Pablo Picasso Self Portrait
Picasso painted this self-portrain in Paris in late 1901 before he left for Barcelona in January, 1902. This is a period of personal confusion for Picasso, well represented in this oil painting. In another sombre, unnerving work of the Blue Period, the heavy black coat, hair and beard, combined with Picasso's intensity of gaze, creae a heightened sense of the macabre. It is almost a death mask with the framed whiteness of the face and hollowed-out cheeks.
This is a young man who seems old beyond his years. He is, without doubt, parodying one of Van Gogh's self-portraits with this air of austerity, as well as an El Greco - style monk or ascetic. However, Picasso, like his favourite Old Masters, was also in formative period of destitution, struggling with his potential talent while living off food parcels from friends.
When this portrait is compared with the later jovial and more juvenile face of 1907, one can clearly see the affectation of age. The later portrait begins the collapse of recognised form as
part of the build up to Cubism. But here we are confronted with a sense of cold alienation, a confused artist torn between excitement at being in Paris and homesickness for Spain.
The Self Portrait 1907 was completed during the working of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, while Picasso took a break from the evolving epic piece, which at this stage featured two male figures, a sailor and medical student. These were later painted out in the final work to leave the celebrated female nude group.
This self-portrait is interesting as an early development of the final primitive mask-like from in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Picasso apparently bought two primitive Iberian sculptured heads from Apollinaire's secretary early that year. These had been stolen from the Louvre in Paris. A study of the sculptures no doubt influenced many works of this period, including this portrait, whose features have a distinct three-dimensional sculpture quality.
The picture's child-like air is significant, with the emphasis on the staring, almost vacant aspect of the eyes, a fascination revisited in final works such as "Profile of a Woman's Face (1960)". There is a passionate sensuality about this younger, happier face compared to earlier self-portraits, though an intensity of look is palpable due to the hatching and harshly contrasting colours, which combine to create a vivid consolidation of energy.