The Blue Room by Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso's The Blue Room, created in 1901, belongs to Blue Period of cubist painter. It depicts a woman bathing in tub.
The Blue Room (1901) by Pablo Picasso

The Blue Room

The Blue Room (La Chambre Bleue, Le Tub) is an oil painting on canvas, created in Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period by the artist in 1901. As one of the Picasso’s monochromatic paintings made in early 20th century, The Blue Room has the feature of including the shades of blue color greatly likewise The Old Guitarist has. The original canvas is exhibited in the Phillip’s Collection Washington D.C. In 2014, with the support of National Gallery of Art and Winterthur Museum, scientists and art experts from Cornell University in New York and the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., have done a research by using scientific methods to discover the painting underneath The Blue Room. As one of the Picasso’s first masterpieces, The Blue Room reveals an opportunity to track the facts about Picasso's life including the information from his economic state to the avant garde art movements which he highly contributed.

The Blue Room in Picasso’s Blue Period Art

Pablo Picasso's The Death of Casagemas, Blue Period painting, 1901, short after artist's best friend died due to an accident.
The Death of Casagemas (1901) 
by Pablo Picasso
To define the Blue Period of Picasso, familiar subjects priorly unfold such as distorted human figures, blurry backgrounds, old man or woman depictions in a desperate condition and solitude. All of these dramatic scenes depicted on Picasso’s blue monochromatic paintings, must be examined in a cause and effect relation. The reason that pushed the artist to paint misery with his blue palette, is his emotional breakdown because of losing his best friend Carlos Casagemas, who Picasso moved to Paris from Madrid with. After unexpected death of Casagemas by suicide, Picasso found himself in a depression and his portraits turned pessimistic. This timeline of Picasso’s life between 1901 and 1904, is sentenced as Blue Period by art historians.

Pablo Picasso's Celestina, 1904, in Blue Period of Picasso. Monochromatic painting depicts a blind old woman in blue tones.
Celestina (1904) by Pablo Picasso
During the Blue Period, Pablo Picasso created many paintings over 14 with his blue palette, while focusing on pathos of human body to reveal the inner vision of an artist. Besides The Blue Room, as other outstanding Blue Period paintings of Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist, The Blind Man’s Meal, The Crouching Woman, The Tragedy and Celestina, can be utilized to extract the pathos definition, which lead the observer develop empathy because of feeling the emotions such as sorrow, solitude, compassion and anger. These famous paintings were not easily sold for the period and put Picasso in poverty, however they are counted as priceless today. Amongst Picasso’s early works, The Blue Room was first one to enter a collection by Duncan Phillips, due to its rich style and emotional features.

Inspiration Source of the Blue Room

Camille Pissarro's The Boulevard Montmartre at Night, 1897. It depicts a famous street in Paris that inspired Picasso also.
The Boulevard Montmartre at Night
 (1897) by Camille Pissarro
During the years Picasso passed his time in Paris and worked in late 1900, his art was affected by impressionist and post impressionist artists whereby the World Exhibition (1900 Paris Exposition). Contrary to the melancholy days he passed in Barcelona, when he arrived at Montmartre Paris again in 1901, he utilized the entertainment opportunities of the Boulevard Montmartre at night, to grow his imagination. With the influence of impressionist and post impressionist paintings that he observed on the display of World’s Fair, he was impacted with these art movements and the seeds of The Blue Room had been spread.

Pablo Picasso's Boulevard de Clichy, painted c. 1881-1973. Famous street in Paris where Picasso's first art studio settled.
Boulevard de Clichy
 (1881-1973) by Pablo Picasso
Moreover, influences of Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, cannot be denied for The Blue Room. Despite the fact that art styles and careers of both artists, had pass through the Impressionism, Lautrec is assumed as one of the fathers of Post Impressionism which has risen as a reaction to the Impressionism in France, while Degas had claimed that he was a realist contrary to the art historians. One of the famous streets of Paris, Boulevard de Clichy is home to Picasso’s studio which is settled in a building. As a famous street in Paris, Boulevard de Clichy is extended between Rue des Martyrs and Place de Clichy, whose constraction has been totally completed in 1868. Besides Picasso's art studio, with its houses and cafes including unique historic fabric, the street is counted as a tourist attraction point within Paris.

