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Picasso’s bodies: representations of modern society?
  1. A Borsay
  1. Correspondence to Professor A Borsay, School of Health Science, Vivian Tower (7th Floor), Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea, SA2 8PP, UK; a.borsay{at}


During the course of a long artistic career, the work of Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) passed through a number of stages. This article concentrates on his representation of the human body prior to the First World War. Three paintings are used to illustrate the transition from social realism to the Blue period and Cubism: Science and Charity (1897); Tragedy (1903); and Seated Nude (1909/10). They are interpreted through the lens of Arthur C Danto's concept of the “art world”, which subsequent theorists have elaborated to capture the historical context as well as the aesthetic form and biographical detail that preoccupied traditional critics. Therefore, the analysis not only embraces colour, perspective and significant events in Picasso's life but also early 20th century politics and ideology, science and medicine. In this way, the synergies that exist between cultural artefacts and the body are demonstrated, and the interdisciplinary understanding of health and healthcare that medical humanities promote is endorsed.

  • art and medicine
  • art history
  • fine art
  • social history

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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