Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Born in Malaga on 25 October 1881, Pablo Picasso was a precocious artist. He was only eight years old when he made his first paintings. He first signed them with the name of Ruiz Bianco before deciding to use his mother’s name (Picasso) in the early 1900s. The painter never separated from one of his first paintings, Le Petit Picador Jaune, made in 1889. In 1896, at the age of 15, he began his studies at the school of Llotja, where his father taught. He shared a studio with Manuel Pallares. He was not even an adult yet, but had already painted many paintings, including The Choir Boy and Science and Charity (1896).
Admitted to the Royal Academy of San Fernando in 1897, he gave up on following the school curriculum. In 1900, his painting Les Derniers Moments represented Spain at the Universal Exhibition of Paris. He and his friend Carlos Casagemas travelled to France with Nonell’s studio, and already he began to sell some paintings and pastels. The artist returned to Spain, and returned to Paris again in May 1901. Thus began a decisive period for Picasso. The suicide of Casagemas inspired his famous Blue period: melancholic paintings tackling the themes of death and poverty (ex.: The Death of Casagemas).
In 1905, he met and fell in love with Fernande Olivier; he became friends with Guillaume Apollinaire, and he met the influential patrons Leo and Gertrude Stein. He moved to Bateau-Lavoir which marked the beginning of a happy period – the Rose period – in which he painted scenes of the surrounding environment (Family of Saltimbanques and Les Trois Hollandaises). Picasso discovered African art in 1907 (especially Congolese art), which would have a critical influence on his oeuvre.
From 1907 to 1914, Picasso entered a period of experimentation with Georges Braque, heralded by Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, the founding work of the movement. Together they laid the foundations of Cubism, a painting philosophy characterised by several phases of research on geometric shapes. Braque and Picasso were constantly adding to and integrating new elements in their compositions, notably through collage. ‘Cubism is no different from any other school of painting’, said Picasso. ‘The same principles and the same elements are common to all. Cubism remained within the limits and limitations of painting. Cubism understands and uses drawing, composition, and colour in the same spirit and in the same way as other schools; our subjects may be different, because we have introduced objects and shapes that painting did not know before.’
During this period Picasso painted portraits and realised his first sculptures, notably, Fernande’s Head in 1909.
War had a powerful impact on his work. While most of his artist friends enlisted, he left Paris to spend some time in Rome with Jean Cocteau, through whom he met Diaghilev and his future wife Olga Khokhlova. Picasso also produced sets for the Russian ballets. After his Cubist period, he returned to more figurative paintings such as Women at the Fountain and Two Women Running on the Beach. In 1924 when he passed through Juan-les-Pins, he painted Paul as Harlequin.
In the mid-1920s his art took a new radical turn. His new acquaintance of Marie-Thérèse Walter, the tensions with his wife Olga, and the influence of Surrealism inspired him to create paintings such as Woman in an Armchair. In the following years he became significantly interested in sculpture, settled in Juan-le-Pins and created many works on the figure of the minotaur. In 1937, following the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, Picasso realised one of his most famous paintings. ‘Guernica’, he said, ‘is not made to decorate an apartment. It is an instrument of war, offensive and defensive against the enemy.’ The work was presented at the International Exhibition in Paris the same year. During the Second World War, he created Tête de taureau and L’Homme au mouton. In 1944, he joined the French Communist Party and painted the peace dove for the World Peace Council, marking an optimistic turn in his work.
In the summer of 1946, the painter began to take an interest in ceramics. He would produce several thousand in Vallauris. Upon the walls of the Vallauris chapel in 1952 he designed and executed the immense composition War and Peace. The painter then began to work on variations on major works in the history of art, such as Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe and Delacroix’s Les Femmes d’Alger.
In November 1966, a major retrospective exhibition was dedicated to him at the Grand and Petit Palais in Paris. In April 1973, he died of a pulmonary edema. He left behind an enormous oeuvre of great richness and variety. ‘I never made childish drawings,’ said Picasso. ‘Even when I was very young I was drawing like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to draw like a child.’
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