The Spanish painter, sculptor, and graphic artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was one of the most prodigious and revolutionarys artists in the history of Western painting. As the central figure in developing cubism, he established the basis for abstract art.
Pablo Picasso was born Pablo Blasco on Oct. 25, 1881, in Malaga, Spain, where his father, José Ruiz Blasco, was a professor in the School of Arts and Crafts. Pablo's mother was Maria Picasso and the artist used her surname from about 1901 on. In 1891 the family moved to La Coru?a, where, at the age of 14, Picasso began studying at the School of Fine Art. Under the academic instruction of his father, he developed his artistic talent at an extraordinary rate.
When the family moved to Barcelona in 1896, Picasso easily gained entrance to the School of Fine Arts. A year later he was admitted as an advanced student at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid; he demonstrated his remarkable ability by completing in one day an entrance examination for which an entire month was permitted.
But Picasso found the atmosphere at the academy stifling, and he soon returned to Barcelona, where he began to study historical and contemporary art on his own. At that time Barcelona was the most vital cultural center in Spain, and Picasso quickly joined the group of poets, painters, and writers who gathered at the famous café Quatre Gats.
In 1900 Picasso made his first visit to Paris, staying for three months. In 1901 he made a second trip to Paris, and Ambroise Vollard gave him his first one-man exhibition. Although the show was not financially successful, it did arouse the interest of the writer Max Jacob, who subsequently became one of Picasso's closest friends and supporters. For the next three years Picasso stayed alternately in Paris and Barcelona.
At the turn of the century Paris was the center of the international art world. In painting it had spawned such masters as Georges Seurat, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Vincent Van Gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Each of these artists practiced advanced, radical styles. In spite of obvious stylistic differences, their common denominator lay in testing the limits of traditional representation. While their works retained certain links with the visible world, they exhibited a decided tendency toward flatness and abstraction. In effect, they implied that painting need not be predicated upon the values of Renaissance illusionism.
Picasso emerged within this complicated and uncertain artistic situation in 1904 when he set up a permanent studio in an old building called the Bateau Lavoir. There he produced some of his most revolutionary works, and the studio soon became a gathering place for the city's vanguard artists, writers, and patrons. This group included the painter Juan Gris, the writer Guillaume Apollinaire, and the American collectors Leo and Gertrude Stein.
Picasso's early work reveals a creative pattern which persisted throughout his long career. Between 1900 and 1906 he worked through nearly every major style of contemporary painting, from impressionism to Art Nouveau. In doing so, his own work changed with unprecedented quickness, revealing a spectrum of feelings that would seem to lie beyond the limits of one human being. In itself this accomplishment was a mark of Picasso's genius.
The Moulin de la Galette (1900), the first painting Picasso executed in Paris, presents a scene of urban café society. With its acrid colors and sharp, angular figures, the work exudes a sinister, discomforting aura. The rawness of its sensibility, although not its superficial style, is characteristic of many of his earliest works.
Blue and Pink Periods
The years between 1901 and 1904 were known as Picasso's Blue Period, during which nearly all of his works were executed in somber shades of blue and contained lean, dejected, and introspective figures. The pervasive tone of the pictures is one of depression; their color is symbolic of the artist's personal hardship during the first years of the century—years when he occasionally burned his own drawings to keep warm—and also of the suffering which he witnessed in his society. Two outstanding examples of this period are the Old Guitarist (1903) and Life (1903).
In the second half of 1904 Picasso's style exhibited a new direction. For about a year he worked on a series of pictures featuring harlequins, acrobats, and other circus performers. The most celebrated example is the Family of Saltimbanques (1905). Feeling, as well as subject matter, has shifted here. The brooding depression of the Blue Period has given way to a quiet and unoppressive melancholy, and the color has become more natural, delicate, and tender in its range, with a prevalence of reddish and pink tones. Thus this period was called his Pink Period.
