Boy with a Pipe (1905) by Pablo Picasso
Meaning and Interpretation of Rose Period Portrait

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Boy with a Pipe
(Garçon à la Pipe)
By Pablo Picasso.
Regarded as one of the
greatest 20th century paintings.

Boy with a Pipe (Garçon à la Pipe) (1905)


Explanation of Other Paintings by Picasso


Name: Boy with a Pipe (Garçon à la Pipe) (1905)
Artist: Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Portrait Art
Movement: 20th Century Realist painting
Location: Private Collection

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

To appreciate paintings
by modernist painters
like Picasso, see:
How to Appreciate Paintings.

Analysis of Boy with a Pipe by Picasso

After his cool, sombre 'Blue Period' (1901-4) - an artistic phase triggered by the death of his friend Carlos Casagemas, as commemorated in La Vie (1903, Cleveland Museum of Art) - Picasso began to introduce a few cheerful orange and pink colours into his pictures, in a phase now known as his 'Rose Period'. It was during this period that the 24-year old Picasso painted this particular masterpiece, which is one of his greatest portrait paintings: a blend of realism and symbolism, with a hint of Japonism. It is also one of only three paintings from Picasso's Rose Period still in private hands.

Note: After Picasso's Rose Period came his 'African' phase (1906-7), culminating in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), his Cubism Period (1908-14) - first, Analytical Cubism, then Synthetic Cubism - and later his Neoclassical and Surrealist phases (1920-39)

Boy with a Pipe depicts "little Louis", a teenage boy who spent much of his time hanging around Picasso's studio in Le Bateau-Lavoir, Montmartre. He is dressed in a blue overalls and holds a pipe in his left hand. On his head is a garland of pink roses, while painted on the pink-ish wall behind him are two circular arrangements of flowers, in green, white, red and blue. The portrait was preceded by a number of preliminary drawings, showing Louis in a variety of positions, but the position chosen was the most common.

The painting illustrates Picasso's move away from his initial focus on illness and death - themes he invoked in numerous portraits during his Blue Period - towards a more upbeat outlook, inspired by a growing interest in those who did not quite fit in with the rest of society, notably the clowns, acrobats and itinerants with whom he rubbed shoulders in Montmartre. His painting style, too, was changing. The El Greco palette and the expressionist forms were gradually replaced with a brighter, more harmonious classicism. Note: Other Rose Period portraits include Woman with a Crow (1904, Toledo Museum of Art), Tumblers (Mother and Son) (1905, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart), Girl in a Chemise (1905, Tate Collection, London), and Acrobat and Young Harlequin (1905, Art Institute of Chicago).

What makes Boy with a Pipe one of the most interesting portraits by Picasso, is its invocation of teenage beauty. Compared with all Picasso's other adolescent sitters, Louis is made to look beautiful. His features are well-modelled and harmonious, and his face has an unblemished white look - all in contrast with his worn, dirty overalls. It is possible that the painting began as a simple figure painting or life study, but the addition of a crown of roses transformed it into something more lyrical and mysterious. It is certainly a mysterious picture. Louis's pose - slightly off-centre, his disinterest in his surroundings, the artificial position of his left arm, the use of brightly coloured flowers - all these elements raise questions. In the meantime, the only thing one can say is that the portrait is a wonderful work of visual art.

In 1950, Boy with a Pipe was first acquired for US$30,000 by the American art collectors Jock and Betsey Whitney, known also for their ownership of Renoir's Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (1876), now in the Musee d'Orsay, Paris. In May 2004, at Sotheby's New York, the Whitney family foundation sold it for a record-breaking $104 million, making it the first painting to break the $100 million barrier at auction. According to some reports, the buyer was Guido Barilla, owner of the Barilla Group - the world's largest producer of pasta. For more, see: Most Expensive Paintings: Top 10.

Explanation of Other Paintings by Picasso

Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906)
Early painting of the Parisian art collector.

Two Nudes (1906) Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Sculptural-like study for Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.

Neoclassical Figure Paintings by Picasso (1906-30)
Picasso's innovative approach to the Greco-Roman tradition

.• Seated Woman (Picasso) (1920) Musee Picasso, Paris.
A modern neoclassical take on antique figuration and drapery.

Large Bather (1921) Musee de l'Orangerie, Paris.
Directly inspired by high classical Greek sculpture.

Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race) (1922) Musee Picasso, Paris.
Classicist composition with Dionysian mythological figures.

Woman in White (1923)
From Picasso's neoclassical period.

Guernica (1937) oil on canvas, Reina Sofia Art Museum, Madrid.
Picasso's celebrated anti-war mural.

Weeping Woman (1937) oil on canvas, Tate Collection, London.
Picasso's most famous Cubist portrait of Dora Maar.


• For the meaning of other 20th century portraits, see: Homepage.

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