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Pablo Picasso

Pablo Ruiz Y Picasso

Surrealist Painter
1881 - 1973

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 genius.

1. Detailed biography
  1. Training and early work
  2. Blue period
  3. Rose period
  4. Protocubism
  5. Cubism
  1. Realist & Surrealist works
  2. Paintings of the early 30's
  3. Guernica
  4. World War II & After
  5. Late Works: recapitulation

Training and Early Work

Born in Málaga on October 25, 1881, Picasso was the son of José Ruiz Blasco, an art teacher, and María 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.

Science and Charity, 1897
Museo Picasso, Barcelona

Picasso's genius manifested itself early: 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, depicting a doctor, a nun, and a child at a sick woman's bedside, won a gold medal.

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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 cafés show how he assimilated 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.

Le Tub (The Blue Room), 1901
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum

Picasso's Blue Room 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. His use of blue as a motif was apparently derived from the symbolic importance of that color in the contemporary romantic writings of Maurice Maeterlinck and Oscar Wilde, whose work often derived its force from depictions of madness or illness.

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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.

The Family of Saltimbanques, 1905
National Gallery of Art, Washington

The paintings of this period do display a classical calm that contrasts clearly with the nervous expressionism of the blue period. Many of his subjects were drawn from the circus, which he visited several times a week; one such painting is Family of Saltimbanques.


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.

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Gertrude Stein, 1906
Metropolitan Museum
of Arts, NY

In the summer of 1906, during Picasso's stay in Gosol, Spain, his work entered a new phase, marked by the influence of Greek, Iberian, and African art.

His celebrated portrait of Gertrude Stein reveals a masklike treatment of her face. The key work of this early period, however, is Les demoiselles d'Avignon, so radical in style—its picture surface resembling fractured glass—that 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.

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Cubism—Analytic and Synthetic

House in a Garden, 1908
Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Inspired by the volumetric treatment of form by the French postimpressionist artist Paul Cezanne, 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.

Portrait of Daniel-
Henry Kahnweiler, 1910
Art institute of Chicago

Picasso's favorite subjects were musical instruments, still-life objects, and his friends; one famous portrait is Daniel Henry Kahnweiler.

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.

Still-Life with Chair Caning. 1911/12
Musée 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 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.

Harlequin. 1915
Museum of Modern Arts, NY
  Portrait of Ambroise Vollard, 1915
Metropolitan museum of arts, NY

Realist and Surrealist Works

Portrait of Olga
in the Armchair. 1917
Musée Picasso, Paris

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), and of numerous friends.

The Pipes of Pan, 1923
Musée Picasso, Paris

In the early 1920s he did tranquil, neoclassical pictures of heavy, sculpturesque figures, an example being Three Women at the Spring, and works inspired by mythology, such as The Pipes of Pan.

Seated Bather, 1930
Museum of modern Art, NY

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 and Seated Bather.

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Painting of the Early 1930's

Girl Before a Mirror. 1932
Museum of Modern Arts, NY

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 Thérèse Walter, who gave birth to their daughter Maïa in 1935. Marie Thérèse, frequently portrayed sleeping, also was the model for the famous Girl Before a Mirror.

Minotauromachy, 1935
Stedelijk Museum
of Modern Art, Amsterdam

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.

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Picasso was moved to paint the huge mural Guernica shortly after German planes, acting on orders from Spain's authoritarian leader Francisco Franco, bombarded the Basque town of Guernica on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish civil war. Completed in less than two months, Guernica was hung in the Spanish Pavilion of the Paris International Exposition of 1937.

Guernica. 1937
Reina Sofia Art Center, Madrid

The painting does not portray the event; rather, Picasso expressed his outrage by employing such imagery as the bull, the dying horse, a fallen warrior, a mother and dead child, a woman trapped in a burning building, another rushing into the scene, and a figure leaning from a window and holding out a lamp. Despite the complexity of its symbolism, and the impossibility of definitive interpretation, Guernica makes an overwhelming impact in its portrayal of the horrors of war. It was on extended loan at New York City's Museum of Modern Art from 1939 until 1981, when it was returned to Spain at Madrid's Prado Museum. In 1992 the work was moved to the city's new museum of 20th-century art, the Reina Sofia Art Center. Dora Maar, Picasso's next companion to be portrayed, took photographs of Guernica while the work was in progress.

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World War II and After

The Charnel House. 1944-45
Museum of Modern Arts, NY

Picasso's palette grew somber with the onset of World War II (1939-1945), and death is the subject of numerous works, such as Still Life with Steer's Skull and The Charnel House. He formed a new liaison during the 1940s with the painter Françoise Gilot who bore him two children, Claude and Paloma; they appear in many works that recapitulate his earlier styles. The last of Picasso's companions to be portrayed was Jacqueline Roque, whom he met in 1953 and married in 1961. He then spent much of his time in southern France.

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Late Works: Recapitulation

Many of Picasso's later pictures were based on works by great masters of the past—Diego Velazquez, Gustave Courbet, Eugene Delacroix, and Edouard Manet.

In addition to painting, Picasso worked in various media, making hundreds of lithographs in the renowned Paris graphics workshop, Atelier Mourlot. Ceramics also engaged his interest, and in 1947, in Vallauris, he produced nearly 2000 pieces.

The She Goat, 1950
Musée Picasso, Paris

Picasso made important sculptures during this time: Man with Sheep, an over-life-size bronze, emanates peace and hope, and She-Goat, a bronze cast from an assemblage of flowerpots, a wicker basket, and other diverse materials, is humorously charming. In 1964 Picasso completed a welded steel maquette (model) for the 18.3-m (60-ft) sculpture Head of a Woman (unveiled in 1967), for Chicago's Civic Center. In 1968, during a seven-month period, he created an amazing series of 347 engravings, restating earlier themes: the circus, the bullfight, the theater, and lovemaking.

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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.

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• Ashton, Dore, ed., Picasso on Art (1988).
• Barr, Alfred H., Picasso: Fifty Years of His Art, rev. ed. (1974).
• Blunt, Anthony, and Poole, Phoebe, Picasso: The Formative Years (1962).
• Cirlot, Juan-Eduardo, Picasso: Birth of a Genius, ed. by R. Penrose (1982).
• Daix, Pierre, et al., Picasso: The Blue and Rose Periods, trans. by P. Pool (1967).
• Fabre, Josep P., Picasso (1985).
• Gedo, Mary M., Picasso (1980).
• Jaffe, Hans L., Picasso (1984).
• Leighten, Patricia, Reordering the Universe: Picasso and Anarchism, 1897-1914 (1989).
• McCully, Marilyn, ed., Picasso Anthology (1982).
• Penrose, Roland, Picasso: His Life and Work, 3d ed. (1981).
• Spies, Werner, Sculpture by Picasso, trans. by J. M. Brownjohn (1971).
• Stassinopoulus, Arianna, Picasso (1988).
• Wertenbaker, Lael, The World of Picasso (1967).

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