, Picasso was alone in his fortresses on
the Riviera as a solitary soldier fighting his progressive impo-
tence with a perfusion of erotic work; in essence, he was bar-
gaining with death and mortality for pardon and redemption.
In the end, Picasso insidiously became one of his own deso-
late and barren Blue Period figures and depicted himself as
such in his last anguished self portrait in 1972 (Fig. 13). His
head and face, balanced precariously on his barren shoulders,
create a death mask. The view is reminiscent of his desolate Self
Portrait of 1901. The nightmare of the suicide of Casagemas
had subliminally followed the aging artist through the decades
and into his 90s. His ultimate confrontation with mortality had FIGURE 13. Self Portrait, 1972, wax crayon on paper, 65.7 cm ⫻
occurred, and Picasso’s final form of redemption was bitter 50.5 cm, courtesy of Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo, Japan.
acceptance and resignation. The horrible suicidal visage is
drawn exclusively in blue.
The critical equilibrium between suffering and beauty, dark- REFERENCES
ness and light, and death and redemption is a powerful spiri-
tual and religious theme that has coursed throughout the his- 1. Cowling E: Picasso: Style and Meaning. London, Phaidon Press Limited, 2002,
pp 85–86, 103.
tory of painting, sculpture, and graphic art since the origins of
2. Daix P: Picasso: Life and Art. London, Thames and Hudson, 1993, pp 14,
the Renaissance. Picasso’s Catalan compatriot, Jaime Sabartés, 19–20, 31.
reflected back in 1945: 3. Fontbona F: Picasso and Els 4 Gats, in Picasso and Els 4 Gats: The Early Years
in Turn of the Century Barcelona. Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1996, pp
Art emanates from sadness and pain…grief is the 11–18.
basis of life…life with all of its torments is at the core 4. Franck D: Bohemian Paris. New York, Grove Press, 1998, p 17.
of (Picasso’s) art. If we demand sincerity from the 5. Gilot F: Life with Picasso. New York, McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1964, p 82.
artist, we must remember that sincerity is not to be 6. Harris JC: Evocation: The Burial of Casagemas. Arch Gen Psychiatry
60:868, 2003.
found outside the realm of grief. (30, p 217)
7. Huffington A: Picasso-Creator and Destroyer. New York, Simon and Schuster,
For eight decades, Picasso continually attempted to offset 1988, p 55.
8. Januszczak W (Dir): Picasso: Magic, Sex, and Death. Richmond Hill, BFS
the “grief” and destructive power of human angst, inevitable
Entertainment and Multimedia, 2001.
mortality, and pain with life, sexuality, creation, love, domi- 9. Jung C: Essay on Picasso, in Hull RF (trans): The Spirit of Man, Art, and
nance, and triumph. These tensions, borne out of the Blue Literature: Vol. 15. New York, Bollinger Foundation, 1966, pp 135–141.
Period and, to an extent, from his reaction to the suicide of 10. Leal B: The Ultimate Picasso. New York, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2000, pp 47, 56.
Casagemas, gave genesis to a century of creation. 11. Mailer N: Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man. New York, The Atlantic Monthly
Press, 1995, pp 59–60.
The Death of Casagemas was part of the settlement and
12. McCully M: A Picasso Anthology. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1981,
bequest to the French government by the estate of Picasso after pp 31, 38.
his death in 1973. The painting currently hangs alongside the 13. McCully M: Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation. New
Blue Period Self Portrait of 1901 in the Musée Picasso in Paris. York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1996, pp 225–253.