In terms of space, Picasso's work between 1900 and 1905 was generally flat, emphasizing the two-dimensional character of the painting surface. Late in 1905, however, he became increasingly interested in pictorial volume. This interest seems to have been stimulated by the late paintings of Cézanne, ten of which were shown in the 1905 Salon d'Automne. In Picasso's Boy Leading a Horse (1905) and Woman with Loaves (1906) the figures are vigorously modeled, giving a strong impression of their weight and three-dimensionality. The same interest pervades the famous Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906), particularly in the massive body of the figure. But the face of the sitter reveals still another new interest: its mask-like abstraction was inspired by Iberian sculpture, an exhibition of which Picasso had seen at the Louvre in the spring of 1906. This influence reached its fullest expression a year later in one of the most revolutionary pictures of Picasso's entire career, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907).
Picasso and Cubism
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is generally regarded as the first cubist painting. Under the influence of Cézanne, Iberian sculpture, and African sculpture (which Picasso first saw in Paris in 1907) the artist launched a pictorial style more radical than anything he had produced up to that date. The human figures and their surrounding space are reduced to a series of broad, intersecting planes which align themselves with the picture surface and imply a multiple, dissected view of the visible world. The faces of the figures are seen simultaneously from frontal and profile positions, and their bodies are likewise forced to submit to Picasso's new and radically abstract pictorial language.
Paradoxically, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon was not exhibited in public until 1937. Very possibly the picture was as problematic for Picasso as it was for his circle of friends and fellow artists, who were shocked when they viewed it in his Bateau Lavoir studio. Even Georges Braque, who by 1908 had become Picasso's closest colleague in the cubist enterprise, at first said that "to paint in such a way was as bad as drinking petrol in the hope of spitting fire." Nevertheless, Picasso relentlessly pursued the implications of his own revolutionary invention. Between 1907 and 1911 he continued to dissect the visible world into increasingly small facets of monochromatic planes of space. In doing so, his works became more and more abstract; that is, representation gradually vanished from the painting medium, which correspondingly became an end in itself—for the first time in the history of Western art.
The evolution of this process is evident in all of Picasso's work between 1907 and 1911. Some of the most outstanding pictorial examples of the development are Fruit Dish (1909), Portrait of Ambroise Vollard (1910), and Ma Jolie (also known as Woman with a Guitar, 1911-1912).
About 1911 Picasso and Braque began to introduce letters and scraps of newspapers into their cubist paintings, thus giving birth to an entirely new medium, the cubist collage. Picasso's first, and probably his most celebrated, collage is Still Life with Chair Caning (1911-1912). The oval composition combines a cubist analysis of a lemon and a wineglass, letters from the world of literature, and a piece of oilcloth that imitates a section of chair caning; finally, it is framed with a piece of actual rope. As Alfred Barr wrote (1946): "Here then, in one picture, Picasso juggles reality and abstraction in two media and at four different levels or ratios. If we stop to think which is the most 'real' we find ourselves moving from esthetic to metaphysical speculation. For here what seems most real is most false and what seems remote from everyday reality is perhaps the most real since it is least an imitation."
Synthetic Cubist Phase
After his experiments in the new medium of collage, Picasso returned more intensively to painting. His work between 1912 and 1921 is generally regarded as the synthetic phase of the cubist development. The masterpiece of this style is the Three Musicians (1921). In this painting Picasso used the flat planes of his earlier style in order to reconstruct an impression of the visible world. The planes themselves had become broader and more simplified, and they exploited color to a far greater extent than did the work of 1907-1911. In its richness of feeling and balance of formal elements, the Three Musicians represents a classical expression of cubism.
The invention of cubism represents Picasso's most important achievement in the history of 20th-century art. Nevertheless, his activities as an artist were not limited to this alone. As early as the first decade of the century, he involved himself with both sculpture and printmaking, two media which he continued to practice throughout his long career and to which he made numerous important contributions. Moreover, he periodically worked in ceramics and in the environment of the theater: in 1917 he designed sets for the Eric Satie and Jean Cocteau ballet Parade; in 1920 he sketched a theater interior for Igor Stravinsky's Pulcinella; and in 1924 he designed a curtain for the performance of Le Train Bleu by Jean Cocteau and Darius Milhaud. In short, the range of his activities exceeded that of any artist who worked in the modern period.
