PROLOGUE: I should have just ignored the on-line writing project similar in ambition to the one referenced in Death of the Torero.  Apparently, Picasso was a research topic for a number of Princeton undergraduates. This time, though, bullfighting was not Picasso’s obsession. It was his intense three-year homosexual relationship with French poet Max Jacob, according to Brett Masters, Princeton Class of 2008. The relationship is described around the painting Boy with a Pipe (1905).

Girl in a Chemise, Pablo Picasso 1905

“Moreover, a look at Picasso’s oeuvre reveals that Boy with a Pipe is only one of a series of works from 1905 and 1906, on the hinge of his blue and rose periods, which depict effeminized, almost androgynous, adolescent males in vaguely sexual positions. 

“Just who was this eroticized boy and what was the nature of his relationship with the twentieth century’s most celebrated artist?”

I don’t really want to answer that question nor delve into the complex self-sculpted (and tormented!) persona of Picasso on the hinge of his Blue and Rose periods.  But I did notice that same androgynous boy in several of his paintings. Masters posits in Sa Vie en RoseBehind the Boy with a Pipe that the boy is actually Max Jacob, who is five years Picasso’s senior.

Acrobat and Young Harlequin, Pablo Picasso 1905

Masters notes that Picasso’s friend and biographer, John Richardson, does not mention Max Jacob in his biography, but instead identifies the boy as “P’tit’ Louis,” who frequently visited Picasso’s studio in Paris to watch him work. 

In related news,  Sotheby’s sold the Boy with a Pipe to an anonymous private collector in May 2004 for $104 million, making it the most valuable painting ever sold (at the time).

THE BLUE PERIOD:  Picasso’s Blue Period lasted from 1901 – 1904. His work was characterized by themes of alienation, poverty and psychological depression painted in monochromatic blues and blue-greens. All of a sudden this changes when he moves to Montemartre from Spain.

THE ROSE PERIOD (1904 – 1906): His palette becomes cheerful hues of orange and pinks. The subjects are no longer beggars, prostitutes and drunks but circus performers, acrobats and harlequins.  His studio was in close proximity to the Circus Medrano in Montmartre. Picasso is happier (surmises British contemporary artist A.J. Miles on his website) because he was in a relationship with Fernande Olivier, “la belle Fernande,” whom he met in 1904.  She refused his marriage proposal because  she was already married, but did remain his mistress for nine years.

Boy with a Pipe, Pablo Picasso 1905

Fortunately, I found a Portuguese blog (Travessi Poetica) which also ignores Max Jacob and corroborates Picasso’s love for  “la belle Fernande.”  The blog rather fancifully describes Picasso’s affinity to the harlequin and circus performer.  And, it introduces Picasso to Gertrude Stein via a retired Clown named Clovis Savigot (translation courtesy of Google Chrome).

“For fans of Romanticism, such as Picasso, there was no fundamental difference between a circus performer and a theater artist, both passed by the same artistic martyrdom. The fact is that the bonding between the romantic and circus artists ended up being the first real commercial opportunity for Pablo Picasso.

“A gallerist, retired clown, called Clovis Savigot, decided to expose the paintings of that both defended and depicted the characters of the circus. And it was through the gallery Savigot that Picasso met Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo, who would become important collectors of modern art, painters and poets of supporters and great friends of Picasso.”

Max Jacob, Pablo Picasso 1905

 Picasso referred to the Rose period as his Harlequin period.