Painting of the Day

14 Nov

The Tragedy. By Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Oil on wood, 1903. Currently at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

From NGA’s website:
Pablo Picasso often left visual clues on the surfaces of his paintings to suggest a hidden image underneath, as on The Tragedy of 1903. Artists frequently make changes to a painting or reuse a canvas or panel with an image already painted on it. Often the supports are reworked because an artist cannot afford to purchase new materials. An artist also may scrape off an earlier painting and start again or occasionally cover an abandoned image with a uniform coat of ground. Picasso did this very rarely. When he reworked his paintings, he most often did so directly over earlier images, neither using a “clean” side nor obliterating the abandoned attempt. Early in his career, financial constraints were certainly part of his motivation for reusing supports, but Picasso reworked paintings throughout his lifetime. His reworking was not done because he was frugal, but for Picasso the initial subject, the shape or form on the canvas, often revealed itself in a different guise as he worked on or returned to a picture, and it served as a new inspiration.

My comments:
This painting comes from Picasso’s blue period, which for me represents the best work that Picasso ever accomplished. Every time I see any painting from his blue period, especially The Tragedy, I can’t help but be pulled emotionally into the painting. According to my background knowledge of the blue period, it began for Picasso after one of his friends killed himself upon the realization that he was infertile, which caused his lover to leave him for another man. But even with such a specific anecdote as the impetus for a few years’ worth of art-making, Picasso’s creations of tragedy, sorrow, hunger, and loneliness awash in unmitigated, overpowering shades of blue, take on a quite universal sentiment that makes them applicable to the events in peoples’ lives that cause these “blue” feelings. This painting is also an important and subtle example of the adage that paintings really take on a new power when seen in person versus as a photograph online. This painting has potency just seeing it on NGA’s website (which I recommend checking out because they go really in depth about the artistic process of painting The Tragedy), but seeing it in person is a completely different animal.

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