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January Blues. Blue in Art

Yves Klein, Anthropometry of the Blue Period (ANT 82), 1960. Artwork © Yves Klein, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris, 2017

20th century

January Blues. Blue in Art

The January Blues, a well-known mood; festivities have come to an end and the winter is starting to feel gloomy. Therefore, to alleviate the melancholy, here is a trio of famous Blues from 20th-century art history.

The Blue Nudes by Matisse

These lithographs are “cut-outs” by the French artists Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954).

*Blue Nude II* Blue in Art
Henri Matisse, Blue Nude II, 1952, Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA.

The technique of cutting out paper, painting it, and arranging it was used by Matisse after he had surgery and could no longer create art using the regular tools.

Blue in Art
Henri Matisse, Standing Blue Nude, 1952, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.

The cut-outs—in particular the Blue Nudes—are remarkable because they resemble Matisse’s earlier sculptural work.

Image result for La Serpentine, from 1909 Matisse
Henri Matisse, La Serpentine, 1909, Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA.

Much of Matisse’s work is in private collections, and for the first time in 2014-2015 the cut-outs were reunited for an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Picasso’s Blue Period


Between 1901 and 1904 Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) made art that meditates on color. This was a move away from his early work, which is more realist in style.

File:Pablo Picasso, 1901-02, Femme aux Bras Croisés, Woman with Folded Arms (Madchenbildnis), oil on canvas, 81 × 58 cm (32 × 23 in).jpg

Pablo Picasso, 1901-02, Femme aux Bras Croisés (Woman with Folded Arms), Private Collection.

As time went on, Picasso painted with progressively cooler shades. Hence his iconic The Blue Period.

Blue in Art
Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist, 1903 – 1904, The Art Institute of Chicago, USA.

Art from The Blue Period is sombre in color and content, often featuring lonely, isolated, and sad figures. Some people contend this mournful outlook was a result of a close friend’s suicide.

File:Picasso la vie.jpg
Pablo Picasso, La Vie, 1903, Cleveland Museum of Art, USA. Read more about this painting here.

International Klein Blue

In May 1960, Yves Klein (1928 – 1962, French) registered his personal shade of blue. Today, it retains its title and status: “International Klein Blue” (IKB).

Blue in Art
Yves Klein, IKB 191, 1962, private collection.

IKB was made in collaboration with Edouard Adam, who was a Parisian art paint supplier and whose shop is still in business on the Boulevard Edgar-Quinet, Montparnasse!

Yves Klein, Large Blue Anthropometry (ANT 105), ca.1960. Dry pigment and synthetic resin on paper, mounted on canvas, 9 feet 2 1/4 inches x 14 feet 1/2 inch (280 x 428 cm)
Yves Klein, Large Blue Anthropometry (ANT 105) 1960, Guggenheim, New York, USA.

With the creation of IKB, Klein began a period of his career known as – you guessed it – the Blue Period, during which he made over 200 monochrome paintings and sculptures.

Blue in Art
Yves Klein, Venus Bleue (La Vénus d’Alexandrie), 1962/1982, Image from Ketterer Kunst auction, private collection.

Yves Klein, was an important figure in European post-war art, important to the development of performance and minimal art. You can read more about Yves Klein here.

A Final Thought

The artists in this trio are linked in a number of ways: they are seminal artists; they are white; they are European; they are men. Additionally, the trio possess the power to provoke debates about the objectification and dehumanization of women in art. Read about Picasso and his women here, and discover how Klein used women as paint-brushes here.

Isla is a Classicist and lover of learning about art. She recently moved to London, having spent a year in Japan after graduating from the University of Cambridge.

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