The most frequently reproduced motif throughout the history of art, especially in Western art, is the subject of the mother with child. The earliest recorded depiction and the best known Mother and Child is the Byzantine icon of Mary and Jesus. These icon images were venerated by both the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

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

Let us take a look at a few of them and consider Picasso's different styles that he added to this powerful, universal theme of mother and child.

** Report by Karla Darocas, Hon. B.A. (KarlaDarocas.com)
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Picasso was first taught by his father, a teacher of art history, and later received a more formal education in art history. By the time he was 20 years old, he already knew what kinds of images were known in the world of fine art and thus in the public eye 

As an adult and working artist, Picasso had to become more than just an imaginative visual artist, he had to become a shrewd businessman. He had to follow popular trends and themes and be guided by what sold well with the middle classes and investors. He also had to try to appease his numerous commercial agents so that they could hawk their paintings to their clients.

Mother and Child, 1902 by Pablo Picasso

Picasso painted this mother and child in the summer of 1902 during his melancholic, poor period or, as it is now called, the 'blue period'. He and his friends had decided to visit the women's prison at Saint Lazare. It was very close to where he lived in Paris.

The desperate poverty in Paris meant that many women had to prostitute themselves, which in turn led to the spread of venereal diseases. Apart from the terrible prison conditions, Picasso was deeply disturbed by the presence of children in this prison.

The mother in this painting is fragile and desperate, wearing a white bonnet that was part of her prison garb. In her general despair, she manages to give her child a smile. Due to El Greco's painterly style and the absence of body parts wrapped in cloth robes, the focus is on the faces. The emotional level of the painting is bittersweet.

Mother and Child, 1921 by Pablo Picasso

In 1921, Pablo Picasso became a father for the first time at the age of forty. His wife was the famous Russian ballet dancer Olga Khokhlova. In keeping with Spanish tradition, they named their firstborn son Pablo after his father. That same summer, Picasso moved with his wife and son to the fashionable retreat of Fontainebleau, 50 kilometres south of Paris. There he threw himself into a frenzy and painted the motif of mother and child after his real-life models. Between 1921 and 1923 he created at least twelve.

This painting is the most famous of his works. We see a mother looking sculptural and solid, in majestic proportions, 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 robe, giving us visual clues to an ancient, classical treatment. Four years before this event, Picasso had travelled to Rome to design sets and costumes for Sergei Diaghilev's famous Ballets Russes. He was fascinated by all the ancient Roman sculptures. When he returned to Paris, he began to paint monumental figures inspired by antiquity.

Picasso's Mother features healthy flesh tones, a carefree sea background, geometric right angles, vertical and horizontal compositions, all carefully balanced and inspired by Renaissance art. The child, however, breaks through the rigid formality by bringing light-hearted movement to the composition. Brilliant.

In summary, Picasso was always willing to experiment with different visual forms, techniques and compositions, but like all great entrepreneurs, he knew how to capitalise on a large, ubiquitous subject like Mother and Child.

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Resource Books written by
Karla Ingleton Darocas 
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