In painting, even the development of cubism fails to define Picasso's genius. About 1915, and again in the early 1920s, he turned away from abstraction and produced drawings and paintings in a realistic and serenely beautiful classical idiom. One of the most famous of these works is the Woman in White (1923). Painted just two years after the Three Musicians, the quiet and unobtrusive elegance of this masterpiece testifies to the ease with which Picasso could express himself in pictorial languages that seem at first glance to be mutually exclusive.
By the late 1920s and the early 1930s surrealism had in many ways eclipsed cubism as the vanguard style of European painting. Launched by André Breton in Paris in 1924, the movement was not one to which Picasso was ever an "official" contributor in terms of group exhibitions or the signing of manifestos. But his work during these years reveals many attitudes in sympathy with the surrealist sensibility. For instance, in his famous Girl before a Mirror (1932), he employed the colorful planes of synthetic cubism to explore the relationship between a young woman's image and self-image as she regards herself before a conventional looking glass. As the configurations shift between the figure and the mirror image, they reveal the complexity of emotional and psychological energies that prevail on the darker side of human experience.
Another of Picasso's most celebrated paintings of the 1930s is Guernica (1937). Barr described the situation within which it was conceived: "On April 28, 1937, the Basque town of Guernica was reported destroyed by German bombing planes flying for General Franco. Picasso, already an active partisan of the Spanish Republic, went into action almost immediately. He had been commissioned in January to paint a mural for the Spanish Government Building at the Paris World's Fair; but he did not begin to work until May 1st, just two days after the news of the catastrophe." The artist's deep feelings about the work, and about the massacre which inspired it, are reflected in the fact that he completed the work, that is more than 25 feet wide and 11 feet high, within six or seven weeks.
Guernica is an extraordinary monument within the history of modern art. Executed entirely in black, white, and gray, it projects an image of pain, suffering, and brutality that has few parallels among advanced paintings of the 20th century. No artist except Picasso was able to apply convincingly the pictorial language of cubism to a subject that springs directly from social and political awareness. That he could so overtly challenge the abstractionist trend that he personally began is but another mark of his uniqueness.
After World War II Picasso was established as one of the Old Masters of modern art. But his work never paused. In the 1950s and 1960s he devoted his energies to other Old Masters, producing paintings based on the masterpieces of Nicolas Poussin and Diego Velázquez. To many critics and historians these recent works are not as ambitious as Picasso's earlier productions.
Picasso also came out publicly after the war as a communist. When he was asked why he was a communist in 1947, he stated that "When I was a boy in Spain, I was very poor and aware of how poor people had to live. I learned that the communists were for the poor people. That was enough to know. So I became for the communists."
Sometimes the communist cause was not as keen on Picasso as Picasso was about being a communist. A 1953 portrait he painted of Joseph Stalin, the then recently deceased Soviet leader, caused a clamor in the Party's leadership. The Soviet government banished his works from their nation after having them locked in the basement of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Picasso appeared amused at this and continued on unaffected.
Although Picasso had been in exile from his native Spain since the 1939 victory of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, he gave 800 to 900 of his earliest works to the city and people of Barcelona. For his part, Franco's feelings about Picasso were reciprocated. In 1963, Picasso's friend Jaime Sabartés had given 400 of his Picasso works to Barcelona. To display these works, the Palacio Aguilar was renamed the Picasso Museum and the works were moved inside. But because of Franco's dislike for Picasso, Picasso's name never appeared on the museum.
Picasso was married twice, first to dancer Olga Khoklova and then to Jacqueline Roque. He had four children, one from his marriage to Khoklova and three by mistresses. Picasso kept busy all of his life and was planning an exhibit of 201 of his works at the Avignon Arts Festival in France when he died.
Picasso died at his 35-room hilltop villa of Notre Dame de Vie in Mougins, France on April 8, 1973. He was remembered as an artist that, throughout his life, shifted unpredictably from one pictorial mode to another. He exhibited a remarkable genius for sculpture, graphics, and ceramics, as well as painting. The sheer range of his achievement, not to mention its quality and influence, made him one of the most celebrated artists of the modern period.
