It led to Picasso forming the style that would see him become one of the foremost artists of the 20th century. 1904 was the year that saw the start of Picasso’s Rose Period. It followed on from his Blue Period. It was also the year that Picasso made the decision to move permanently to Paris, France. Picasso also met Fernande Olivier that year. She was a French artist and model who was to become both his muse as well as his mistress. During their time together she was able to bring him out of the depression that had plagued him during his Blue Period. She is thought to be the inspiration for many of his works in the years that led up to his use of Cubism. This is particularly the case with their trip to Gosol in Spain in 1906.


Picasso’s works were over the years influenced by people and events in his life. Fernande Olivier was one of those people who influenced his life and work. Another came from the Parisian literary scene. It was a period when he became fascinated with the fairground and circus performers. This came out in his art works in which he showed the performers (saltimbanques) and Harlequins within his art works. His inclusion of them as subjects in his works came from observing them first hand at the Medrano circus and in the streets and outskirts of Paris. There was a travelling community of acrobats, musicians, and clowns that often performed for spectators passing by. Their poor and down and out status, as well as their traditional role as the symbol of the neglected artist, comes through in his paintings.

A major commercial breakthrough also proved to be an influence on Picasso’s work during the Rose Period. It came about when Clovis Savigot, who was a former circus clown, started an art gallery in Paris. As the gallery owner, he began to feature works by Picasso. The reason for this may have been down to Picasso’s use of circus artists in his paintings. It was through Savigot’s gallery that Picasso came into contact with Leo and Gertrude Stein. The Stein’s were to become established collectors of works of art by the likes of Picasso and others.

Notable Works of the Period

During his Rose Period, Picasso produced a number of famous works of art. With his use of a lighter, warmer palette of colours his subjects were more spirited. He became attracted to subjects such as circus performers. Many the ideas for his paintings came from observing the street artists and entertainers at the Cirque Medrano at the base of Montmartre hill in Paris. Here a travelling group of acrobats, musicians, and clowns would entertain onlookers.

Between 1904 and 1906 his works point out how he was able to show off people in a way that gave them real form, dimension and space. In using circus performers as subjects, Picasso often had a tendency to show them at rest. In doing this, the performers were either alone or with other performers. The painting ‘Family of Saltimbanques’ (1905) is one of Picasso’s most famous works from this era. It displays a wandering group of circus performers in a desolate landscape. For some, this works sends a message of collective isolation and sorrow. While you can see them huddled together, there is no interaction between them.

It was during the Rose Period that Picasso’s painted one of his highest selling paintings. This was ‘Boy with a Pipe’ (1905) which sold for $104 million in 2004. The picture is an oil on canvas art work that shows a local boy who often visited Picasso at his studio in Montmartre. The boy in the picture can be seen holding a pipe in his left hand while wearing a garland of flowers. Some of the other notable works produced by Picasso include:

  • Woman in a Chemise (Madeleine) (1904–05)
  • The Actor (1904–1905)
  • Acrobat on a Ball (1905)
  • Lady with a Fan (1905)
  • Two Youths (1905)
  • Harlequin Family (1905)
  • Harlequin's Family With an Ape (1905)
  • Boy with a Dog (1905)
  • Acrobat with Young Harlequin. (1905)
  • Tumblers (Mother and Son) (1905)
  • Nude Boy (1906)
  • Boy Leading a Horse (1905-06)
  • The Girl with a Goat (1906)
  • Composition: The Peasants (1906)

In early 1905 an exhibition of some of Picasso paintings took place at the Galerie Serrurier. The exhibition included paintings like ‘Woman in Shirt’, ’Seated Nude’, and ‘Tumblers (Mother and Child)’. Within his works of the period, what comes through is the beauty and tranquillity of his subjects.

Portrait of Gertrude Stein

One reason for Picasso’s much more cheerful approach during the Rose Period is the warm relationship that he had with Fernande Olivier. Another reason for his much more pleasant approach is his contact with French painting and other artists. It was while in Paris that he was involved with other major figures in the art world at this time. It included the likes of Matisse and Braque but also Gertrude Stein.