Poster of May Milton by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, created in 1895, and inspired Picasso's The Blue Room painting via woman.
May Milton (1895)
 by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
This blue room Picasso worked within a small studio apartment, is said to be first art studio of Pablo Picasso acquired in Paris and he availed himself of its internal view as a background while painting the bathing woman in The Blue Room. The poster May Milton (1895) by Lautrec was on the wall in the painting with the intent of a reverence to the artist. By the presence of this poster in the painting, Picasso showed his intense respect to Lautrec and gave out one of his inspiration sources.

Hidden Image Beneath the Blue Room

X ray image of the Blue Room painting of Pablo Picasso, 1901. X ray shows a man beneath the canvas, who is Ambroise Vollard.
The Blue Room X ray Image
Through technological progress including the invention of X ray technology, many Picasso paintings had the chance to be scanned in detail. All along, older brushstrokes had given some clues about the existence of an old drawing under the painting Blue Room which is acquired by the Phillips Collection in 1927. Via a 1954 letter written by an art conservator from the museum, it is claimed that unmatching drawings exist behind the surface of The Blue Room when compared with the bathing woman depiction that Picasso attempted.
All of these remained as a bunch of reasonable suspicions, since Patricia Favero, who was the associate conservator at the Phillips Collection, united the obtained pieces from infrared camera and became the first one who witness the moustached man underneath The Blue Room painting in 2008. She shared the samples of hidden images in pictures which were obtained by scientific methods in order, with New York Times. Those hidden images have been published in digital printing of the NY Times in Oct. 10, 2012. Afterwards, an extensive detective work has been done with several steps of the scientific methods by Cornell University in New York and the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. between the years 2012 and 2014. In collaboration with National Gallery of Art and Winterthur Museum, the study group discovered a portrait of a man with beard underneath The Blue Room, with the help of X ray fluorescence (XRF) and multi spectral imaging technology. Although, the man under the painting is not identified certainly, as a sound approach, art experts believe that this man could be Ambroise Vollard who was an art dealer in Paris in that period of time. Besides historic coincidence, infrared scans of The Blue Room, reveal a couple of clues to make a guess about the identification such as beard, bow tie and three rings that correlate the sight of Ambroise Vollard as a reputable man for the period.

Mystery Man Beneath the Blue Room

Ambroise Vollard is posing in front of Pablo Picasso's The Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas, 1901) in Vollard Gallery.
Ambroise Vollard in front of
 The Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas, 1901)
 by Pablo Picasso
Ambroise Vollard was a French art dealer, publisher and a visionary man who collected some of early Picasso paintings. In 1893, Vollard established his art gallery at Rue Laffitte, Paris. Afterwards, he held an exhibition in 1895 with 150 paintings of Paul Cézanne that he acquired. With his modern avant-garde style, it is known that Cézanne influenced Picasso highly and contributed to Impressionism. Vollard’s first exhibition continued with the works of Édouard Manet, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, however he has done more than that by putting his moral and material support behind the artists like Aristide Maillol, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Louis Valtat, André Derain, and Georges Rouault too. 

Pablo Picasso's cubist Portrait of Ambroise Vollard, 1910, depicting Vollard who was an art dealer and patron of Picasso.
Portrait of Ambroise Vollard (1910)
 by Pablo Picasso
Despite the contributions he had made, his effort was defined as Scylla and Charybdis by Gabriel Mourey who was the French correspondent of The Studio Magazine in Paris. Scylla and Charybdis is an idiom derived from Greek Mythology which steers one to select lesser evil one of two. On June 24th in 1901, Pablo Picasso finally obtained his first major exhibition, which was hosted by Ambroise Vollard in his Vollard Gallery at Rue Laffitte, Paris. Thus, Vollard paved the way for Picasso to rise, except his countless contributes to the world of art. The correlation between the dates of The Blue Room painted and Picasso’s first exhibition, supports the identification of this mystery man in Picasso’s painting when considered his deep respect to Vollard. But, poverty times concerning the Blue Period of Picasso, must have made him reuse this canvas to create The Blue Room. Nearly 9 years later, Pablo Picasso created the Portrait of Ambroise Vollard to show his reverence in 1910.