Because of his long life and unceasing production, Picasso has inspired numerous books. The classic monograph, which no one interested in the master can afford to overlook, is Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Picasso: Fifty Years of His Art (1946). Picasso's early years are discussed in Gertrude Stein, Picasso (1938); Anthony Blunt and Phoebe Pool, Picasso: The Formative Years (1962); Fernande Olivier, Picasso and His Friends (1965); and Pierre Daix and others, Picasso: The Blue and Rose Periods translated by Phoebe Pool (1967). The later years of Picasso are documented in Roberto Otero Forever Picasso: An Intimate Look At His Last Years (1974). For an overall view see Roland Penrose, Portrait of Picasso (1957) and Picasso: His Life and Work (1958). A thoughtful interpretation of the master's themes and major styles is given in Wilhelm Boeck and Jaimé Sabartes, Picasso (1955). Picasso's obituary can be found in the New York Times (April 8, 1973).
The most complete catalog of Picasso's work, C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso: Oeuvres (21 vols., 1942-1969), is in French. Specialized studies include Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Picasso: Sixty Years of Graphic Works (1967), and Roland Penrose, The Sculpture of Picasso (1967). For broad surveys of cubism see Robert Rosenblum, Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art (1960; rev. ed. 1966), and Edward F. Fry, Cubism (1966). □
PICASSO, PABLOeducation and early career
PICASSO, PABLO (1881–1973), Spanish avant-garde painter.
Pablo Picasso is an undisputed giant of twentieth-century art. His formation as an avant-garde artist owed much to the fin-de-siècle artistic and literary culture of Barcelona and Paris. From the turn of the century through until 1914, his work evolved in response to far-reaching questions about the nature of art that were posed within that milieu. This development culminated in the invention of cubism, a towering intellectual and artistic achievement that irrevocably altered the course of European art by shattering the spatial field and reassembling its component parts from different angles.
Pablo Ruiz y Picasso was born on 25 October 1881. His mother, María Picasso López, was of Italian descent; his father, José Ruiz Blasco, who came from a family of Córdoban landowners, was a painter and art teacher by profession. The adoption of his mother's family name (Picasso) has been seen as a portent of the later rejection of the academic heritage of his father. The family moved around a lot in his childhood: from Málaga, where Picasso was born, to Coru?a in the far northwest of Spain, eventually settling in Barcelona. Among his earliest paintings and drawings are some charmingly observed images of doves and the bullfight, subjects that recur throughout his life, revealing the extent to which his outlook was imbued by his Spanish upbringing. The works from his youth that are housed at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona attest to a solid grounding in the technical craft of painting. In 1895 Picasso was admitted to the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona. A further stint at the San Fernando Academy in Madrid between October 1897 and June 1898 brought to an end this period of academic training as he gravitated toward modernisme, a local variant of the art nouveau and Jugendstil styles current in other European capitals that flourished in cosmopolitan Barcelona.
It is customary to periodize Picasso's work after this point on stylistic grounds. The Blue Period (1901–1904) ensued from his close association from 1900 with a circle of symbolist and decadent artists and writers who met at the café knownas Els Quatre Gats. Picasso honed his skill as a caricaturist at this time in portraits of his friends, including a superb spoof of Jaime Sabartès (who in later life was Picasso's secretary) as a decadent poet. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's (1864–1901) acerbic depictions of Parisian nightlife were a source of inspiration. Isidro Nonell y Monturiol (1873–1911), a Catalan artist who specialized in portrayals of the poor, was another influence on Picasso during the Blue Period. The extent to which the beggars and other outcasts that populate the Blue Period pictures reflect the anarchist political views of his acquaintances is debatable. The pathetic blind figure in The Old Guitarist (1903), whose angular emaciated limbs recall the paintings of El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos; 1541–1614), can be read as a cipher for the modern artist. The suicide in 1901 of the poet Carles Casagemas (who had accompanied Picasso on his first trip to Paris the year before) following an unhappy love affair provided raw material for a fin-de-siècle musing on death and sexuality. The picture known as La vie of 1903, which sums up and concludes the Blue Period, took this incident as its starting point, though in its final state both the setting and the allegorical meaning of the composition are rendered enigmatic.
