First Steps Artist: Pablo Picasso (Spanish, active France, 1881–1973)

May 21, 1943; revised summer 1943

Modern and Contemporary Art

On view, 3rd floor, Modern and Contemporary Art and Design

Pablo Picasso painted First Steps in 1943, at the height of World War II and the German occupation of Paris. Commentators have frequently suggested that the war was a thematic subtext to the painting's portrayal of the determined but uncertain first steps of a child, and its evocation of hope in the face of precarious circumstances.

Technical study of First Steps illuminates the evolution of the composition. Early in his career, Picasso re-used canvases for economic reasons. This practical habit evolved into a system. He frequently relied on his ability to easily amend compositions, using early some elements and discarding others. Diagonal brushstrokes that were eliminated in the final work are visible in raking light. The x-ray confirms changes that suggest the child might have once been standing in front of or seated on a large chair. The diagonals have partially evolved into the child's jumper and the point where the mother's and child's hands meet. The pronounced density of paint handling in the child's face is also notable. In the x-ray, an earlier, angular head and eyes are visible as are a different hair style and mouth suggesting a portrait of a woman resembling contemporaneous paintings of Picasso's lover Dora Maar.  


Oil on canvas


51 1/4 × 38 1/4 in. (130.2 × 97.1 cm)
framed: 66 5/8 × 53 5/8 × 4 1/2 in. (169.2 × 136.2 × 11.4 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of Stephen Carlton Clark, B.A. 1903

Accession Number



20th century


Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of records is ongoing.



The artis, Paris; sold to Samuel M. Kootz Gallery, New York, December 1947 [see note 1]; sold to Stephen Carlton Clark (1882–1960), New York, 1948; given to the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., 1958

Note 1: Letter from Samuel M. Kootz, New York, to the Gallery, April 23, 1964, copy in accession file
  • Pamela Franks, Jessica Sack, and John Walsh, "Looking to Learn, Learning to Teach," in "Teaching with Art," special issue, Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2013), 41, fig. 3
  • Susan Greenberg Fisher et al., Picasso and the Allure of Language, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2009), 90, 149–61, 186, no. 19, ill
  • Traute M. Marshall, Art Museums Plus: Cultural Excursions in New England (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2008),
  • Michael Conforti et al., The Clark Brothers Collect: Impressionist and Early Modern Paintings, exh. cat. (Williamstown, Mass.: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2006), 177, 180, 188, 316, 340, fig. 147
  • Susan B. Matheson, Art for Yale: A History of the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2001), 175, ill
  • Robert Rosenblum, Picasso and the War Years, 1937–1945, ed. Steven A. Nash, exh. cat. (San Francisco: de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1998), 35, 86, 95, 187, ill
  • Jean Sutherland Boggs, Picasso and Things, exh. cat. (Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1992), 358, ill
  • John Charlot, "The Source of Picasso's "First Steps:" Jean Charlot's "First Steps"," Kunstgeschichte (1992), 275–78
  • Marie-Laure Bernadac, Picasso Museum, Paris: The Masterpieces (Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1991), 158
  • Paul Schimmel and Judith E. Stein, eds., The Figurative Fifties: New York Figurative Expressionism, exh. cat. (Newport Beach, Calif.: Newport Harbor Art Museum, 1988),
  • Pierre Daix, Picasso: Life and Art (New York: Harper-Collins, 1987), 271
  • Milton Esterow, "David Hockney's 'Different Ways of Looking'," Artnews (January 1983), 52
  • Mary Mathews Gedo, Picasso: Art as Autobiography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980),
  • Jane Fluegel, Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective, ed. William Rubin, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1980),
  • "Picasso Exhibition at Acquavella Galleries," The Connoisseur (1975), 312–13, ill
  • Katherine Neilson and Andrew Carnduff Ritchie, Selected Paintings and Sculpture from the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972), no. 113, ill
  • Francoise Forster-Hahn, French and School of Paris Paintings in the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1968), 21-2, ill
  • Pablo Picasso, exh. cat. (Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1967),
  • Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, 13 (Paris: Éditions Cahiers d'Art, 1962), no. 36, fig. 17
  • Sir Roland Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, 2 (New York: Schocken Books, 1962), 307, fig. 21
  • "Yale Exhibits Clark Bequest," Art Journal 21 (1961–62), 61
  • "Exhibitions," College Art Journal 19 (1959), 355, ill
  • "Recent Gifts and Purchases," Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 25, no. 1 (April 1959), 36–37, ill
  • "Accessions of American and Canadian Museums," Art Quarterly 21 (1958), 229, ill
  • Antonina Vallentin, Pablo Picasso (Paris: A. Michel, 1957), 353
  • Jaime Sabartés, Picasso: documents, iconographiques (Geneva: P. Cailler, 1954), fig. 144
  • Robert M. Coates, "The Art Galleries," New Yorker (February 7, 1948), 62–63
  • Juan Merli, Picasso: El artista y la obra de nuestro tiempo, 2 (Buenos Aires: El Ateneo, 1948), fig. 36
  • Harriet Janis and Sidney Janis, Picasso, The Recent Years: 1939–1946 (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1946), 105, fig. 3
  • Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Picasso: Fifty Years of His Art (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1946), 232–33, 246, ill
  • Cahiers d'Art 15–19 (1944), ill
Object copyright
Additional information

Object/Work type

abstract (general art genre), figures (representations)


Upper right corner "Picasso"

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