Picasso, Pablo Ruiz y (1881-1973), Spanish painter and sculptor, is considered one of the greatest artist of the 20th century. He was a inventor of forms, innovator of styles and techniques, a master of various media, and one of the most prolific artists in history. He created more than 20,000 works.
Training and Early Work
Picasso was Born in Mlaga on October 25, 1881, he was the son of Jos Ruiz Blasco, an art teacher, and Mara Picasso y Lopez. Until 1898 he always used his father’s name, Ruiz, and his mother’s maiden name, Picasso, to sign his pictures. After about 1901 he dropped Ruiz and used his mother’s maiden name to sign his pictures. At the age of 10 he made his first paintings, and at 15 he performed brilliantly on the entrance examinations to Barcelona’s School of Fine Arts. His large academic canvas Science and Charity (1897, Picasso Museum, Barcelona), depicting a doctor, a nun, and a child at a sick woman’s bedside, won a gold medal.
Between 1900 and 1902, Picasso made three trips to Paris, finally settling there in 1904. He found the city’s bohemian street life fascinating, and his pictures of people in dance halls and cafs show how he learned the postimpressionism of the French painter Paul Gauguin and the symbolist painters called the Nabis. The themes of the French painters Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, as well as the style of the latter, exerted the strongest influence. Picasso’s Blue Room (1901, Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.) reflects the work of both these painters and, at the same time, shows his evolution toward the Blue Period, so called because various shades of blue dominated his work for the next few years. Expressing human misery, the paintings portray blind figures, beggars, alcoholics, and prostitutes, their somewhat elongated bodies reminiscent of works by the Spanish artist El Greco.
Shortly after settling in Paris in a shabby building known as the Bateau-Lavoir (laundry barge, which it resembled), Picasso met Fernande Olivier, the first of many companions to influence the theme, style, and mood of his work. With this happy relationship, Picasso changed his palette to pinks and reds; the years 1904 and 1905 are thus called the Rose Period. Many of his subjects were drawn from the circus, which he visited several times a week; one such painting is Family of Saltimbanques (1905, National Gallery, Washington, D.C.). In the figure of the harlequin, Picasso represented his alter ego, a practice he repeated in later works as well. Dating from his first decade in Paris are friendships with the poet Max Jacob, the writer Guillaume Apollinaire, the art dealers Ambroise Vollard and Daniel Henry Kahnweiler, and the American expatriate writers Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo, who were his first important patrons; Picasso did portraits of them all.
In the summer of 1906, during Picasso’s stay in Gsol, Spain, his work entered a new phase, marked by the influence of Greek, Iberian, and African art. His celebrated portrait of Gertrude Stein (1905-1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City) reveals a masklike treatment of her face. The key work of this early period, however, is Les demoiselles d’Avignon (1907, Museum of Modern Art, New York City), so radical in styleits picture surface resembling fractured glassthat it was not even understood by contemporary avant-garde painters and critics. Destroyed were spatial depth and the ideal form of the female nude, which Picasso restructured into harsh, angular planes.
CubismAnalytic and Synthetic
Inspired by the volumetric treatment of form by the French postimpressionist artist Paul Czanne, Picasso and the French artist Georges Braque painted landscapes in 1908 in a style later described by a critic as being made of little cubes, thus leading to the term cubism. Some of their paintings are so similar that it is difficult to tell them apart. Working together between 1908 and 1911, they were concerned with breaking down and analyzing form, and together they developed the first phase of cubism, known as analytic cubism. Monochromatic color schemes were favored in their depictions of radically fragmented motifs, whose several sides were shown simultaneously. Picasso’s favorite subjects were musical instruments, still-life objects, and his friends; one famous portrait is Daniel Henry Kahnweiler (1910, Art Institute of Chicago). In 1912, pasting paper and a piece of oilcloth to the canvas and combining these with painted areas, Picasso created his first collage, Still Life with Chair Caning (Muse Picasso, Paris). This technique marked a transition to synthetic cubism. This second phase of cubism is more decorative, and color plays a major role, although shapes remain fragmented and flat. Picasso was to practice synthetic cubism throughout his career, but by no means exclusively. Two works of 1915 demonstrate his simultaneous work in different styles: Harlequin (Museum of Modern Art) is a synthetic cubist painting, whereas a drawing of his dealer, Vollard, now in the Metropolitan Museum, is executed in his Ingresque style, so called because of its draftsmanship, emulating that of the 19th-century French neoclassical artist Jean-August-Dominique Ingres.
Picasso created cubist sculptures as well as paintings. The bronze bust Fernande Olivier (also called Head of a Woman, 1909, Museum of Modern Art) shows his consummate skill in handling three-dimensional form. He also made constructionssuch as Mandolin and Clarinet (1914, Muse Picasso)from odds and ends of wood, metal, paper, and nonartistic materials, in which he explored the spatial hypotheses of cubist painting. His Glass of Absinthe (1914, Museum of Modern Art), combining a silver sugar strainer with a painted bronze sculpture, anticipates his much later found object creations, such as Baboon and Young (1951, Museum of Modern Art), as well as pop art objects of the 1960s.
Realist and Surrealist Works
During World War I (1914-1918), Picasso went to Rome, working as a designer with Sergey Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. He met and married the dancer Olga Koklova. In a realist style, Picasso made several portraits of her around 1917, of their son (for example, Paulo as Harlequin; 1924, Muse Picasso), and of numerous friends. In the early 1920s he did tranquil, neoclassical pictures of heavy, sculpturesque figures, an example being Three Women at the Spring (1921, Museum of Modern Art), and works inspired by mythology, such as The Pipes of Pan (1923, Muse Picasso). At the same time, Picasso also created strange pictures of small-headed bathers and violent convulsive portraits of women which are often taken to indicate the tension he experienced in his marriage. Although he stated he was not a surrealist, many of his pictures have a surreal and disturbing quality, as in Sleeping Woman in Armchair (1927, Private Collection, Brussel) and Seated Bather (1930, Museum of Modern Art).
Paintings of the Early 1930s
Several cubist paintings of the early 1930s, stressing harmonious, curvilinear lines and expressing an underlying eroticism, reflect Picasso’s pleasure with his newest love, Marie Thrse Walter, who gave birth to their daughter Maa in 1935. Marie Thrse, frequently portrayed sleeping, also was the model for the famous Girl Before a Mirror (1932, Museum of Modern Art). In 1935 Picasso made the etching Minotauromachy, a major work combining his minotaur and bullfight themes; in it the disemboweled horse, as well as the bull, prefigure the imagery of Guernica, a mural often called the most important single work of the 20th century.
Throughout Picasso’s lifetime, his work was exhibited on countless occasions, in many different places. Most unusual, however, was the 1971 exhibition at the Louvre, in Paris, honoring him on his 90th birthday; until then, living artists had not been shown there. In 1980 a major retrospective showing of his work was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Picasso died in his villa Notre-Dame-de-Vie near Mougins on April 8, 1973.