In 1904 Picasso made the inevitable move to Paris in pursuit of his artistic career. There he took up residence at Montmartre in the Bateau-Lavoir, a suitably ramshackle abode for a bohemian artist. He began an affair with Fernande Olivier, who was living at the Bateau-Lavoir and was an aspiring painter when he moved in. Her memoir, Souvenirs intimes (1988; written in the 1950s), reveals that he introduced her to smoking opium and stifled her artistic career. Also in 1904 Picasso met the poets André Salmon and Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918). The latter was a brilliantly erudite writer who became an indispensable ally and muse to Picasso until his untimely death from influenza in 1918. It was Apollinaire who instigated the cult of genius that surrounded Picasso. Reportedly, Picasso and Fernande would go as often as three or four times a week to the Cirque Médrano, where they sought out the company of circus entertainers. The clowns, jugglers, and acrobats became Picasso's new subjects. The Family of Saltimbanques of 1905, which epitomizes the wistful elegance of the short-lived Rose Period (1905–1906), draws together this retinue of characters in the largest composition he had yet painted. Under cover of a group of itinerant fairground performers, Picasso represents himself as harlequin (a self-identification that is found in other works of this period) along with other members of his troupe, including Apollinaire as a rotund jester.
In 1906 the already formidable variety of his sources expanded to include non-European art, the passion for which he shared with Apollinaire and Salmon, who were collectors of African and Oceanic objects. Recently excavated Iberian artifacts that had gone on display in the Louvre were a source for the mask-like stylization in the Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906). Picasso met Stein (1874–1946) in 1905, and she soon became a trusted confidant as well as an important patron. With his interest in the primitive already primed, in early 1907 Picasso underwent an epiphany in the presence of African masks and statues in the Museum of Mankind in Paris. The experience occurred while he was midway through painting Les demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) and led him to repaint the faces of three of the figures as scarified masks. Picasso later described this radical and confrontational work, which even the French painter Georges Braque (1882–1963) found disturbing, as his first exorcism picture. The fact that he recognized an almost sacral power in African masks suggests that his interest was not only formal; indeed attempts have been made to correlate his valorization of the primitive with denunciations of European colonialism emanating from anarchist political circles. Added to the array of primitive influences on Picasso at this moment is his admiration for Henri Rousseau (known as Le Douanier; 1844–1910), a self-taught painter of imaginary jungle scenes inspired by weekend visits to the Jardin des Plantes, for whom Picasso held a legendary banquet at the Bateau-Lavoir in 1908.
Les demoiselles d'Avignon was a hugely ambitious work that was preceded by many hundreds of studies. It is replete with references to European art but exhibits a markedly iconoclastic attitude toward that tradition, bearing out Picasso's later claim that "Art is a sum of destructions." One of the main points of reference is Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), who had come to be seen as the most important recent painter. The late bather compositions of Cézanne only became known after his death in 1906, an event that also prompted a major reassessment of his legacy. The lack of a unitary viewpoint in Cézanne is pushed to such an extreme by Picasso that the picture looks disjointed. At the same time there is an odd congealment of interstitial space, which stems from El Greco as well as Cézanne. It is small wonder that contemporaries found the picture incomprehensible. The title of the work evidently refers to a well-known red light district in Barcelona. Shifting the Cézanne bathers indoors, so to speak, compounds the formal violations with a transgressive eroticism. Picasso, who was no stranger to such locales, apparently feared that he may have contracted syphilis from a prostitute. The still horrifying disfigurement of the women in the Demoiselles can perhaps be associated with the ravages of a disease that was
then untreatable. Remarkably, the picture by Picasso that many now regard as the most important of the twentieth century lay rolled up in his studio for almost two decades after it was painted.
