Pablo Ruiz y Picasso, born Malaga, Spain, Oct.
25, 1881, d. Apr. 8, 1973, was the most influential and successful
artist of the 20th century. Painting, sculpture, graphic art,
and ceramics were all profoundly and irrevocably affected by his
|Science and Charity, 1897
Museo Picasso, Barcelona
As the son of a professor of art, Picasso's talent
for drawing was recognized at an early age. An advanced student
at the Barcelona Academy of Fine Arts from the age of 14, he experimented
in his youth with nearly all of the avant-garde styles current
at the turn of the century, an early demonstration of his lifelong
ability to assimilate aesthetic ideas and to work in a variety
Picasso's talent for drawing was recognized at
an early age. An advanced student at the Barcelona Academy of
Fine Arts from the age of 14, he experimented in his youth with
nearly all of the avant-garde styles current at the turn of the
century, an early demonstration of his lifelong ability to assimilate
aesthetic ideas and to work in a variety of styles.
|Le Tub (The Blue Room), 1901
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum
For Picasso, the meaning of art was to be derived
from other works of art, and not directly from nature. Henri de
Toulouse-Lautrec's work had a significant impact on his early
paintings, as did the work of Paul Cezanne. Their influence, among
others', can be detected in the paintings of Picasso's "blue
period" (1901-04), which was stimulated by his exposure
to life and thought in Paris, where he made his home after 1904.
|Harlequin with a Glass. 1905
Although his palette and subject matter changed
when he entered (1904) what is called his "rose period,"
during which he painted harlequins and circus performers in a
lighter and warmer color scheme, an underlying mood of spiritual
loneliness and lyrical melancholy that marked his "blue"
paintings was retained.
|Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. 1907
Museum of Modern Arts, NY
The lyricism of Picasso's blue and rose periods
vanished abruptly in the next phase of his career, during which
he and Georges Braque independently laid the foundations for cubism.
Struck by the compelling simplicity of pre-Christian Iberian bronzes
and of African sculpture, he and Braque began to work in a consciously
primitive and monumental style that Picasso explored in sculpture
as well as in painting. By amalgamating the simplified iconic
forms of Iberian and African art with Cezanne's reduction of the
underlying structure of nature to a few basic shapes, Picasso
produced Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.
|Portrait of Ambroise Vollard. 1910
Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow
After 1908, Picasso joined with Braque and other
like-minded artists to explore the representation of three-dimensional
objects on a two-dimensional surface by means of overlapping planes.
This early phase of the cubist movement, often called analytical
cubism, is exemplified in the painting Ambroise Vollard (1909-10;
Pushkin Museum, Moscow) and the sculpture Woman's Head
(1909; Museum of Modern Art, New York City). In the course of
his visual analyses, Picasso found that those fragments of naturalistic
pictorial space and forms that remained were becoming less and
less apparent. By 1912, he, Braque, and Juan Gris were introducing
real materials such as chair caning and wallpaper--either the
actual materials or painted facsimiles--into their works in what
came to be known as collage. This synthesis or reconstitution
of reality, called synthetic cubism, proved to be of fundamental
importance to the development of modern art.
|Three Musicians, 1921
Museum of Art, Philadelphia
Theoretical cubism soon became too formalized
and dogmatic for Picasso. During the 1920s he alternated cubist-inspired
works such as The Three Musicians (1921; Philadelphia Museum of
Art) with depictions of monumental and classically modeled figures
such as his Mother and Child (1921-22; Hillman Collection, New
York City). Subsequently, through the 1930s, he added certain
aspects of surrealism to his work, including the use of
the double image to create a shifting frame of reference and the
idea of one object being metamorphosed into another. The tenets
of surrealism also suggested to Picasso the use of symbolic archetypes
such as the minotaur, the horse, and the bull.
All these qualities were fused in his famous
Guernica (1937; Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid). Also during
the 1930s, Picasso accomplished his most important work in sculpture;
dating from this period are numerous influential works, including
welded pieces composed of found objects, bronzes cast from plaster,
and maquettes for monumental outdoor sculptures.
Reina Sofia Art Center, Madrid
Yet another change in Picasso's style is evident
in more somber and less fanciful still lifes, urban views, and
portraits he executed while remaining in Paris during World
War II. After the war he moved to the south of France, where
he became interested in the classical cultural tradition of the
Mediterranean. Mythological daydreams of nymphs, satyrs, fauns,
and centaurs soon filled his works, as epitomized in La Joie de
Vivre (1946; Musee Picasso, Antibes).
|La Joie de Vivre, 1946
Musée Picasso, Antibes
The postwar years also marked a period of daring
experimentation in lithography and ceramics. Although he had made
prints throughout his career, he did not concentrate on that field
until the late 1940s, when he embarked on a series of innovations
that resulted in a reevaluation of printmaking as a means of expression.
He gave a similar impetus to contemporary ceramics; his unconventional
handling of the medium opened up possibilities that are still
Picasso's work of the 1950s and '60s consisted
for the most part of a reiteration of the themes and styles he
had developed previously, although he never stopped experimenting
with new materials and forms of expression. At the time of his
death, he was universally recognized as the foremost artist of
Spanish painter and sculptor, generally considered
the greatest artist of the 20th century. He was unique as an inventor
of forms, as an innovator of styles and techniques, as a master
of various media, and as one of the most prolific artists in history.
He created more than 20,000 works.
Throughout Picasso's lifetime, his work was exhibited
on countless occasions. 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.
Top of page
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