Pablo Picasso, The Blue Room

Pablo Picasso, The Blue Room, 1901, Oil on canvas, 50.5 x 61.6 cm. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Acquired 1927 © The Estate of Pablo Picasso / SOCAN (2021)

Picasso: Painting the Blue Period

October 6, 2021 – January 04, 2022

As part of the province wide effort to mitigate and prevent the spread of COVID-19, the AGO will close temporarily effective Wednesday, Jan 5, 2022. Ticket-holders will be contacted. Click here for more details.


A landmark celebration, Picasso: Painting the Blue Period is the first exhibition in Canada to focus on the early works of the modernist master Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973). 

Concentrating on the years 1901-1904, Picasso: Painting the Blue Period tells the story of how Picasso, then a fledgling painter in his late teens and early twenties, formulated his signature Blue Period style as he moved back and forth between the cities of Paris and Barcelona. The exhibition will reveal how the young artist borrowed from and transformed the subject matter and motifs of his contemporaries and predecessors during these critical years. Importantly, the exhibition will also show how Picasso’s multi-layered responses to the social and political events around him resulted in spellbinding works that to this day force audiences to grapple with uncomfortable issues such as poverty, labor unrest, gender inequality and war.
At the heart of Picasso: Painting the Blue Period is new scientific and art historical research undertaken by the Art Gallery of Ontario and The Phillips Collection on the three Blue Period paintings in their respective collections: The Blue Room (Paris, 1901; The Phillips Collection), Crouching Beggarwoman (Barcelona, 1902; Art Gallery of Ontario), and The Soup (Barcelona, 1903; Art Gallery of Ontario).  Laboratories dedicated to conservation science provide audiences the opportunity to explore the underlying layers of these three Blue Period canvases. In the final gallery of the exhibition audiences will see how these three Blue Period paintings informed Picasso’s artistic experiments during his important Rose Period of 1904-1907.

Picasso: Painting the Blue Period will feature more than 100 objects from 15 countries, including paintings, sculptures and works on paper by Picasso as well as works by artists the young Spaniard is known to have studied before and during the Blue Period.  Curated by Kenneth Brummel and Dr. Susan Behrends Frank, Picasso: Painting the Blue Period is co-organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto and The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC with the exceptional support of the Musée national Picasso-Paris.

Musée national Picasso-Paris


Two women sitting at a bar on bar stools with their backs to the viewer, hunched over, with dark hair. A wine glass appears on a bar in front of them, and the painting is rendered in cool, blue tones.

Pablo Picasso. Two Women at a Bar, 1902. Oil on canvas, Unframed: 80 × 91.4 cm. Hiroshima Museum of Art. © Picasso Estate / SOCAN (2021).

Picasso: Painting the Blue Period artwork
Pablo Picasso, Woman and Child by the Sea

Pablo Picasso, Woman and Child by the Sea, 1902. Oil on canvas, 81.7 x 59.8 cm. Pola Museum of Art. © Picasso Estate / SOCAN (2021). Photo: Pola Museum of Art / DNPartcom.

Picasso: Painting the Blue Period artwork
Pablo Picasso, Melancholy Woman

Pablo Picasso, Melancholy Woman, 1902. Oil on canvas. Detroit Institute of Arts, Bequest of Robert H. Tannahill, 70.190. © Picasso Estate / SOCAN (2021)

Picasso: Painting the Blue Period artwork
Pablo Picasso, La Soupe

Pablo Picasso, La Soupe, 1903. Oil on canvas, Overall: 38.5 x 46 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Gift of Margaret Dunlap Crang, 1983. © Picasso Estate / SOCAN (2021) 83/316


Picasso: Painting the Blue Period artwork
Pablo Picasso, Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas)

Pablo Picasso, Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas), Paris, 1901. Oil on canvas, 150.5 x 90.5 cm. Musée d’Art moderne de Paris. Gift from the Vollard Estate to the City of Paris 1950, transferred 1961. AMVP1133. © Picasso Estate / SOCAN (2021). Photo: Bulloz. © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY.

Picasso: Painting the Blue Period artwork

Picasso - Past Events

Ali Banisadr: Contemporary Thoughts on Picasso
Thursday, January 13, 4 pm

Join painter Ali Banisadr in conversation Kenneth Brummel, AGO associate curator of modern art, about Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period paintings of 1901-1904.

