Rose Period (1904 - 1906)

  • Young Picasso   1881 - 1901

  • Blue Period  1901 - 1904

  • Rose Period   1904 - 1906

  • Black Period   1906 - 1907

  • Cubism   1907 - 1915

  • While Pablo Picasso's Blue Period is far more popular with the general public today, his Rose Period is of greater art-historical importance. During his Rose Period, Pablo Picasso would, for the first time in his career, develop stylistic means that would become part of his Picasso Style, which made him the most important artist of the 20th century.

    The Rose Period started in 1904, a year in which Picasso alternated paintings in the "blue style", dark colored (often blueish) and downbeat, with paintings made in his "rose style", which are somewhat more optimistic in mood and brighter colored (often using the color pink). So 1904 is a transitional year and belongs neither truly to the blue period, nor to the rose period.

    Pablo Picasso was a creature of the 19th century. Although he spent most of his life in the 20th century, his work and thinking would remain a product of 19th century romanticism. Romanticism refers to a cultural movement that started at the end of the 18th century, a century that was dominated by the Enlightenment. Enlightenment resulted from scientific advances and favored a climate of reason and rationalization. The romanticists rebelled against this school of thought by emphasizing the value of emotions, aesthetics and imagination. In the visual arts this led the artist away from copying nature and towards self-expression. The ultimate consequence of this process would be abstract art, in which Pablo Picasso's cubism would play a pivotal role.

    Pablo Picasso began to develop a highly romantic style of painting in 1899, which ended in 1901, after his close friend Carlos Casagemas had committed suicide. The ensuing Blue Period would be characterized by resignation and mourning and consists of downbeat portraits of the underprivileged of society, paintings in which the color blue dominates.

    Then, in 1904, Picasso's work regains its romantic quality in a series of paintings in warmer colors, many of them in the color pink. Picasso's Rose Period paintings still show resignation, but no mourning and while his Blue Period paintings seem to serve to express Picasso's sorrow, his Rose Period style begins to lead a life of its own, in the artistic spirit of his time: it's not the subject and its content that matters most, but the painting itself. Picasso goes on to experiment in a style that renders his subjects anonymous, resulting in an artistic matrix of a person, rather than a person. See for instance Seated Female Nude (1905). The type of person is recognizable, not the person itself. The subject is characterized, not portrayed. This, although a step in the direction of abstract art, is not most important feature of Picasso's Rose Period.

    Picasso's Rose period breakthrough consists in the fluency of line he was beginning to achieve in 1904. Although the painting "Family of Acrobats with Monkey" (1905) is quite classical in style, its line is as suggestive as Picasso's later, more abstract work.
    This subtlety of line is Picasso's unique contribution to expressionism. In general one can say that there is a trade-off between subtlety and expression, and the directness of expressionism seems crude to the classicist. During his career, Picasso would continue to explore how to combine expressionism with classicism, a process for which he laid the basis in his Rose Period.

    From May 2004 until June 2006 the most expensive painting in the world was "Boy with pipe" (1905, $104,000,000). This painting shows but few signs of the above-mentioned process and is therefore in this author's opinion not a very important Rose Period painting. Rather, it answers to the sissy-boy fad of the 1990s and the painting's high price might be interpreted in that context.

    One aspect of 19th century romanticism is that artists were seen as undervalued, social outcasts and martyrs of cultural refinement, a theme on which Picasso elaborates during his Rose Period. Picasso's contempories refer to his "Harlequin" period, as Picasso starts to use circus artists as his main source of inspiration. In the 19th century the circus artist would symbolize the artist in general and his martyrdom in particular. Mocked and marginalised by society, the circus artist would perform with pride and earnesty, in dedication to his art. According to 19th century romancticism (which would find wide-spread acceptance) there was no principle difference between a circus clown and a fine artist, in the way they bore their artistic martyrdom. Indeed, a major commercial breakthrough for Picasso occurred when Clovis Savigot, a former circus clown who had started an art gallery in Paris, began to feature Picasso's work, possibly attracted by Picasso's paintings of circus artists. Through Savigot's gallery, Picasso came in contact with Leo and Gertrude Stein, who would become important collectors of avant-garde art.

    The Rose Period marks the end of a development in which Picasso finds his style as a figurative painter. His years in Paris had made him absorb the French culture, replacing the earnesty of his Blue Period with Parisian elegance, see Girl in a Chemise, 1905. From his Rose Period on, Picasso would continue to produce figurative art occasionally, but it would never again be his main style.

    During his Rose Period, Picasso joined the Parisian radical-intellectualist literary scene, which was influenced by philosophers like Max Sterner (1806 - 1856). Sterner believed in individual self-realization through "voluntary egoism", with morality being an artificial concept that limited the freedom of the individual. Thus, he heralded the 20th Century of the Self and his rejection of morality would be seized upon by the Nazi-ideologists and anyone else that sought to legitimize anti-social behaviour. Guillaume Appollinaire tended to equate morality to puritanism and compiled a bibliography of pornographic works, and also published a magazine called "La Revue Immoraliste". Picasso befriended Appolinaire, as well as Max Jacob and André Salmon, who were important to him for their work as art critics and avant-garde leaders. While mainstream art would idealize the upper (-middle) classes, Picasso's depiction of the margins of society (to which circus artists appeared to belong) was a conscious move towards the political left. During his Rose Period, Picasso would become commercially successful and later in his life he would mostly adopt an anti-intellecual stance, interrupted by recurring flirtations with the extreme left (which in the art world was nothing out the ordinary). Picasso could have - but did not aspire to - become a society painter in the classical sense, but found in the emerging artistic avant-garde an alertnative to the mainstream art world. But according to some (like his protégé Joan Miro), he did adapt his style to the wishes of potential buyers, masterful as he was at balancing artistic with commercial needs.

    Reference: Picasso, by Carsten-Peter Warncke - Ingo F. Walther, Taschen GmbH, ISBN 3-8228-1260-9.

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