Pablo Picasso was a Spanish painter and one of the co-founders of Cubism, a style of painting in which an object is deconstructed, broken and rearranged, as if the artist is analysing it from many viewpoints. He was also a poet, playwright and stage designer and is one of the pioneers of modern art.
Education: Royal Academy of San Fernando
“The Old Guitarist,” 1904
“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” 1907
“Three Musicians,” 1921
“Le Reve (The Dream),” 1932
“Girl Before A Mirror,” 1932
“The Weeping Woman,” 1937
“Dora Maar au Chat,” 1941
Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga to a middle class family. He was a child prodigy who could draw before he could speak. Picasso’s father Jose Ruiz Blasco was an art teacher who bequeathed his own palette and brushes to Picasso before he turned 14. His father also gave up painting because his young son had surpassed him. At the age of 14, while Picasso was in Barcelona Art School, he finished the paintings to be done in one month as course-work in a day! He was admitted to Royal Academy of Madrid at the age of 16 after which there were no more academic tests left for him to take.
He left Spain for the first time at the age of 19 in 1900 to spend a few months in Paris. He shifted to Paris for good in 1904. For 20 years, between 1904 and 1934, he made frequent trips to Spain but he did not return back after 1934. He spent most of his life in voluntary exile in France, spoke in French, learned to write in French and cultivated French friends.
In his early days, Picasso painted in the style of academic realism. After escaping Spain and the provincialism of its middle class, Picasso came face to face with poverty. In “The Frugal Meal,” Picasso painted a couple who are not only poor but also demoralized and without hope. At this time he also painted many blind people, as Picasso himself was suffering from a venereal disease and he feared that he would lose his sight. This painting is part of what is called Picasso’s Blue Period in which most of his paintings were in shades of blue or blue-green. He was also dismayed by the suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas, which is depicted in his painting “La Vie.” Most of the paintings of this time showed emaciated outcasts, blind beggars and mothers with thin, malnourished children.
With the improvement in his health his outcasts were infused with hope. This resulted in the Rose period when orange and pink started to appear in his paintings. The outcasts were replaced by acrobats and clowns. The image of harlequin became a motif and personal symbol in Picasso’s work.
In 1907 Picasso met Georges Braque and together they revolutionized modern art through Cubism. Although Cubism was a movement in visual art, it was influenced by poets like Guillaume Apollinaire. It was a revolution in visual arts of the modern period much like Renaissance was a revolution of the end of the medieval period. Its effect on later cinema, architecture and later art have been instrumental.
It’s said that Gustave Courbet and Paul Cezanne were the forefathers of Cubism. The Cubists were attracted to their method of looking at nature. While Courbet had a materialist style that emphasized the weight, texture and temperature of objects painted; Cezanne had a dialectical process of looking at nature. Cezanne incorporated within his paintings the variations and the changing relationships between the spectator and the object while looking at the same thing from different viewpoints. Cubism combined these two features; the materialism of Courbet and the dialectics of Cezanne to make modern art.
It was Picasso’s 1907 painting “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” that sparked Cubism. He painted five naked woman whose faces look like grotesque masks without any emotions or beauty. They represented waste and decay. Picasso was influenced by Iberian sculptures and African masks at this time, which reflects in this painting. It was a shocking, iconoclastic image drawn without any skill. It was crude and unfinished and both the subject and the method seemed to deride the Western concept of civilization and art. It prompted Braque to make a formal reply to this painting later that year. Soon they started to make paintings in sync with each other which soon led to a form of painting called Cubism.
Cubism was a modern movement and the group of artists who were part of it expressed this modernity in several ways. Their choice of subject was of utilitarian objects, mostly man-made, mass-produced objects and constructions like chair, newspapers and Eiffel Tower. They moved away from natural sights of the Impressionists. This challenged the ossified bourgeois notion of ‘precious’ art but the most revolutionary aspect of these artists was the way they represented their subjects. They were more fascinated by the physical complexity and structure of their subjects rather than their complete, immutable form. The bodies are depicted as an organisation of parts, almost like the architecture of a city. They simplified all forms to a combination of geometrical shapes. By doing this they sought to show that all phenomena are interlocked and hence interchangeable.
With the onset of World War I, the group of Cubists dispersed. Fernand Leger, Apollinaire and Braque went to fight, while Picasso was unconcerned as it was not his war. Even when they came back to Paris after the war they could not bring back the spirit of pre-war years and had to go their own separate ways. Picasso soon made new friends like Jean Cocteau, Juan Gris and Jean Hugo. In 1917, Jean Cocteau persuaded Picasso to collaborate with him for Erik Satie’s ballet “Parade” for Diaghilev’s company. The ballet was about a circus troupe and involved a lot of mimicry ridiculing the bourgeois class. Picasso was the stage designer and he made costumes and cubist style masks in the shape of skyscrapers and boulevards for the actors. In 1917, he was also declared a surrealist by Andre Breton although Picasso was never fully comfortable with their ideology. In the 1930s the image of harlequins was replaced by minotaurs in his paintings due to the influence of Surrealism.
One of the most famous paintings by Picasso is a 11-foot painting titled “Guernica” that was made in reaction to the bombing of a Spanish village Guernica by Italian and German forces during the Spanish Civil War. It was installed in the Spanish building during the Paris World Fair. The painting uses the imagery of a bull’s head, a dead child in a grieving woman’s arms, a falling horse among others to comment on the deleterious effects of war.
This painting was one of the major points of attention during his retrospective at Museum of Modern Art in 1939-40 and continued to be in display here for several years. It was returned to Spain in 1981.
Picasso continued to make art throughout his life. During a spell he also took to writing poems and between 1935 and 1959, he finished 300 poems. In his later life, he also started making sculptures and copperplate etchings. His late drawings consisted mostly of young women with an old comical man, who is caught in the absurd struggle between desire and renunciation of physical lust.
Picasso died in Mougins, France in 1973 while entertaining friends during a dinner party.
1881 - Born in Malaga, Spain
1896 - Paints “The First Communion,” which depicts his sister Lola
1897 - Joins the Royal Academy of San Fernando, Madrid
1900 - Makes his first trip to Paris
1901 - Starts a magazine called “Arte Joven” (Young Art) with his friend Francisco de Asis Soler
1905 - Meets Henri Matisse in Gertrude Stein’s party, who later becomes his lifelong friend.
1907 - Joins a gallery opened by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, one of the major art dealers of the time.
1907 - Paints “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” that ushered in Cubism
1917 - Becomes a costume designer for the play “Parade”
1939 - Museum of Modern Art held a major retrospective of Picasso’s works
1949 - Exhibits in 3rd Sculpture International held at Philadelphia Museum of Art
1967 - Unveils a public sculpture called “Chicago Picasso” in Chicago
1973 - Dies in Mougins, France
1901 - Galerie Vollard, Paris
1913 - Art Institute of Chicago
1939 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
1949 - Philadelphia Museum of Art
1989 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
2012 - Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada
2013 - Art Institute of Chicago
Museu Picasso, Barcelona
Musee Picasso, Paris
Cleveland Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Tate Modern, London
The Art Institute of Chicago
Staatliche Museen, Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin
Gemeentemuseum, The Hague
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh
Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio
“The Success and Failure of Picasso” by John Berger
“Picasso” by Gertrude Stein
“A Life of Picasso ( In Six Volumes)” by John Richardson
“Picasso: A Biography” by Patrick O’ Brian
“Life with Picasso” by Francoise Gilot
“Picasso: Style and Meaning” by Elizabeth Cowling
“Picasso on Art: A Selection of Views” by Dore Ashton