Close Looking: Picasso Creative Audio Description
Monday, January 10, 11:00 am

Join Assistant Curator of Community Programs, Melissa Smith, as she shares an audio description of an artwork, one of the techniques used during our Multisensory Program to help remove barriers to

Picasso, Women, and Feminism
Wednesday, November 17, 4 pm

Join art historian Elizabeth Legge, artist Ilene Sova and AGO Associate Curator of modern art Kenneth Brummel for a conversation exploring Picasso’s complex relationships with the women in his art

Picasso: Curator's Talk
Thursday, October 21, 7 pm

Join Kenneth Brummel, AGO Associate Curator of modern art, for a talk exploring Picasso during the Blue Period, one of the most celebrated episodes of the artist’s career and of 20th-century modern

Passholder Exclusive
Annual Passholders' Access: Picasso: Painting the Blue Period
Starts Saturday, October 9

AGO Annual Passholders are invited to join at our exclusive Members’ Access for Picasso: Painting the Blue Period.


Susan Behrends Frank (Curator, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC), and Kenneth Brummel (Associate Curator of Modern Art, Art Gallery of Ontario), co-curators of Picasso: Painting the Blue Period, talk about some of the works in the exhibition.

Audio Guide Transcript

View the text transcript

1. Introduction: Kenneth Brummel Welcome to the audio guide for Picasso: Painting the Blue Period, an exhibition co-organized by The Philips Collection in Washington, DC, and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Canada. My name is Kenneth Brummel. I am the Curator of Modern Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the co-curator of this exhibition. On this audio guide, you will hear me and my co-curator, Susan Behrends Frank, Curator at The Philips Collection, describe works of art on display in this exhibition. This audio guide is available on our exhibition webpage at, where you will also find videos explaining the scientific research undertaken on the three Blue Period paintings that are the foci of this exhibition. We hope you enjoy your time in Picasso: Painting the Blue Period and we look forward to hearing your feedback.

2. Spanish Dancer: Sue Frank Hello, I'm Sue Frank, Curator at The Philips collection, and I am the co-curator of this Picasso exhibition. So, we're looking at a painting called The Spanish Dancer or El Tango. This captures the energy of these theatrical environments that Picasso was just completely immersing himself in during both his first visit to Paris and his second when he is a 19-year-old young man still trying to understand who he is and what his artistic future holds for him. He is absorbing all of his surroundings in Paris; both the nightlife that is available to him as well as the French artists whose work he is seeing now for the first time directly. Here is a dancer who entertains in one of these café concerts that has both singers and dancers. He gives us this close up view of her; she is compressed into this tiny bundle of energy at the top of this composition. He is really experimenting here with ideas about how to take this environment of the theatre and the demimonde and make it his own subject, and synthesize so many different sources into a work that is uniquely his own.

3. Nude with Red Stockings: Sue Frank So now we're looking at Nude with Red Stockings, and she is an example of Picasso's rather direct depiction of a woman that he would have likely encountered in the brothels that he visited in Paris. This was a world that Picasso had immersed himself in. You see this woman, probably in some kind of feathery boa that she has surrounded herself with… she's got these red-striped stockings on and she is very brazenly looking out at us and displaying her body. Picasso was very bold in this and he's using a style of painting—[these] kind of bright colours that were very much part of the French manner that we can associate with artists like Toulouse Lautrec. Even some of van Gogh's work has this very expressive brushwork that Picasso may have known. Picasso uses this in his own very specific way that's unique—that separates him out from the French artists who were also making works of similar subject matter.

4. The Woman with Necklace: Sue Frank The Woman with Necklace is likely a cocotte or courtesan, which is a woman who was making herself available to wealthy men that would enjoy being out in public to the cafés or the theatre with nicely dressed women that others could admire. But unlike the earlier pictures, her body has become much more simplified; she is shown to us in a closeup that emphasizes the bulk of her shoulders down to her décolletage. She doesn't look out at us anymore… she looks to the side. But here, the simplification is very much like the portrait of the unknown man beneath The Blue Room. Both of them have this broad outline that defines the silhouette of their form. The hand that is in the thinker's pose that goes up to the cheek and the finger touch[es] the ear; they both share that. These ringed fingers give indication [that] their dress is not that of the everyday person. It’s really a moment that shows us this transformation [in] Picasso's thinking about how he is engaging with his subject matter [and how it] is starting to change also.

5. Melancholy Woman: Sue Frank Picasso had become acquainted with Dr. Jullienne who was the primary physician/surgeon at the Saint-Lazare women's prison in Paris. He was a specialist in venereal diseases. Whether Picasso himself had some kind of need to go and seek medical attention, or like many other artists in Paris at the time, it was an opportunity to have free models. This doctor gave him a pass that allowed him to go into the prison. You see this monumental figure of a woman who sits, in what is a prison cell with a small window, through which this cold evening light is pouring down onto her shoulders and onto the back of her head in a way that one might associate it with the halo around the Virgin. He is playing with these ideas of the sacred and the profane. Picasso transformed the images of these women into imagery that reflected his Catholic upbringing in Spain. And it elevated these women into a status that gave them empathy for those who would look at them.

