VIDEO: A Moment in Art History – Picasso’s Family of Saltimbanques – Picasso’s first Masterpiece?

In this Moment in Art History, we’ll talk about Picasso’s early work and the way his Rose Period was influenced by his brightening prospects and a French circus. Some have argued that with its heroic scale and drama, Family of Saltimbanques is the first Piece in which Picasso set out to create a masterpiece. Did he succeed?


Art in the background of this video Plein Air Landscapes by Mark White:

Stylized Landscape by Carolee Clark:

Fused Glass by Sandy Pendleton:

Glass Flower by Ana Maria Botero:

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. Thanks for much for taking the time to do clever little snippets like this !
    It’s quite thrilling to see how the masterworks of artists like Picasso change… not evolve… over time.
    I personally find this really hopeful and inspiring.
    It gives permission, in some grand way, to totally change one’s style as she or he moves in different direction.
    Thanks again.

  2. I would like to follow the Moments in Art History. I am a red dot blog follower and Love this! As far as the painting; I am not well schooled. However, it is peculiar that they are all looking off the canvas in different directions.

  3. There is something quite disturbing about most of Picasso’s works, his life, and his abuse of the women in his life. This one of saltimbanques seems to reflect such loneliness. There are interesting biographies of his life and those of the women in his life, but the “Why” of his life and work seems elusive. My favorite piece of his is Guernica, which can be seen in Madrid. To me it seems to be a work that is less about him, and more about the horrors of a particular war, and all war.

  4. I have heard that Picasso was dyslexic. I can see it when I look at his paintings. When I look at this painting, I find that I don’t like it but I find it very interesting. Even though I don’t like the colors or how the people are painted my eye moves inside the painting in a spiral. Even though I don’t like the painting, I studied the picture for a long time because of the spiral. I respect how the woman blocks my eye from making an escape. I don’t like the painting, but I have written this much about how the painting actually has great movement even when some of the people are looking out of the painting my eye follows the hands. I would say that it is a masterpiece because I dont like it and I have spent this much time admiring the painting.

    1. Dear Heidi,
      That is such an interesting conclusion! My first question was “What makes a masterpiece?” There is extraordinary technical skill, which Picasso achieved by the time he was 15 years old and needed to move on to new territory in his twenties. There is surprising creative imagination, as in a Miro or Julie Taymor’s costuming and choreography for Lion King or Jun Kaneko’s stage and costume designs for the Magic Flute; and there is emotional prowess. Picasso’s Saltimbanque Family has that for sure as you pointed out. Have you seen the wonderful film “Surviving Picasso”? with Anthony Hopkins? .

  5. Thank you for this bit of history and pointing out Picasso’s earlier styles. This period is my favorite period of his. (I don’t love his cubist work like others seem to.)

    I am struck by the textures in this painting. My reaction to the people was not that they were isolated emotionally. I noticed how each person is very self-contained. Almost like they belonged in different paintings. Maybe that is why he used a nondescript background?

    I enjoy your videos. Thanks again!

  6. Thank you for the history…now I am curious about which of his circle are portrayed here! The National Gallery was very important to me at various points in my life and I’d never skip it when I was in Washington. I have always liked the blue period (the Lovers) while respecting more politically charged work like Guernica. Like Goya he had an important message, but it is not pleasant or (I’d imagine) easy to live with.

  7. While Picasso’s work is not my favorite due to our very different sensiblilities but I do appreciate what he did. He did not copy from nature or set out to create “pretty pictures’ but he seemed to strive to capture the underlying character or structure of his subject matter. What I think runs through all his work is a deeper meaning and a bit of mystery. His work may not be pretty but it sure is powerful.

    It is interesting that you picked this painting, I like this period too due to his use of color and the disconnect of the people from the background. These paintings seem to clearly state that they are not about the surface appearances but the underlying nature of his subject matter.

  8. I enjoyed your short talk about Picasso and his painting from the Rose Period.
    I would enjoy seeing more of these short clips as we all forget parts of art history and relish snippets in a new outlook. Thank you.

  9. Wow, I just read all the comments. So sophisticated and knowledgeable.
    Well, here is my not so sophisticated comment.
    Picasso is showing a family, a circus family, but not related. It has a loneliness feel. Nothing to connect the pieces, the characters. Nothing in the future, therefore the empty background.
    That is what throws them together. Strangers in the need of family tights. That’s why, to me, it’s a masterpiece. He was able to paint the emotions. Although I love I, would not hang it in my house. The emotions are too overwhelming.

  10. I read this as a group of lonely individuals who are caught in their roles–through marriage or birth–with little hope of change. They are in a desert-land of well-rehearsed motions for the mindless entertainment of others. Their individuality is ignored in lieu of the roles they are expected to play. The only physical connection shown among them is between the little girl and the man to her left, who are holding hands. But their faces are turned from each other, as though they aren’t connecting emotionally at all, but only by obligation. The man in red–grandfather, perhaps?–appears to be something of a demanding despot, from whom the others turn away, as though seeking something out of the picture and hopelessly far out of reach. This composition is magnificent in its ability to portray a story that demands our emotional response. In that respect it is definitely a masterpiece. The painting is interestingly composed to suggest the relationships and commitments among the subjects, with the woman in the lower right seeming to distance herself from those united in “the cause.” The costume colors may also contribute to our sense of unity or separation–reds representing commitment to the circus, blues suggesting a longing for other things. The colorless costume of the boy in the middle would indicate that he is there only by obligation but with no dream for another alternative. The deeper I delve into it, the more I see. But whether this painting is among the artist’s “best” work is debatable. Brushwork is iffy (Is the halo around the head of the boy in blue intentional, for instance?) So whether it is a masterpiece or not depends largely on one’s definition of what a “masterpiece” is.

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