Jan. 27, 2022


With Picasso's La Vie (1903) there are a number of theories about what exactly the painting means. With each of the main theories you can say - Yes it makes sense but... If you wanted to see the cutting edge art from that time period in the early 1900's and you were a struggling artist in Paris you went to the gallery of the art dealer Ambroise Vollard ( The Chicago Art Institute devoted an entire exhibition to Vollard and the subject). There you could see the work of artists such as Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gaugain and others. Vollard was Gaugain's dealer and the painting The Call newly arrived from Gaugain was in Vollard's possession in the time period that Picasso was in Paris ( Exposition Paul Gauguin. Galerie Ambroise Vollard, Paris, France 1903). Picasso without a doubt knew of and went to Vollard's gallery as Vollard gave Picasso his first exhibition in Paris. There is no direct evidence but to me it is obvious from the male figure in La Vie that Picasso saw Gaugain's painting The Call. Also all the artists in Paris went to the Louvre and studied the work there. The other main influence on La Vie to me was the art of ancient Greece (which continued throughout Picasso's career in one form or another) and can be seen in the classically idealized head of the female on the left side of La Vie (which resembles the idealized head of the female in Cupid and Psyche by David), and in all the figures and their attitude which resemble the somber and enigmatic arrangements of a Greek grave marker ( Gravestone in the Form of a Lekythos, etc., etc.,... ), which is an appropriate source for La Vie as the male in La Vie is Picasso's artist friend who committed suicide. The third influence that I see in La Vie is poetry. Picasso through most of his career counted poets among his closest friends. Picasso was influenced by Arthur Rimbaud ( as can be seen in Boy With Pipe from late 1905 by Picasso https://aidanandrewdun.com/arthur-rimbaud-the-discovery-of-two-new-portraits/ ), Max Jacob, Apollinaire, etc., and their use of a combination of images and sometimes very dissimilar images to create something that can not, and should not be attempted to be explained in words. Lastly there is a definition of when a work is finished to the artist, and that is when the work starts to talk back to the artist. All the top theories on the meaning of La Vie are true, yet none of them are true. It can not and should not be pinned down to an exact meaning and that is it's strength.