It is a fascinating piece of art which was created during Picasso's Blue Period.

Picasso was still a struggling artist trying to gain financial success but La Vie sold within a month to a French art dealer named Jean Saint Gaudens.

La Vie has been studied by many art experts and has also undergone X-ray treatment so there are a few clues to its meaning and of course, more than one interpretation or explanation.

What is certain about the painting is that it was painted on top of an existing image titled "Last Moments" (1898) which was inspired by the death of Picasso's sister from diphtheria.

The X rays also show that the male figure was a originally a self-portrait. Picasso clearly changed his mind and repainted the male figure as his friend Carlos Casagemas.

La Vie is composed of 4 main elements and executed in shades of blue - a colour traditionally associated with sadness but also used by Brueghel in the 16th as a colour to depict foolishness. On the left, a naked couple embrace, the male figure (Casegamas) wears a loin cloth.

There is no eye contact with the mother figure who holds a child on the right of the picture, yet a strange hand gesture in the centre of the painting points in their direction.

The two main pairs of figures appear to be in a studio as two paintings rest against the wall in the background. The bottom picture shows a sad, crouching figure which has been likened to one of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings titled "Sorrow". The other image shows two naked figures embracing.

Knowing that the male figure is Picasso's late friend and fellow artist Carlos Casegamas gives the painting some meaning and explains the sorrowful tone of the piece. Casegamas committed suicide in 1901.

It was a shocking and tragic event and clearly effected Picasso who also painted "Death of Casagemas" and "Burial of Casagemas" in 1901.

Picasso and Casagemas had been close friends and fellow artists who had travelled to Paris together as young men. Casegemas had fallen in love with Germaine Pichot, an artist's model but his love was unrequited, perhaps due to his impotence.

On February 17th 1901 Casagemas was dining with Germaine and friends in L'Hippodrome Café when he stood and attempted to shoot Germaine in the head. He then turned the revolver and shot himself in the right temple.

Understanding the sorrow and tragedy around Casagemas's suicide, it is possible that the figure he holds is Germaine, his impotence is hinted at by the loin cloth and he points to the mother and child that will never exist.

However, the hand gesture in the centre of the painting has also provided another interpretation for the painting. The gesture is said have been taken from the 1525 painting by Antonio da Corregio titled "Noli Me Tangere".

Some writers suggest that this painting refers more to Picasso's own thoughts on life, his mother and his first audience. It could also indicate his role as a Messiah of a new art.

Whatever thoughts and interpretations are made about this piece now, it is clear Picasso never intended discussion about its meaning. For Picasso, it was a deep and melancholic piece which he was painted during a particularly painful time during his own life.

La Vie which means "Life" was gifted to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1945.