Les demoiselles d'Avignon was not yet a cubist picture though it points firmly in the direction of cubism. The ensuing couple of years were required in order to absorb its lessons. After 1908, Picasso tended to work on a smaller easel-scale, which permits a more serial and experimental mode of production. The overt eroticism and primitivism of 1907–1908 also receded. The works display a gradual subtraction of color and a growing emphasis on the analysis of form into simple geometric planes, which are heavily modeled but which articulate with each other in an ambiguous, reversible way. It has been suggested that Gertrude Stein who had studied psychology at Harvard may have introduced Picasso to William James's Principles of Psychology (1890), which illustrates various kinds of visual illusion. The deliberate incorporation of such ambiguities produces a flickering effect as the eye scans the image. It also becomes more difficult to identify objects, as the distinction between figure and ground is eroded in favor of a more homogeneous integrated surface. These trends are demonstrated in a series of nudes and landscapes painted in the summer of 1909, when Picasso and Fernande were on holiday in the isolated Spanish village of Horta de Ebro. Snapshots taken at the time show how far the paintings' cubic structure was inspired by the buildings themselves. Stein noted astutely that: "Cubism is part of the daily life in Spain, it is in Spanish architecture." There is a constant interplay between painting and sculpture in Picasso's work. On his return to Paris, Picasso made a bronze bust of Fernande, which transfers these cubist forms back into three dimensions.
Picasso was engaged in a close artistic dialogue with Braque by this stage, and although their relative contributions to the invention of cubism are hotly disputed by scholars, with the increasing convergence between them it can be difficult to tell the work of one from the other. Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler was the dealer for both artists up until the First World War. He signed exclusive contracts, agreeing to buy all their work, and in return discouraged them from exhibiting in the public salons. These business practices may have contributed to cubism's hermetic character; they certainly meant that the work of Picasso and Braque was largely invisible in the public arena. Picasso's Portrait of Kahnweiler (1910) is one of the masterpieces of high analytic cubism. A shorthand system of signs disposed on the main cubist scaffold is enough to indicate the main features of the sitter—Picasso's caricaturist eye for the telling detail is exploited here to the full. An overall crystalline transparency permeates the figure. The silvery, nocturnal lighting has a strongly lyrical quality. It is a common misconception that cubism offers a more objective or complete view of the world by surveying objects from several different angles. Picasso cautioned that the reality of cubist painting is elusive and impalpable, like a perfume (the choice of analogy was one favored by symbolist poets).
With the invention of collage, the character of cubism changed dramatically. Collage looks cheap and shabby by comparison with the extreme refinement of high analytic cubism. Collage made possible the incorporation of preformed elements of reality into the pictorial field. The frame of reference widened to include popular culture and even the world of consumerism and advertising—all that the modernist critic Clement Greenberg would later denounce as kitsch. The combination of word and image in cubist collage often depends on a punning relation between the various elements—not infrequently in the case of Picasso with a sexual innuendo—that seems to emulate the way advertisements work. In 1912 Picasso made a sequence of papiers collés using newspaper cuttings that make insistent reference to war in the Balkan region as well as to antiwar protests. Here again the world of politics is like a base intrusion into a very spare pictorial field. The inclusion of mechanically reproduced imagery of various sorts relativizes the unique painterly gesture and prefigures, in this respect, the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968), which sounded a death knell to painting. Unlike that other main claimant to the title of greatest twentieth-century artist, however, Picasso—despite the extreme iconoclasm of his work in this period—never abandoned his attachment to the craft of painting.
Picasso recalled waving farewell to Braque and the French painter André Derain (1880–1954) on the platform at Avignon at the outbreak of war. Their separation brought to a close one of the most extraordinarily inventive moments in Western art. By the age of thirty-three Picasso had produced some of the most astonishing paintings in the Western tradition; he had also dismantled that same tradition.
Brown, Jonathan, ed. Picasso and the Spanish Tradition. New Haven, Conn., 1996.
Golding, John. Cubism: A History and an Analysis, 1907–1914. London, 1959.
Green, Christopher, ed. Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Cambridge, U.K., 2001.
