Pierre Daix has confirmed the authencity of this drawing.
The subject of the young mother seen in profile, clad in a threadbare robe and cradling a newborn infant in her arms as she takes heavy and dejected steps, is a quintessential image of Picasso's Blue period, and perhaps the most poignant of all. Picasso based her figure on inmates he encountered during visits in the late summer or early fall of 1901 to the women's penal institution at Saint-Lazare in Paris. He was drawn to their scenes of misery, as well as to the availability of free models. Most the inmates were prostitutes, some of whom would time their arrests so that they could give birth within the relative security of the institution's walls. Nursing mothers were permitted to keep their infants with them.
The mother's pose is first seen, without a child, in the right-hand figure in Deux soeurs (L'entrevue), painted in Barcelona, 1902 (Zervos, vol. 1, no. 163; coll. Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg) and there is a related drawing (Zervos, vol. 21, no. 369). Holding an infant and with head raised she appears in Mère et enfant sur la plage, painted in Barcelona, 1902 (Zervos, vol. 6, no. 478). Leaning forward and offering a bowl of soup to a child she is seen in La soupe, painted in Barcelona, 1903 (Zervos, vol. 1, no. 131). She makes another appearance in the blue wash drawing Les miserables, done in Barcelona, 1903 (Zervos, vol. 22, no. 61). In 1903 Picasso borrowed this pose for a nude study of a defeated Amazon warrior (Zervos, vol. 6, no. 525). There is close-up study of the woman's head (Zervos, vol. 6, no. 546), and in another drawing she is seen nude, carrying her infant on one arm and a pail of water in the other (Zervos, vol. 6, no. 577), both from 1903. Picasso returned to the subject of impoverished maternity at the beginning of 1905 during his early Rose period, with the young mother recast as a saltimbanque.