18

Mother and Child, 1921 by Pablo Picasso

In 1917 Picasso traveled to Rome to design sets and costumes for Sergei Diaghilev’s famed Ballets Russes. Deeply impressed by the ancient and Renaissance art of that city, he began painting monumental figures inspired by antiquity. His new classical style was influenced by the finely modeled odalisques of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and the late, oddly proportioned female nudes of Pierre-Auguste Renoir. This paint-ing was also inspired by Picasso’s own life. Just three years earlier, he had married Olga Koklova, a Russian dancer, with whom he fathered his first child, Paolo, in 1921.

A new father, Picasso made many images of mothers with children: between 1921 and 1923, he produced at least twelve works on this subject, returning to a theme that he had explored during his Blue Period. But whereas those figures are frail and anguished, his classical-period figures, with their sculptural modeling and solidity, are majestic in proportion and feeling. Here an infant sits on its mother’s lap and reaches up to touch her. The mother, dressed in a Grecian gown, gazes intently at her child. Behind them stretches a simplified background of sand, water, and sky. Picasso’s treatment of the mother and child is not sentimental, but the relationship between the figures expresses a serenity and stability that characterized his own life at this time.