It was in 1906 near the end of his Rose Period when Pablo Picasso painted the ‘Portrait of Gertrude Stein’. Like his other portraits, the painting is highly innovative. When you look at the picture, Stein’s feature appear mask-like. It does, however, allow us to see the formidable weight of her presence come through in the picture. The portrait is the first time in which Picasso let the expressive power of form to intrude on a normal appearance. In doing so, it opened up for him a way of attacking the passiveness of appearances. He went on to use this in works like ‘Les Demoiselles d'Avignon’ (1907) as well as his late Cubist work ‘Weeping Woman’ (1937).

Rose Period Models

During the Rose Period, Picasso drew, etched and painted many figures. These included groups of performers, harlequins and jesters. For Picasso, the main subjects of his works during this period were circus types. This came through in his well-known work ‘The Family of Saltimbanques’. While the circus types became regular models for Picasso’s works, they were not the only subjects. His mistress at the time, Fernande Olivier, was also a model for a number of his works of the period. In addition, a number of his Rose Period works also feature children as his models.

Parisian Literary Scene

An effect on Picasso’s work during the Rose Period came from his joining in with literary scene. The literary group were a radical intellectual group that gave rise to the concept of the Self and the rejection of morality. Picasso became friends with members such as Guillaume Apollinaire as well as Max Jacob and André Salmon. Jacob and Salmon were important to Picasso for their work as art critics and avant-garde leaders. Although mainstream art would romanticise the upper and middle classes, Picasso’s works looked at the margins of society. This was a community that also included circus artists and other performers.

Picasso’s Style

When it comes to style, 1904 saw Picasso’s works gain a more romantic quality through his use of warmer colours. With the Rose Period came his use of colours such as pearl grey, ochre, pink and red. Whereas his Blue Period is noted for the sorrow that Picasso was feeling, his Rose Period was much more cheerful. For Picasso, the Rose Period saw the end of his realist figure painting and a move towards a more rational and logical style. His concern became that of form rather than realism. His subjects become anonymous in that they became artistic parts of the person rather than the person themselves.

Picasso’s experiments with style during the Rose Period led to his approach to his works now moving towards his later style of Cubism and abstract art. During his Rose Period, Picasso began to experiment with primitivism. It was pre-Roman Iberian Sculpture that influenced this as evident by his use of a warmer colour palette. His experiments led to his African Period in 1907.

Comparison between the Blue Period and Rose Period

To be able to understand Picasso’s Rose Period, it is useful to consider and compare the move from the Blue Period in to the Rose Period. Picasso is well-known for his journey through a variety of artistic periods as he tried different styles and techniques. The Blue and Rose Periods were different in that his works were driven by the response he had to events and people in his life. Defining Picasso’s Blue Period is the sombre moods and the use of dark colours and blue tones. The era is often described as a period of melancholy that reflected his depression. His paintings incorporated the outcast of society as his models.

Picasso's meeting with Fernande Olivier and her becoming his mistress led to a change in his mood. His pictures became lighter in not just what he painted but also brighter in colour. This was the start of his Rose Period. His subjects of the period were the saltimbanques and other performers that he came in to contact with in Paris. For Picasso’s equals at the time, they did not see any separation between the Blue Period and Rose Period. For them, it was one period. All of this changed to the extent that now there is a view that the two phases are distinct from each other. Rather than there being a clear separation between the two era’s 1904 is seen as being a transition year between the two. His paintings alternated between being Blue or Rose Period works. For example, his painting of ‘The Actor’ is considered to be one that connected the two periods. The reason for this is down to it being said to display qualities of both the Blue and Rose period.

Picasso’s Legacy

It was during Picasso’s Rose Period that he started to become commercially successful. Picasso was someone who did not want to be thought of as a society painter. It was the emerging artistic avant-garde scene gave him an alternative to the mainstream art world. Some say that despite this, Picasso did adjust his style to fit in with the wishes of potential buyers. It shows how Picasso was able to balance artistic with commercial needs.

Regarding Picasso’s legacy, his Blue Period is far more popular with the public. However, his Rose Period has a more historical point of view from an artistic stand point. The Rose Period was an important part of his legacy. He was in a position that meant he could develop a style that would become known as the Picasso style. In doing so, it made him one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.