Pablo Picasso "La Vie" -- When Art is Really Blue
The first time I saw "La Vie" by Pablo Picasso was at an exhibition at the Washington DC Museum of Modern Art in 1996. It was an expo of Picasso's early works titled "Picasso: The Early Years." I believe you can still get the book and other merchandise from the exhibit at the museum's website store. I enjoyed this exhibition very much, and that is the reason why I am returning to it here, after so many years.
The main subject of the painting is Picasso's friend, Carlos Casagemas, a close friend who had accompanied Picasso on their very first trip to Paris and who committed suicide shortly after being rejected by a lover. The painting is clearly allegorical, as well as unusually complex and obscure for Picasso's early work. Set in what appears to be an artist's studio the arch and accompanying ceiling behind the male figure, the central drawing of a woman consoling a man (on paper) and a more tragically posed man alone at the bottom (drawn on the wall and appears as a fresco of sorts). The main figures two women, a baby and a male figure strikingly alike Casagemas form the theme of the painting. Although interpretations vary, the woman to the right holding the baby might be intended to be Casagemas' mother holding him as a child. Casagemas points to the cloaked woman holding the baby while the other woman, resting on his neck and nude appears to be the lover that rejected Casagemas and led to his suicide. The thematic ideation here might be that of Biblical intonations--that is to say, man will leave his mother to join a woman and make his life (paraphrased). The nudity of the woman Casagemas joins might indicate the intimacy relationship not present, of course, with the mother figure.
There are, however, a number of interpretations based on X-ray photography taken at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1976. While those discoveries were made by art experts more informed than I am about the history of the painting and Picasso in general, it is my personal opinion that interpretations or explanations of "mysteries" in the painting should not be derived from such methods. In vernacular non-expert language, I suppose, we could say Picasso "changed his mind" as he composed the outline and subsequent painting. The figures found behind the present image of the painting (a priest, a woman in a bed, a night stand and some winged creature in the foreground) might elude to a "lost" effort in the composition of another painting he abandoned before Casagemas' suicide.
What can be said for certain about "La Vie" is that it gave birth to an elaborate series of paintings holding the thematic Casagema suicide as a central topic, and, more conventionally, it is seen as Picasso's initiation into the so-called "Blue" period from which he would later move into more non-traditional, anti-establishment techniques. "La Vie" gave Picasso an opportunity to defy convention without going too far, yet enabling him to explore an initial aspect to the abstract recklessly and with abandon.
Not much is known about Carlos Casagemas, at least not as an artist. Post-modern interpretations of "La Vie" insist that Picasso's devastation after the suicide is linked to possible homosexual theories (but then again what isn't tied to that nowadays). At any rate, this is a painting that brings great memories to me and the idea that a single interpretation is better than another one is simply false. Art, in the end, is really blue.