McCully, Marilyn, ed. Picasso—The Early Years, 1892–1906. Exhibition catalog. Washington, D.C., 1997.
Richardson, John. A Life of Picasso. 2 vols. New York, 1991, 1996.
Rubin, William. Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism. Exhibition catalog. New York, 1989.
The Spanish painter, sculptor, and graphic artist Pablo Picasso was one of the most productive and revolutionary artists in the history of Western painting. As the central figure in developing cubism (an artistic style where recognizable objects are fragmented to show all sides of an object at the same time), he established the basis for abstract art (art having little or no pictorial representation).
Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born on October 25, 1881, in Malaga, Spain. He was the eldest and only son with two younger sisters, Lola and Concepción. His father, José Ruiz Blasco, was a professor in the School of Arts and Crafts. Pablo's mother was Maria Ruiz Picasso (the artist used her surname from about 1901 on). It is rumored that Picasso learned to draw before he could speak. As a child, his father frequently took him to bullfights, and one of his earlier paintings was a scene from a bullfight.
In 1891 the family moved to La Coruña, where, at the age of fourteen, Picasso began studying at the School of Fine Art. Under the academic instruction of his father, he developed his artistic talent at an extraordinary rate.
When the family moved to Barcelona, Spain, in 1896, Picasso easily gained entrance to the School of Fine Arts. A year later he was admitted as an advanced student at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, Spain. He demonstrated his remarkable ability by completing in one day an entrance examination for which an entire month was permitted.
Picasso soon found the atmosphere at the academy stifling, and he returned to Barcelona, where he began to study historical and contemporary art on his own. At that time Barcelona was the most vital cultural center in Spain, and Picasso quickly joined the group of poets, painters, and writers who gathered at the famous café Els Quatre Gats (The Four Cats). Between 1900 and 1903 Picasso stayed alternately in Paris, France, and Barcelona. He had his first one-man exhibition in Paris in 1901.
Paris at the turn of the twentieth century
At the turn of the twentieth century Paris was the center of the international art world. In painting it was the birthplace of the impressionists—painters who depicted the appearance of objects by means of dabs or strokes of unmixed colors in order to create the look of actual reflected light. While their works retained certain links with the visible world, they exhibited a decided tendency toward flatness and abstraction.
Picasso set up a permanent studio in Paris in 1904. His studio soon became a gathering place for the city's most modern artists, writers, and patrons.
Picasso's early work reveals a creative pattern which continued throughout his long career. Between 1900 and 1906 he worked through nearly every major style of contemporary (modern) painting. In doing so, his own work changed with extraordinary quickness.
Blue and pink periods
The years between 1901 and 1904 were known as Picasso's Blue Period. Nearly all of his works were executed in somber shades of blue and contained lean, melancholy, and introspective (concentrating on their own thoughts) figures. Two outstanding examples of this period are the Old Guitarist (1903) and Life (1903).
In the second half of 1904 Picasso's style took a new direction. In these paintings the color became more natural, delicate, and tender in its range, with reddish and pink tones dominating the works. Thus this period was called his Pink Period. The most celebrated example of this phase is the Family of Saltimbanques (1905). Picasso's work between 1900 and 1905 was generally flat, emphasizing the two-dimensional character of the painting surface. Late in 1905, however, he became increasingly interested in pictorial volume. This interest seems to have been influenced by the late paintings of Paul Cézanne (1839–1906).
The face in Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906) reveals still another new interest: its mask-like abstraction was inspired by Iberian sculpture, an exhibition of which Picasso had seen at the Louvre, in Paris, in the spring of 1906. This influence reached its fullest expression a year later in one of the most revolutionary pictures of Picasso's entire career, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907).
Picasso and cubism
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is generally regarded as the first cubist painting. The faces of the figures are seen from both front and profile positions at the same time. Between 1907 and 1911 Picasso continued to break apart the visible world into increasingly small facets of monochromatic (using one color) planes of space. In doing so, his works became more and more abstract. Representation gradually vanished from his painting, until it became an end in itself—for the first time in the history of Western art.
