The most consistently reproduced subject in all of art history, especially Western art, is the theme of the Mother and Child. The earliest recorded representation and most recognised Mother and Child is the Byzantine icon of Mary and Jesus. These icon paintings were worshipped by both Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Picasso was raised Catholic and knew the emotive power of the Mother and Child image. These works throughout his life are some of my favourites. They are all different, depending on what visual form he was experimenting with. 

Let’s take a look at a couple of them and contemplate Picasso’s diverse styles added to this powerful, universal theme of Mother and Child.

Picasso was first educated by an art history teacher for a father, and then more formal art history education later. By the time he was 20 years old, he knew what types of images were well versed in the visual art world and hence the public domain. 

** Article by Karla Darocas, Hon. B.A. (KarlaDarocas.com)
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As an adult and working artist, Picasso had to become more than just an inventive visual artist, he had to evolve into an astute businessman. He had to follow the popular trends and themes based on what was selling to the bourgeois and investors as well as trying to appease his many sales agents so that they could flog paintings to their clients.

Mother and Child, 1902 by Pablo Picasso

Picasso painted this Mother and Child in the summer of 1902 during his melancholy, poverty period or as it is now called the 'blue-period'. He and his friends had decided to visit the women’s prison of Saint Lazare. It was close to where he lived in Paris.

Desperate poverty in Paris meant that many women had to resort to prostitution, which in turn caused the spread of venereal diseases. Aside from the horrible conditions of incarceration, Picasso was deeply disturbed by the presence of children in the prison.

The mother of this painting is frail and anguished, wearing a white bonnet, which was part of her prison attire. Given her overall despair, she manages a smile for her child. Utilizing the painterly style of El Greco, the absence of bodily flesh draped in robes of fabric, brings all the focus upon the faces. The emotive level of the painting is bittersweet.

Mother and Child, 1921 by Pablo Picasso

In 1921, Pablo Picasso became a father for the first time when he was age forty. His wife was the famous Russian ballet dancer Olga Khokhlova. According to Spanish tradition, they named their first born son after the father Pablo. During that same summer, Picasso moved his wife and son to the trendy, retreat of Fontainebleau, 50 kilometers south of Paris. There he threw himself into a flurry of painting the Mother and Child theme his real life models. Between 1921 and 1923 he produced at least twelve.

This painting is the most popular of his efforts. We see a Mother who looks sculptural and solid, carved in majestic proportions looking proud and relaxed. Her child sits on her lap and reaches up to touch her mouth or lips.

The woman is dressed in a Roman gown giving us visual clues suggesting an ancient classical treatment.  Four years previous to this event, Picasso had traveled to Rome to design sets and costumes for Sergei Diaghilev’s famed Ballets Russes. He became fascinated by all of the ancient Roman sculptures. When he returned to Paris, he started to paint monumental figures inspired by antiquity.

Picasso’s Mother here is defined by her healthy flesh tones, carefree seascape background, geometric right angles, vertical and horizontal composition, all carefully balanced and inspired by Renaissance art. The Child, however, breaks the rigid formality by bringing carefree movement to the composition. Brilliant.

In conclusion, Picasso was always ready to experiment with different types of visual forms, techniques and  compositions, but like all great entrepreneurs, he knew how to capitalise on a great pervasive subject like the Mother and Child.

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