Family of Saltimbanques (La Famille de Saltimbanques) by Pablo Picasso (1905)

The painting “Family of Saltimbanques” by Pablo Picasso belongs to the so-called Picasso’s “pink period” which replaced the sad and dark “blue period”. It also can sometimes be called “circus” as the main heroes of most of the paintings are wandering and roving artists. Circus actors at the time were regarded as the representatives of the lower class, a sort of underdogs of the society, but they were, nevertheless, free and independent.

Family of Saltimbanques by Pablo Picasso (1905)
  Family of Saltimbanques by Pablo Picasso (1905)           Check out the reproductions & prints here

The Prerequisite For The Family Of     Saltimbanques

It was this romanticized freedom that lured the avant-garde artists, who were looking forward to “throwing off” the shackles of an academic genre and following their imagination, despite the criticism and conservative society. So, as you can see, at that time the portrayal of circus performers was simply popular. That’s why Picasso also couldn’t leave it unnoticed.

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The next conjecture would be the fact that during some period of time, Picasso lived in a Parisian dormitory where he was surrounded by friends who enjoyed the circus. In addition to that, the master liked to visit “Medrano” circus in Montmartre, Paris, from where he, supposedly, drew his inspiration. There is an assumption that all the characters of the painting really existed, and they are not the fruit of the author’s imagination.

The Analysis Of The Picasso’s Circus Family

The author placed the figures of comedians in the deserted landscape, devoid of vegetation. The blue sky in the background is covered with clouds. All 6 characters of the canvas psychologically alienated from each other – they do not communicate with each other, their views do not intersect, but nevertheless, they look harmoniously and united.

There is something common in their faces, eyes, and figures. Collective isolation conveys the sadness of the characters. The dominant color indicates the optimistic beginning, rather than the pessimistic ending. The brushwork, color shades give a feeling of melancholy. The heroes of the artwork are in a thoughtful, depressed mood. It conveys the emptiness of being and the state of unexpected waiting.

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The plot of the painting is also extremely sorrowful. It seems that this rather big family is going to move somewhere once again, but everyone is waiting for a pale-faced woman who is sitting closer to the viewer, looking sadly into the distance, and for some reason, not in a hurry to leave this place.

We can also suppose that the painting shows the parting of close friends. The nature of their activity can be traced through the clothes, however, the relationship to the creative environment also demonstrate their feet – they are in specific dance positions.

Harlequin with a scarf around his neck sadly looks at the plump man that stands opposite him. Most likely, the scarf symbolizes a restriction. Probably, the actor is within some limits that oppress him. His checked costume which used to entertain the audience so often, on the contrary, makes the image dull.

The girl sadly looks at her feet. It seems that it’s hard for her to experience these moments. The black wings darken her image and sort of limit freedom. Perhaps, a very high price was paid for it.

The figures of young acrobats are slightly turned to the side. They look at the beautiful lady, kind of detached from the parting. A stout man in the red suit and a fool’s cap is most likely the head of the clan. His figure symbolizes success and satisfaction with life. He talks to the Harlequin. The circus actors froze as if waiting for some command or order to move on.

Family of Saltimbanques (Sketch)
                   The Family of Saltimbanques (Sketch)

As for the technical side of the painting, the author worked here in the usual for the “rose period” coloring – warm, ocherous, golden, silver and pink range of colors. Picasso paid much greater attention to the composition – recent X-ray studies have shown that the master was rewriting the arrangement of figures on the canvas several times until the desired result was achieved.

 The Meaning Of The Picasso’s Painting

There is a guess that the painting “Family of Saltimbanques” tells about the personal feelings and the experience of the artist. Thus, Pablo Picasso shows his attitude towards art in general. He painted himself in the image of the sad harlequin with a girl by the hand who symbolizes his muse. He turns around, says goodbye and walks away from the self-sufficient and contented life. The scarf around his neck squeezes his throat and limits the will.

He doesn’t need this material well-being, prosperity, and beautiful women anymore. He wants to live for the sake of art, by his own rules. The artist does not want the audience, success and the money from sold works. These bounds are limiting his freedom. It’s unbearable for the creator.

Of course, it is very sad to say goodbye to all, but the artist just can’t do it another way. This picture conveys an uneasy inner world of an artist. Most of the works of Picasso’s “rose period” are permeated with the spirit of the tragic loneliness and deprivation. Like many other Picasso’s works, the “Family of Saltimbanques” (Circus Family) is currently located in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.


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