Picasso’s Boy with a Pipe (1905)
Almost any figure can represent the artist. In this 1905 painting by Picasso a boy in blue overalls sits facing us, holding a pipe the wrong way round. He is crowned with a wreath of roses. André Salmon, a friend of Picasso, wrote about this painting in 1912. He described how ‘Picasso had painted without a model the very pure and simple image of a young Parisian worker, beardless and dressed in blue denim - just about the appearance of the artist himself during working hours.’1Not only does the youth wear Picasso’s studio uniform but he is crowned with a wreath as great poets were crowned in antiquity.
The most serious problem facing interpreters of this painting is the problem-pipe. It screams out for an interpretative solution. People just do not hold pipes that way. Picasso must have included it as a clue for those viewing it on this level. The pipe, a common symbol for intellectual reflection in nineteenth- and twentieth-century painting, looks as if it is held by the artist outside the painting as he ponders his image even if held by the model inside the painting. Thus Picasso, while meditating on the image, imagined his alter ego holding his own pipe. Sue Roe has described it as an "opium pipe", a drug Picasso then smoked.2
As in so many other masterpieces discussed on this site, the two realities – that of the painting and of the studio – have been fused. The boy is a reflection of Picasso.
More Works by Picasso
How we know that the young Picasso knew his destiny
When you discover what is underneath Picasso's early Blue Period paintings, the meaning changes...drastically.
Learn how to use double-vision, a critical tool for interpretation
Original Publication Date on EPPH: 07 Apr 2011. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.