The growth of this process is evident in all of Picasso's work between 1907 and 1911. Some of the most outstanding pictorial examples of the development are Fruit Dish (1909), Portrait of Ambroise Vollard (1910), and Ma Jolie, also known as Woman with a Guitar (1911–12).
Collages and further development
About 1911 Picasso and Georges Braque (1882–1963) began to introduce letters and scraps of newspapers into their cubist paintings, thus creating an entirely new medium, the cubist collage. Picasso's first, and probably his most celebrated, collage is Still Life with Chair Caning (1911–1912).
After Picasso experimented with the new medium of collage, he returned more intensively to painting. In his Three Musicians (1921), the planes became broader, more simplified, and more colorful. In its richness of feeling and balance of formal elements, the Three Musicians represents a classical expression of cubism.
Picasso also created sculpture and prints throughout his long career, and made numerous important contributions to both media. He periodically worked in ceramics, and designed sets, curtains, and interiors for the theater.
In painting, even the development of cubism fails to define Picasso's genius. About 1915, and again in the early 1920s, he turned away from abstraction and produced drawings and paintings in a realistic and serenely beautiful classical style. One of the most famous of these works is the Woman in White (1923). Painted just two years after the Three Musicians, the quiet and unobtrusive (not calling attention to itself) elegance of this masterpiece testifies to the ease with which Picasso could express himself pictorially.
One of Picasso's most celebrated paintings of the 1930s is Guernica (1937). This work had been commissioned for the Spanish Government Building at the Paris World's Fair. It depicts the destruction by bombing of the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39; the military revolt against the Spanish government). The artist's deep feelings about the work, and about the massacre (a mass killing) which inspired it, are reflected in the fact that he completed the work, that is more than 25 feet wide and 11 feet high, within six or seven weeks.
Guernica is an extraordinary monument within the history of modern art. Executed entirely in black, white, and gray, it projects an image of pain, suffering, and brutality that has few parallels. Picasso applied the pictorial language of cubism to a subject that springs directly from social and political awareness.
Picasso also declared publicly in 1947 that he was a Communist (someone who believes the national government should control all businesses and the distribution of goods). When he was asked why he was a Communist, he stated, "When I was a boy in Spain, I was very poor and aware of how poor people had to live. I learned that the Communists were for the poor people. That was enough to know. So I became for the Communists." But sometimes the Communist cause was not as keen on Picasso as Picasso was about being a Communist. A 1953 portrait he painted of Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) caused an uproar in the Communist Party's leadership. The Soviet government banished his works.
Although Picasso had been in exile from his native Spain since the 1939 victory of Generalissimo Francisco Franco (1892–1975), he gave eight hundred to nine hundred of his earliest works to the city and people of Barcelona. To display these works, the Palacio Aguilar was renamed the Picasso Museum and the works were moved inside. But because of Franco's dislike for Picasso, Picasso's name never appeared on the museum.
Picasso was married twice, first to dancer Olga Khoklova and then to Jacqueline Roque. He had four children. He was planning an exhibit of over two hundred of his works at the Avignon Arts Festival in France when he died at his thirty-five-room hilltop villa of Notre Dame de Vie in Mougins, France, on April 8, 1973.
The discovery of cubism represents Picasso's most important achievement in the history of twentieth-century art. Throughout his life he exhibited a remarkable genius for sculpture, graphics, and ceramics, as well as painting. His is one of the most celebrated artists of the modern period.
For More Information
Cowling, Elizabeth. Interpreting Matisse, Picasso. Harry N. Abrams, 2002.
Léal, Brigitte, Christine Piot, and Marie-Laure Bernadac. The Ultimate Picasso. Edited by Molly Stevens and Marjolijn de Jager. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000.
Olivier, Fernande. Picasso and His Friends. New York: Appleton-Century, 1965.
Richardson, John. A Life of Picasso. New York: Random House, 1991.
http://www.spanisharts.com/reinasofia/reinasofia.htm; http://www.moma.org; http://www.ir-tmca.com; http://www.nga.gov