The Mysterious Face of The Child

Mother and Child (1901) by Pablo Ruiz Picasso

Harvard University

July 22, 2019

Analysis of Mother and Child (1901) by Pablo Ruiz Picasso

The “Mother and Child” by Pablo Ruiz Picasso; generally referred to as “Picasso” is a famous work of art by this artist currently on the exhibition at the Harvard Art Museum. It is painted with oil on a canvas as the gallery description suggests. The artwork has two focused subject matters. A middle-aged woman dressed in a shawl and a scarf covering the head sitting in a corner holding an infant; which the name itself suggests i.e. a mother and a child. This century old work of art is originally named as “Maternité”.

Observing the initial details of the artwork, it appears to me as the artist was trying to portray the unearthly love of a mother towards their child. Other viewers e.g. one of my classmates however, might have an interpretation that Picasso was trying to get handy with the generic Christian style of artwork which many of the western artists have been painting throughout the century. It would make sense if Picasso was trying to get some extra cash as the churches were one of the primary sources of funding for most of the artists in the west according to Dr. Summerhays. This interpretation however, raises a lot of questions over the poor surroundings and lack of nutrition of the subject as most of the church style of artwork usually glorifies the subjects with good health and wealth. It also raises question on Picasso being revolutionary and different from other artists of his time. As we all know Picasso had a very different values than the artists of his time. He was revolutionary, his works of art were extremely expressive, and he did protest a lot of social issues via his paintings and other works of art. So being into this specific style does not make sense for an artist like Picasso.

Back to my interpretation of the artwork, the mother in the painting appears to have a period of intimacy with the child and the artist had a perfect capture of the intimacy. The primary color used in the painting appears to be blue. Blue is a color used to describe a period of depression in most cultures. As it is observed that the depth of this color is explicitly visible on the most part of the painting, the time does not seem on the favor of the mother. The mother also seems to suffer from malnutrition as the skin on hands and feet of the mother in the painting seem to have reached to the very end of her bones which makes the bone overtly visible. According to my interpretation of the work of art, the mother in the painting has gone through a lot and her physical appearance suggest that she has been starving for a long period of time and most probably perish sooner or later. As much as the mother looks unhealthy in the painting the child she is holding onto appears to be quite healthy. This could mean even though the mother and the child has limited supply of nourishment the mother is providing the child as much as it needs. The mother and the child probably had the supply of food and water which were enough for an individual, but the mother kept very little for her own use and left the rest for the child. The child; apart from being healthy has a facial feature of a grown person disproportionate to its age. I am not quite able to interpret what the artist was trying to express through this facial feature or it is just what it is. My overall interpretation of the artwork is, a mother; no matter what situation they go through their love for their child remains the same. As the mother and the child has a glow at the point of their touch it seems to be as the temporary happiness the mother gets by being in touch with their child or being able to provide them the best they could provide at the very moment. I can not really say that my analysis is stronger than other potential readings as my interpretation is solely based on what I see; not based on brief research on the artist and his timeline. I could however say my analysis is stronger than the “painting for church” interpretation of the work as many details are clearly visible on the artwork of it not being painted for the church rather Picasso was trying to capture a perfect moment of intimacy between a mother and a child.

Works Cited:

Picasso, Pablo Ruiz. Mother and Child. 1901, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Level 1, Room 1220, European Art, 19th–20th century, Collection of Maurice Wertheim, Class of 1906.