"Two Women at a Bar" by Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso, "Two Women at a Bar," Barcelona, 1902, Oil on canvas, 31 ½ x 36 in., Hiroshima Museum of Art, Japan, © 2022 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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When you think of Pablo Picasso, you probably think of cubism—the artistic movement consisting of sharp lines and abstract figures that the Spanish painter pioneered. That’s not what you’ll find in Picasso: Painting the Blue Period, on display now at the Phillips Collection. Instead, this exhibit takes you through the teenaged Picasso’s penniless first years as a struggling painter, and his own early indebtedness to Parisian masters—especially Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Focused on the years 1901 to 1904, we also see pictures and portraits of the artist as a young man, as his style evolves, and he begins to flirt with the palettes, shapes, and perspectives we associate with the better-known works of the mature Picasso. Moving between his native Barcelona and his adopted home of Paris, Picasso followed the old masters, but he also turned a sharp eye to society’s ills, elevating imprisoned women to the status of the Madonna; sympathetically portraying the impoverished, the incarcerated, the drug-addicted, the forgotten. With his signature strokes, he offers charity and compassion where there is none. Throughout the exhibit, there are immersive opportunities: large scale photographs of Picasso’s studio space line the walls, offering an entry into his working space, and in a series of fascinating curatorial videos, you get a window into his process. The layers of his works are stripped away to reveal repurposed paintings and different compositions beneath the finished exteriors. The Blue Period denotes both Picasso’s chosen hue and his outlook, but the exhibit looks ahead to his emerging Rose Period—warmer in color, but still haunted by and evolving from his boyish epoch. Picasso: Painting the Blue Period is on display through June 12 at Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. phillipscollection.org. $16. Masks required.