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EARLY PICASSO, THE BLUE PERIOD, MORTALITY, AND REDEMPTION

14. Mendoza C: Casas and Picasso, in Picasso and Els 4 Gats: The Early Years in plenty of other things to feel guilty about. He was a highly flawed
Turn of the Century Barcelona. Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1995, pp human being who happened to be a great artist.
21–31. No doubt Picasso’s art is very explicit in its treatment of the link
15. Penrose R: Picasso: His Life and Work. Berkeley, University of California Press, between sexuality and creativity. His prodigious output of thousands
1981, ed 3, pp 69, 76–77.
of works in nearly every medium is desperate testimony to the artist’s
16. Reff T: Picasso in Retrospect. New York, Praeger Publishers, 1973, pp 11–28.
belief that the life force can be used to overcome death. Nevertheless,
17. Richardson J: A Life of Picasso. New York, Random House, 1991, vol 1, pp 110,
118, 167, 174, 180–181, 211, 217. it is all too easy to claim this as a unique aspect of Picasso’s career or
18. Stein G: Gertrude Stein on Picasso. New York, Liveright, 1970, p 11. to read too much into the importance of his biography in the evidence
19. Tucker P: Thannhauser: The Thannhauser Collection of the Guggenheim Museum. of his work. In Picasso, the drive for sexual and artistic conquest was
New York, Harry N. Abrams, 2001, pp 61–63. extreme but his obsessions, fears, and loves were otherwise typical for
most highly creative persons. Recent statistical studies in the psychol-
ogy of artists and poets confirm the public’s impression that they are
COMMENTS more subject to depression and more sexually active than the popula-
tion as a whole (2, 3). Interestingly, artists tend to live longer lives and
W e should all be grateful to Dr. Chalif for yet another erudite paper
further investigating the work of Picasso and its evolution
through his career. It is indeed marvelous to see that the energy and
poets shorter ones than the rest of us (1). From my own experience,
most exceptional artists and writers are obsessive-compulsive people
who are acutely aware of how their artwork functions in their per-
insights that are so common to neurosurgery can also be applied to the
sonal engagement with death. For this reason, artists tend to be rather
area of art criticism in such a professional and stimulating fashion.
thin-skinned and extremely sensitive to the public’s reception of their
Edward R. Laws, Jr. art. A civilization is best known by its artifacts, and the inheritance we
Charlottesville, Virginia receive from a great artist or scientist is the only immortality they are
granted. They all know this.

T o an unusual degree, the chronology of Picasso’s paintings can be


determined from their subject matter, drawn from the signal events
of his life: the coming and going of friends, concurrent political issues,
Michael Salcman
Baltimore, Maryland
or the arrival of a new mistress or the departure of an old one. Among
major Western artists, Picasso’s art is the most autobiographical, almost
to a fault. His interest in himself as a social being and as a creative force 1. Cassandro VJ: Explaining premature mortality across fields of creative
is the unifying thread for the bewildering array of his many stylistic endeavor. J Pers 66:805–833, 1998.
2. Nettle D: Schizotypy and mental health amongst poets, visual artists, and
advances and retreats. Nevertheless, the advances and retreats ulti-
mathematicians. J Res Pers (in press).
mately come out of Picasso’s deep understanding of art history and his 3. Nettle D, Clegg H: Schizotypy, creativity and mating success in humans. Proc
need to compete with the best of his contemporaries and the old mas- B Biol Sci 273:611–615, 2006.
ters. To pose the death of Casagemas as the critical factor in the devel-
opment of Picasso’s Blue Period is understandable but simplistic. Dr.
Chalif discusses the many other influences on Picasso at this time,
including his interest in the art of El Greco and Lautrec, his own life in
D avid Chalif provides a third, glorious installment published in the
Journal analyzing the life and art of Pablo Picasso (1, 2). Focusing
on Picasso’s relationship with Carles Casagemas, an unfortunate friend
the demi-monde of Paris, and the circumstances of his own poverty. In
who took his own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the author
every important period of his artistic life, Picasso had a different close
offers a compelling analysis of life, death, and the very human strug-
artistic friend, a different major poet or composer as intellectual collab-
gle to grapple with these concepts. In our opinion, the most appealing
orator, and a different woman as his close companion. In serial fashion,
aspect of this work, and the work of Picasso himself, is that they vividly
Picasso disposed of his “best” friend, “close” comrade, or “beloved”
remind us, as practicing neurosurgeons, of the impact one person’s
mistress as soon as he felt the need for new creative experiences or was
life can have on another and the world around him. David Chalif is to
encouraged to do so by political expediency. Picasso was sexually vora-
be congratulated for sharing his significant expertise with the world-
cious and often took the wives or mistresses of close friends as lovers.
wide neurosurgical community.
It is likely that Germaine shared Picasso’s bed from the first and that his
sense of guilt over the death of Casagemas was heightened by this Charles Matouk
fact. Picasso’s misogyny is well known, but his treatment of the men James T. Rutka
closest to him was often no better. Picasso broke with the noble Braque, Toronto, Canada
his partner in the discovery of Cubism; competed openly for collectors
with Matisse, his major artistic rival; and did nothing to prevent the
Holocaust death of Max Jacob, one of his oldest friends, a Catholic 1. Chalif DJ: The pipes of pan. Neurosurgery 55:1437–1440, 2004.
convert, and Cubist poet. Picasso died more than 70 years after he left 2. Chalif DJ: The Portrait of Gertrude Stein at 100. Neurosurgery 59:410–421,
Casagemas in Paris and moved in on his girlfriend. By then, he had 2006.

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