The religious subject is a rarity for the artist who became better known for his modernism.
When one thinks of the works of Pablo Picasso, images of impressionistic landscapes and cubist portraits come to mind. Before he became known for his modernist style, his early work was much more realistic.
A great example is “First Communion,” one of his earliest paintings. Here we see the product of a 15-year-old Picasso, who was still studying the masters of yesteryear. Picasso took on this challenging scene at the suggestion of his father, for a major Barcelona exhibit. He modeled his father as the priest, his sister as the girl making her First Communion, and the son of his father’s friend as the altar boy.
The religious subject is a rarity for Picasso, as it was a topic he did not tend to touch upon later in life. The majority of his works on sacred subjects are relegated to his student sketchbooks. Still, although he was not devout, he maintained a healthy reverence for faith even as he matured. According to a website dedicated to the artist, he was asked decades later if he regretted painting this piece, he answered:
“No way, back then it was very important for me.”
It is clear from his attention to detail that the subject was indeed important to the adolescent Picasso. From every fold in the girl’s veil to the barely perceptible textures on the wall behind, each brushstroke brings the sacramental scene to life. One of the most remarkable aspects of the painting is the reverence it conveys through figures that are all drawn in profile.
Sacraments as symbols
PabloPicasso.org explains that the scene bears a symbolic significance to the artist. The First Communion is a pivotal part of a Catholic’s transition from childhood to adulthood in the Church. Similarly, this piece marked a moment of change in Picasso, as he transitioned from a student of art to a genuine artist. This was Picasso’s breakout piece, which would help formulate his position as one of the most influential artists of all time.
The website goes on to write in curation of the artwork:
“Picasso has highlighted this sense of passage by linking the bright white of the young girl’s communion dress to the white of the altar cloth and the candlelight that illuminates the whole scene.”
“First Communion” is considered to be Picasso’s first masterpiece, but he’d reached this level of artistry several years before. Mental Floss notes that when Picasso was just 13 years old his father and artistic coach, Jose Ruiz Blasco, viewed one of his son’s paintings and was taken aback. He then presented Picasso with his own palette and brushes and said he no longer needed them. While he would go on to teach at art schools, Ruiz Blasco never painted another work of his own again.
Visit PabloPicasso.org to learn more about various artworks from the master himself.