The Blue Room Technical Analysis

Pablo Picasso's monochromatic color palette that he used during crating the Blue Room painting in his Blue Period, 1901.
Picasso's Color Palette for The Blue Room
In terms of art movements and color palette choice, Pablo Picasso’s unique art style makes him one of the greatest artists of all time, not only 20th Century. Typically, all of his famous monochromatic paintings were created with his blue color palette during Blue Period (1901-1904). Pablo Picasso focused on natural beauty of a woman bathing in a tub in The Blue Room. His brushstrokes brought out a slightly blurred image, however it was on purpose to reveal the emotional nature of her. Some vivid colors are used conditionally to create a contrast with his color palette of blue. Limited usage of these vivid colors can be observed in blonde hair of the woman and Lautrec’s poster May Milton priorly. A vase of flowers on a small round table, blanket on the bed, carpet on the floor and the painting on the wall, are some other items that enrich the depiction by including brilliant colors. Pablo Picasso kept and utilized cadmium yellow, chrome yellow, vermilion red and viridian green except his color palette for blue. Vermilion is red orange color while viridian is a mix of green and blue. Chrome and cadmium yellows are simply darker tones of the lemon yellow. The rest of the painting was colored by different hues of blue, which Picasso availed himself of Prussian blue (Paris blue) to obtain.

Pablo Picasso's most famous war criticism painting Guernica, 1937. It is assumed as icon for anti war behaviours.
Guernica (1937) by Pablo Picasso
While Pablo Picasso chose blue tones as his depression color, the subjects that contain rich colors, typically symbolizes beauty or hope like in the other paintings of Blue Period Picasso created. Symbolism was Picasso’s method to pass his emotional breakdown and hope to the observer, however the art movement Symbolism found its place in latter periods of Picasso and the art movements, which he contributed to. Probably the most famous Picasso painting, Guernica was a clear cubist painting, yet it is having the features of symbolist movement highly. In respect to the qualities of depicted objects and focusing on the emotion transition rather than realism in art, The Blue Room is classified as a symbolist and post impressionist artwork of Pablo Picasso.

Hidden Images in Picasso Paintings

Pablo Picasso's Woman Ironing painting created in 1904 and its renovated X ray image with x ray fluorescence spectroscopy.
Woman Ironing (1904) by Pablo Picasso - Left
Renovated X ray Image - Right
Hidden images in Picasso Paintings are not unpredictable issues for art experts from the beginning. It is known that poverty times of Picasso concerning his Blue Period, nudged him to reuse the old canvases which were already sketched. Because of he could not afford a new canvas, sometimes he also used cardboards to paint. Through the help of X ray vision, Cleveland Museum of Art reported that canvas of another blue period painting La Vie (1903), is also reused by Pablo Picasso. While “la vie” means “the life” in French, the painting has pessimistic characteristics of the Blue Period highly. Moreover, Woman Ironing (1904) at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, probably shared the same fate with The Blue Room by having a moustached man sketch beneath it, which refers to Ambroise Vollard presumably.

Pablo Picasso's The Old Guitarist painting created in 1903 and its X ray image via x ray fluorescence spectroscopy.
The Old Guitarist (1903-1904) by Pablo Picasso
Indeed, during his Blue Period, Picasso did not tend to paint well dressed people from high society like Ambroise Vollard. Picasso used to be in touch with poor street musicians, gypsies, beggars and immoral people for the period. All of these people that Picasso tended to paint, were lower class of society. The Old Guitarist is one of them by depicting a poor blind man as a street musician who tries to survive. X ray image of The Old Guitarist uncovers another hidden painting that Picasso reworked on. Presence of a woman nursing her child and the existence of an animal, which probably is a cow, coincides Picasso’s purpose which was to depict the hope to live via ordinary or lower class people.