6. Crouching Woman: Kenneth Brummel Picasso was responding to two events when he painted Crouching Woman in Barcelona in 1902. The Catalan artist Isidre Nonell had just exhibited fifteen paintings of peasant women at the Sala Parés. These paintings shocked the Catalan bourgeoisie because they depicted poverty in an unvarnished manner with an expressive realist style. Picasso was also reacting to a general strike which took place in Barcelona in February 1902. Over 100,000 workers, including women, protested in the streets, erecting barricades and battling the Spanish army who were summoned in order to institute martial law. Unlike Nonell, Picasso renders downtrodden women in an ennobled fashion. Notice how this figure is wearing a blue shawl, a long robe, and a white scarf. If you look across the room, you will see that The Virgin of Sorrows depicted by Luis de Morales, a 16th-century painter Picasso studied in the Prado, also wears a white scarf and is wrapped around the head of the figure as if it were a halo. Also notice how the Crouching Woman rests her chin on her right hand, her three fingers resting against her cheek. If you turn around and compare her hand gestures with Rodin's The Thinker, you will see that Picasso is also evoking the tradition of melancholy, contemplative figures in the art historical tradition [by] depicting poverty but also infusing that representation of poverty with art historical references and notions of piety. Picasso is in many ways ennobling these downtrodden women into figures who are deserving of our attention and respect.

7. Barcelona Rooftops: Kenneth Brummel When Picasso moved to Barcelona in late January 1902, he shared a studio with his friends Àngel Fernández de Soto and Josep Rocarol at 10 Carrer Nou de la Rambla, which was next door to the Edén concert, a music hall in the Barri Xino or Chinatown, which was a local red-light district in Barcelona. This painting is a depiction of a view from Picasso's studio bathed in the moonlight. Notice how this composition is segmented into different geometric planes, but also notice how these geometric planes spill into one another. Since at least 1899, Picasso memorialized his studios by painting views from these locations.

8. Street Scene: Kenneth Brummel Picasso painted Street Scene in Paris in 1900 after seeing Honoré Daumier's The Laundress—the painting located on the other side of this room—at the World's Fair in late October and November 1900. Picasso uses Daumier's figural group of a mother who leads her child by the hand while holding a bundle of laundry, but places them in the landscape of Montmartre, not along the Seine, as is the case in Daumier's painting. Notice how in this work, Picasso utilizes the silvery atmosphere of Daumier's painting in order to create a pall of suspense, a sense of dreariness in this landscape; but also notice how Picasso utilizes the same lighting in order to illuminate the background plain of buildings, as is the case in Daumier's picture. Picasso viewed Daumier's Laundress as a representation of maternal strength. Picasso always had an empathy for working-class women [and] single mothers who are simultaneously working while caring for their children. In order to evoke their plight in the street scene, he situates the mother and child on a lonely street in Montmartre in front of a man who hovers menacingly over them, in front of what appears to be a bar or a café.

9. Figures by the Sea: Kenneth Brummel Picasso painted this haunting work, Figures by the Sea, in Barcelona in 1903, during what we call the Mannerist stage of the Blue Period. Figures during the Mannerist stage of the Blue Period are elongated. They're also rendered with gaunt features and they have elongated, spindly limbs. Notice how Picasso renders the face of the blind man with a large Prussian blue patch on his cheek in order to evoke his thinness. Notice also how skeletal the woman who clutches her infant under her orange shawl appears, her face appearing nothing more than so much bone without flesh. To evoke the desperation and poverty of these figures, Picasso's silhouettes them against an empty seashore, almost a metaphor for society's abandonment of this poor family. The empty seashore could also be interpreted as a metaphor of the blindness of the man who is somewhat led by his child down the seashore—the child being the agent of this family whose adults have been rendered poor and powerless by a society that has abandoned them. We call this stage of the Blue Period “Mannerist” because Picasso engaged in these kinds of radical deformations that make these figures not just haunting but also a source of our indignation and rage. Nothing is pleasing about their poverty, and as a result, we, as viewers, are outraged.

