Modern and Contemporary Art
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
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Artist: Pablo Picasso, Spanish, active France, 1881–1973

First Steps

May 21, 1943; revised summer 1943

Oil on canvas

130.2 × 97.1 cm (51 1/4 × 38 1/4 in.)
framed: 169.2 × 136.2 × 11.4 cm (66 5/8 × 53 5/8 × 4 1/2 in.)
Gift of Stephen Carlton Clark, B.A. 1903

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.  

Made in Paris, France
On view
20th century

Samuel M. Kootz Gallery, New York (bought from the artist in 1947); Stephen C. Clark, New York (bought in 1948). (Provenance according to Kootz, letter, New York, April 23, 1964).


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 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.

Cahiers d’Art 15–19 (1944): ill.

Harriet Janis and Sidney Janis, Picasso, The Recent Years: 1939–1946 (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1946), 105, fig. 3.

Antonina Vallentin, Pablo Picasso (Paris: A. Michel, 1957), 353.

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.

Katherine Neilson and Andrew Carnduff Ritchie, Selected Paintings and Sculpture from the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972), fig. 113.

“Recent Gifts and Purchases,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 25, no. 1 (April 1959): 36–37, ill.

Jaime Sabartés, Picasso: documents, iconographiques (Geneva: P. Cailler, 1954), fig. 144.

Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Picasso: Fifty Years of His Art (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1946), 232–33, 246, ill.

“Accessions of American and Canadian Museums,” Art Quarterly 21 (1958): 229, ill.

Juan Merli, Picasso: El artista y la obra de nuestro tiempo, 2 (Buenos Aires: El Ateneo, 1948), fig. 36.

Sir Roland Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, 2 (New York: Schocken Books, 1962), 307, fig. 21.

“Exhibitions,” College Art Journal 19 (1959): 355, ill.

Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, 13 (Paris: Éditions Cahiers d’Art, 1962), no. 36, fig. 17.

Pablo Picasso, exh. cat. (Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1967).

Jane Fluegel, Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective, ed. William Rubin, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1980).

Mary Mathews Gedo, Picasso: Art as Autobiography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).

Paul Schimmel and Judith E. Stein, eds., The Figurative Fifties: New York Figurative Expressionism, exh. cat. (Newport Beach, Calif.: Newport Harbor Art Museum, 1988).

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.

Traute M. Marshall, Art Museums Plus: Cultural Excursions in New England (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2008).

Robert M. Coates, “The Art Galleries,” New Yorker (February 7, 1948): 62–63.

Milton Esterow, “David Hockney’s ‘Different Ways of Looking’,” Artnews (January 1983): 52.

Pierre Daix, Picasso: Life and Art (New York: Harper-Collins, 1987), 271.

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.

“Picasso Exhibition at Acquavella Galleries,” The Connoisseur (1975): 312–13, ill.

Susan B. Matheson, Art for Yale: A History of the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2001), 175, ill.

“Yale Exhibits Clark Bequest,” Art Journal 21 (1961–62): 61.

Jean Sutherland Boggs, Picasso and Things, exh. cat. (Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1992), 358, ill.

Alan Shestack, ed., Yale University Art Gallery: Selections (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983), 84–85, ill.

Pamela Franks, Jessica Sack, and John Walsh, “Looking to Learn, Learning to Teach,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2013): 41, fig. 3.

Alan Shestack, ed., Yale University Art Gallery Selections (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1983).

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 such records is ongoing.