Illustrated companion

Between 1901 and 1904. dividing his time between Barcelona and Paris, Picasso went through the most difficult period of his career, trying to establish himself in Paris, unable to sell his work, sometimes near to starving and, the story goes, forced at one point in the winter of 1901 to burn a pile of his drawings in order to keep warm. The paintings of this period are pervaded by the colour blue and their subjects dwell on poverty and sadness. In 1904 Picasso finally settled for good in Paris, moving into the now celebrated ramshackle tenement building in Montmartre known to the mixture of poverty-stricken clerks, laundresses, actors, writers and artists who lived in it as the 'bateau-lavoir' - the floating laundry. Here he formed a relationship with Fernande Olivier and they remained lovers until 1911. He began to be able to sell some work again and although he remained poor he no longer starved. The all-pervading blue of the previous years began to give way to pink, and his subject matter began to be drawn predominantly from the world of the circus. An element of pathos remained but the extreme gloom of the blue period was gone. 'Girl in a Chemise' seems to belong to the beginning of this pink, or rose, period. The same model appears in several other works of 1905, notably 'The Harlequin's Family', where she appears with a child as the circus performer's wife. In another painting she is seen feeding a baby. Oil paintings by Picasso are relatively rare from this period when he worked mostly in gouache (opaque watercolour), drawing and etching. Typically, it is thinly painted.

Picasso's figure drawing at this time was linear and stylised in a manner partly influenced by El Greco; the body of the young woman appears unnaturally elongated, and this, together with the thin washes of paint and the delicate colour harmony of pink and blue creates an ethereal, spiritualised effect.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.107