To Love and to Cherish
A clear blue sky smiles through the window, but the two young people standing before it are in an earnest mood. The young man has put his arm around the girl’s shoulder. In his gesture and in the expression of his face we can read the promise of the marriage ceremony: “To have and to hold, to love and to cherish.” His face also asks a question, and we can read the answer in the girl’s expression. It says “I do.” And her dreamy eyes tell us that it will be “for better or for worse until death us do part.”
He holds out his hand to her and she puts her hand into his, to seal their promises to each other.
He is firm and forceful in his gay red clothes. She is soft and feminine in her garments of gentler white and yellow. Her veil is like a bridal veil. But it is not white; it is a soft mossy green. Picasso made it green because he wanted it to symbolize life, and green is the color of life in nature. It is the color of fields and forests when they come to life under a spring or summer sky of tender blue. It is this kind of blue sky that frames the girl in the green veil.
The green of her veil and the red of the young man’s garment form a color harmony in this painting by the great Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. You may remember that there was this same harmony of red and green in the marriage picture of the Arnolfini couple by Jan van Eyck painted five hundred years earlier.
Though the two pictures tell a similar story of a promise of love, they are amazingly different. In van Eyck’s picture we see every detail as precisely as we would in a photograph. Picasso does not show us details, not even the shape of the room or the materials in the garments. The young couple’s hands and arms are drawn with outlines alone, and only a few lines and mere touches of color form the faces.
But the gestures of the coarsely drawn arms and hands are full of gentle expression. In the lightly painted features we can sense the young man’s question and the young woman’s answer. We feel close to these young people.
In Picasso’s painting there are no details to be examined for meaning as there are in Jan van Eyck’s picture. We must understand Picasso’s painting with our hearts.
No sunlight streams through this window as it does in the Arnolfini’s room. Yet Picasso put a tender light around his young couple. The purple-pink drapery is suggested rather than portrayed. But the lovely soft color completes the picture with a gay sweet note.
The young couple’s Grecian profiles remind us of ancient Greek art. So do the simple outlines of their figures and their marble-smooth colorless faces.
Picasso used that style as a sort of quotation, as we do when we reach for the words of a poet to express something important. Picasso’s artistic “quotations” plus his mastery of simple lines made it possible for him to tell us important things.
His genius was already recognized when he was in his teens. His endless study and experimentation made him the greatest master of our time.