Vievee Francis

Picasso: Painting the Blue Period at The Phillips Collection

Wednesday, April 27, 2022, 7:30 pm
Virtual Reading with a moderated conversation to follow. | 7:30pm-9pm Eastern Time
$5-$30 ($15 suggested price)

In response to The Phillips Collection exhibition Picasso: Painting the Blue Period, poet Vievee Francis communes with these pivotal works of art in this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition. 

This reading will be followed by a moderated conversation where audience members can also ask their own questions.


About the Exhibition

After training in Barcelona and Madrid, Pablo Picasso worked in Paris in late 1900, where he attended the World Exhibition and was inspired by Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. During another Paris stay in 1901, Picasso captured the nighttime pleasures of Montmartre in paintings that were shown in his first solo exhibition at Vollard Gallery. The Blue Room was painted shortly thereafter. It is considered one of the earliest examples from Picasso’s Blue Period (1901–04), during which he concentrated on the pathos of the human figure in compositions colored by shades of blue. The work of Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec exerted a strong influence on this picture. Picasso’s studio on the boulevard de Clichy provided the setting for this scene of a nude bending over in the tub. Toulouse-Lautrec’s poster May Milton (1895) hangs on the wall as an homage; the artist had passed away in September 1901, shortly before Picasso created this work. Recent infrared reflectography indicates that this work was painted on top of an earlier portrait of a man. Reusing canvases was a common practice for Picasso at the time, since he was quite poor.

The Blue Room was the first work by Picasso to enter the collection. Duncan Phillips preferred Picasso’s early work because of its color and emotional resonance and expressed regret that Picasso did not paint for a longer period in this rich style.


Given to Rust
Vievee Francis

Every time I open my mouth my teeth reveal
more than I mean to. I can’t stop tonguing them, my teeth.
Almost giddy to know they’re still there (my mother lost hers)
but I am embarrassed nonetheless that even they aren’t
pretty. Still, I did once like my voice, the way it moved
through the gap in my teeth like birdsong in the morning,
like the slow swirl of a creek at dusk. Just yesterday
a woman closed her eyes as I read aloud, and
said she wanted to sleep in the sound of it, my voice.
I can still sing some. Early cancer didn’t stop the compulsion
to sing but
there’s gravel now. An undercurrent
that also reveals me. Time and disaster. A heavy landslide
down the mountain. When you stopped speaking to me
what you really wanted was for me to stop speaking to you. To
stifle the sound of my voice. I know.
Didn’t want the quicksilver of it in your ear.
What does it mean
to silence another? It means I ruminate on the hit
of rain against the tin roof of childhood, how I could listen
all day until the water rusted its way in. And there I was
putting a pan over here and a pot over there to catch it.

Copyright © 2017 by Vievee Francis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 17, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Picasso Blue Room.jpg

Pablo Picasso, The Blue Room, 1901. Oil on canvas, 19 7/8 x 24 1/4 in., The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Acquired 1927.



This reading is co-sponsored with The Phillips Collection

Founded by art collector and philanthropist Duncan Phillips in 1921, The Phillips Collection has been collecting groundbreaking works of modern and contemporary art for one hundred years. Duncan Phillips’s former home—and modern additions to it—in Washington’s historic Dupont Circle neighborhood provides a unique setting for the collection’s nearly 6,000 works. Following Phillips’s unconventional approach to exhibitions, The Phillips Collection galleries are frequently rearranged to facilitate new conversations between artworks and fresh experiences for visitors.


The O.B. Hardison Poetry Series is pleased to partner with East City Bookshop, an independently run, women owned bookstore on Capitol Hill. Pickup is available at the shop, or they ship (almost) anywhere! Check their website,

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