Young Pablo Picasso's monochromatic Self-Portrait, painted in 1901 in early stages of his Blue Period with mainly blue tones.
Pablo Picasso Self-Portrait (1901)
Similar motivation can be observed in The Soup (1902-03) which belongs to the Art Gallery of Ontario in Canada since 1983. Mother and Child by the Sea (1902) at Pola Museum of Art in Japan, is another genre painting Picasso created and having a hidden image beneath its surface just like others. In addition to the blue period characteristics of these masterpieces such as contorted human figure drawings, blue backgrounds and barely usage of bright colors, they all have old drawings under their surfaces which tend to reveal their secrets by a scientific process including infrared imagery. Picasso’s Self-Portrait (1901), which also belongs to the Blue Period of Pablo Picasso, is an expressionist painting and exhibited at Picasso Museum in Paris, France. Contrary to other mentions above, Self-Portrait of Pablo Picasso has not been studied yet. By a scientific process included X ray cameras, the portrait might be illuminated over a collaborative work of museums and collages in terms of art conservation and protection of cultural heritage.

The Blue Room in Seoul South Korea Exhibition

Daejeon Museum of Art in Seoul of South Korea, where Pablo Picasso's monochromatic The Blue Room painting was exhibited once.
Daejeon Museum of Art, Seoul South Korea
The Blue Room was one of the outstanding paintings as a part of a tour to the capital of South Korea Seoul. The painting was exhibited at the Daejeon Museum of Art in 2015, just one year after the discovery of hidden image beneath the painting, revealed by Phillips Collection and Cornell University within a study group including National Gallery of Art and Winterthur Museum in 2014. The curators from the Phillips Collection, where is home to the painting since 1927, had arranged an exhibition around The Blue Room in remembrance of Pablo Picasso in 2017. Both painting and hidden portrait beneath it, had been selected as central parts of the exhibition.

The Blue Room Value and Sizes

Pablo Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust painting created in 1932, in the artist's Cubist Period.
Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932)
 by Pablo Picasso
The Blue Room (1901) has the exact dimensions of 50.4825 x 61.595 cm (19.875 x 24.25 in.) according to The Phillips Collection. The Blue Room is accepted as priceless like other Blue Period paintings Picasso created. The exact values of these paintings, which were acquired by famous museums and collections, are generally unpredictable unless the owners tend to sell them in an auction. A best guess can be derived about The Blue Room from other Picasso Paintings, which have been already sold. Picasso’s Rose Period painting, Boy with a Pipe (1905) is sold for $104.2 million in 2004. This was the record prize for a Picasso Painting sold ever until Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932) is sold in 2010. Artist's cubist painting, which depicts the Picasso's lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, found its buyer in Christie's auction and brought $106.5 million to its former owners Los Angeles art collectors Sidney and Frances Brody.

Pablo Picasso's Women of Algiers, created in 1955. Version 'O', sold for 179.3 million dollars as most expensive painting.
Women of Algiers (1955) by Pablo Picasso
In 2013, a triptych named Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) by Francis Bacon beat the record by being most expensive painting ever sold in an auction when inflation is not considered. Although the triptych costed $142.4 million as a world record, one of the Picasso’s later cubist works Women of Algiers (1955, Version 'O') bests the record prize in 2015 and sold for $179.3 million dollars. However, biddings coming from art collectors in this kind of auctions held for special artworks, are not likely predictable, best guess about the prize of The Blue Room is that the painting should cost more than $100 million due to its separative features like being the first Picasso work exhibited and having older sketches beneath its surface.

The Blue Room by Pablo Picasso The Blue Room by Pablo Picasso Reviewed by Articonog on March 26, 2020 Rating: 5


  1. Thank you for this informative and fascinating article.

  2. This was incredibly helpful. Thank you so much!


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