Artwork for Catharsis and Empathy: Picasso’s Blue Period

In 1901 a 19-year-old Pablo Picasso’s world was turned upside down.

It was during this time he had become friends with a group of artists and writers. One of these was the poet Carles Casagemas, who had become one of his best and closest friends. However, their friendship ended in tragedy when Casagemas took his own life at a dinner party in Paris following a falling out with a lover. Picasso took his friend’s death hard and out of this time of sadness and empathy, his infamous blue period emerged.

Pablo Picasso, Self-Portrait, 1901

Pablo Picasso, Self-Portrait, 1901. Image courtesy of

During this period, Picasso often used a chilling palette of blues, greens, and grays. These gut-wrenching colors were often accompanied by motifs of sadness, tragedy, and somberness. One of the first of these works was in direct response to the death of his valued friend. The work is called The Death of Casagemas (1901), in which his dearly-departed compatriot lays still in candlelight, surrounded by blankets as if he’s sleeping, and a bullet hole in his temple. From then on in this period we see Picasso work through his grief.

The paintings of this period are powerful, to say the least. Picasso’s trip through the artistic expression of depressed emotions toward moving on is evident. Eventually, after the blue period, Picasso moves onto a time called the rose period. This time consisted of vibrant hues of red, lighter subject manner, and an overall shift into a celebration of life. This shift demonstrates Picasso had achieved a cathartic conclusion to the death of his friend.

The blue period is sure to grab the viewer in awe-inspiring ways. The viewer experiences an empathetic understanding with the artist through the all too familiar emotions of loss and sadness. After all, these emotions are universal among all of humanity.

This common ground between artist and viewer is a powerful one. Although finding emotional relief through art may seem personal and unshareable, it actually binds humanity rather than separates. Often, a viewer finds comfort in their empathy with the artist through art. This can even lead to a viewer wanting their artwork to remind them of that empathy. So, as artists, keep cathartic artworks in mind when deciding whether or not to publicly share them. They might just have as much as an impact as Picasso’s blue period.

Want more art history? Check out these artists who changed to portrait game.

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