Currently part of the collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art, http://www.clemusart.com/ has this to say about La Vie:
"In 1901, depressed over the suicide of a close friend, Picasso launched into the austere, melancholic paintings of his Blue Period (1901-1904). Only twenty-two years old and desperately poor, he restricted his palette to predominately cold colors suggestive of night, mystery, dreams, and death. His growing obsession with themes of human misery and social alienation reached its climax with La Vie (Life). The subject has been interpreted as an allegory of sacred and profane love, a reference to the cycle of life, and a symbolic representation of the life led by the modern artist.
X-radiographsof the underlayers of La Vie indicate that Picasso continued to depict himself as the artist in the painting's early stages. Before completing the composition, he repainted the standing man, replacing his facial features with those of Carles Casagemas, a close friend who had committed suicide in 1901.
X-radiographs also reveal that the seated woman in the lower center was painted over a strange scene in which a "birdman"-a human body attached to the head and wings of a bird-flies over a naked woman reclining on the ground. The meaning of this scene remains the subject of considerable speculation and debate.
Picasso's preparatory sketches for La Vie indicate that his original intention was to depict himself standing between a naked woman (his model or lover) and a canvas resting on an easel. Some sketches also include another artist who enters the studio at the far right. Picasso later replaced that man with the robed woman holding a baby. In other preparatory sketches, the naked woman beside the artist appears pregnant."
I couldn't have said it any better myself.