10. Mother and Child by the Sea: Kenneth Brummel The woman in this painting, Mother and Child by the Sea—which Picasso began in Paris in 1901 and completed in Barcelona in 1902—is clothed in the vestments of the Virgin Mary. She wears a heavily modeled green shawl. She also wears a long, blue robe, and her head is wrapped in a white scarf. She stands in profile against the sea, in front of an empty boat that refers to a painting by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes entitled The Poor Fisherman. A version of this painting is available in a lithograph on the wall to your right. She stands against the sea, clutching tenderly her infant, resting her chin on her infant's head. She is also, with her left hand, holding a red flower, which signifies her fall from grace. This red flower evokes a poster created by the Barcelona artist Ramon Casas, for a clinic advertising services to treat the venereal disease syphilis. Not coincidentally, Picasso dedicated this painting, in the upper left corner of the painting, to his friend Josep Fontana, who treated his case of syphilis in Barcelona.

11. Portrait of a Man: Kenneth Brummel This is a representation of a madman who frequented cafés in Barcelona—or at least this is what Picasso claims. This figure resembles the downtrodden women Picasso painted in Barcelona in 1902. Notice how he stares blankly downward and notice how his arms are folded, creating a compact silhouette similar to the women Picasso made in 1902. Significant about this picture is how Picasso evokes religious figures in Spanish Golden Age painting. Compare this figure with the St. Peter depicted by El Greco in the painting to your left. Also significant about this work is the large loss in the lower right-hand corner. This loss has existed since at least 1915 or 1916. A photographic self-portrait taken by Picasso in his Paris studio shows him sitting in front of this painting with this loss in 1915/1916. Picasso obviously felt that this loss was a part of the composition and he never felt compelled to restore it, which is why it is exhibited in its current state today.

12. Nude with Joined Hands: Sue Frank We're looking at a work that Picasso did in the summer of 1906, when he was back in Spain for the first time since he had left Barcelona in the spring of 1904 to move to Paris… when he was in this very small village called Gósol, which is up in the Pyrenees. His palate has changed because the colours of the landscape in Gósol are so soft, rose-coloured, rusty-coloured. [The work] is a figure that is inspired by his new relationship with the first true love of his life, Fernande Olivier. She is the first woman he invites to move in with him to share his life. [With] his return to Spain in the summer of 1906, he has become interested in ancient Spanish sculpture, and so this becomes the motif, the model, that he pursues in his taking of Fernande, transforming it into this iconic monumental, single figure in this canvas.

13. Woman with Loaves: Kenneth Brummel The Spanish town Gósol, at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains, was a matriarchy when Picasso and Fernande Olivier visited the hamlet in the summer of 1906. In this painting is a woman we now know is named Herminia from sketchbooks Picasso made during his short stint in Gósol that summer. Herminia is here standing upright in a dignified fashion balancing two loaves of bread on her head. Her head is wrapped in a scarf, she's wearing a heavily modelled shawl. Notice how she is similarly appointed to the downtrodden women Picasso painted in Barcelona in 1902. Herminia here is also rendered as a secularized Virgin but also as an honorable, dignified, upright representation of female fortitude, in this depiction of a woman who is silhouetted against a terracotta plain embellished with patches of pink, which evoke the shapes of cows and other animals one would encounter in the caves of Altamira in northern Spain. Evoking those forms and utilizing a palette that is inspired by the terracotta colours of the soil of rural Spain, Picasso was rooting himself, Herminia, and his painting practice in a long Spanish tradition and in a broader Mediterranean culture, which was experiencing its revival at this time.

BlindSquare Event App


BlindSquare is a free GPS app developed for the blind, deafblind, and partially sighted. The GPS technology will alert your device to each described audio stop, provide text-to-speech for in-gallery room panels and wayfinding directives in this exhibition. You can download the app from the Apple App Store or by using a QR code onsite. iOS compatible only.


Large Print Materials

This large-print label resource is a key part of the AGO's ongoing commitment to inclusion and accessibility and will continue to grow and evolve to better supplement engagement to both the web and in-gallery experiences.

Download Exhibition Large Print 447 KB

Download Exhibition Large Print French 370 KB



Mini Doc: Beggarwoman

Mini Doc: The Soup

Mini Doc: The Blue Room

Research Video: Beggarwoman

Research Video: The Soup

Research Video: The Blue Room


Cross-border collaboration of the Art Gallery of Ontario and The Phillips Collection

Watch the interview from The National Arts Club between Gary Tinterow, Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Dr. Susan Behrends Frank, Curator, The Phillips Collection, and Kenneth Brummel, Associate Curator, Modern Art, Art Gallery of Ontario.


A presentation on Picasso: Painting the Blue Period by Kenneth Brummel, Associate Curator, Modern Art.

Curators’ Circle is a philanthropic membership program at the AGO. Learn more.



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