Picasso, Pablo: 1881-1973: Artist
Pablo Picasso: 1881-1973: Artist
Pablo Picasso was without a doubt the most talked-about visual artist of the twentieth century. For some art lovers, he was the greatest of them all; for others, he was an over-sexed self-promoting novelty act who produced too much art too quickly. But even casual museumgoers could not only recognize Picasso's work but also place it within one of the well-known subdivisions of his output—his Blue and Rose (some reports also refer to this period as Pink) periods, his Primitivist and Cubist periods, and so on. Picasso's works became part of popular culture. He lived and worked for a long time, turning the art world on its head several times with major works and putting his own spin on many of the major artistic movements of his time. For more than one observer, Picasso exemplified the human spirit of the twentieth century in general—questing, striving for meaning, destructive of old rules, and touched by an unprecedented level of violence.
Often Created New Paintings Daily
Pablo Ruiz y Picasso was born in Málaga, in Spain's Andalusia province, on October 25, 1881. Picasso was his mother's last name, but when Pablo Ruiz became active as an independent artist he began to experiment with many different forms of signing his name and finally dropped all traces of "Ruiz." He was the oldest child and only son of Don José Ruiz Blasco, an art teacher and the curator of the local art museum who raised pigeons on the side. Picasso learned to draw so early that he could not remember having done so, although he remembered the birth of a sister when he was three. His first word is said to have been "lápiz"—Spanish for "pencil."
Picasso's talent was nurtured by his father as the latter moved to teaching positions in Corunna and Barcelona, and after enrolling in the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona a restless Picasso exhibited some large paintings, one of which, "Science and Charity," won two awards. That positive event combined with a negative one—trauma that followed the death of his youngest sister from diphtheria—propelled Picasso toward an artistic career. At this point Picasso was a well-trained young artist with only occasional flashes of originality. Picasso studied briefly at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, and in 1900, a few days before his 19th birthday, Picasso arrived in Paris.
At a Glance . . .
Born on October 25, 1881, in Málaga, Spain; died on April 8, 1973, in Antibes, France; son of Don José Ruiz Blasco (an art teacher), and María Picasso y López; married Olga Koklova (a dancer), 1918; married Jacqueline Roque, 1961; children: (first marriage) Paulo; (with Walter) Maria; (with Gilot) Claude, Paloma. Education: Provincial Fine Arts School of La Coruna, 1892-95; Academy of Fine Arts of Barcelona, 1895-96; Royal Academy of San Fernando, Madrid, 1897. Politics: French Communist Party.
Career: Painter, 1900-1973; Art Jove, publisher, art editor, illustrator, 1901; Ballets Russes dance company, costume and set designer, 1917-1924; Minotaure, illustrator, 1933; playwright and poet, 1937-1970.
Selected awards: Honorable mention from Madrid exhibition of fine arts, 1897; gold medal from Malaga provincial exhibition, 1897; Carnegie Prize, 1930; honorary curator of Prado Museum in Madrid, 1936; Silver Medal of French Gratitude from France, 1948; Order of Polish Renascence commander's cross from Poland, 1948; Pennell Memorial Medal from Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, for lithograph "The Dove of Peace," 1949; Lenin Peace Prize from Soviet Union, 1950 and 1962.
There, in the city's arts-oriented Montmartre district, he soaked up the modernist trends that were sweeping the art world. The outlandishly colorful and violently mood-suffused canvases of Vincent Van Gogh impressed him, and he began to express an often bleak worldview (intensified when a close friend committed suicide) through pervasive use of the color blue. The works of what would be called Picasso's Blue Period failed to sell well at first, but Picasso found several sympathetic dealers and experienced more financial success than many other young artists. Part of his success was due to his incredible industriousness and productivity; the French art critic François Charles, according to Picasso biographer Arianna Huffington, told Picasso "for his own good no longer to do a painting a day," but Picasso maintained that breakneck speed over much of his long life.
Evolved From Blue Period to Cubism
Picasso's sexual life during his Blue Period was largely confined to houses of prostitution—he would go on to create a large body of erotic art over the course of his career based on these times. As his Blue Period began to phase out, Picasso became involved with the first of perhaps five women with whom he would have long-term relationships, a divorced artist named Fernande Olivier. Picasso's cohabitation with Olivier coincided with his less gloomy Rose Period and with the beginnings of bold new directions in his art. Like other artists of the day Picasso became interested in African art, and he went through a brief so-called Primitivist period. Then in 1906 Picasso met French artist Georges Braque and the two developed the style known as Cubism, characterized by the breaking-down of faces and objects to their basic geometric forms, which the artist then might rearrange at will.
The artist's major work of this period was Les demoiselles d'Avignon, —"five horrifying women," wrote Arianna Huffington in Picasso: Creator and Destroyer, "prostitutes who repel rather than attract and whose faces are primitive masks that challenge not only society but humanity itself." The painting shocked even Picasso's friends and associates; Braque, Huffington wrote, said that it made him feel "as if someone was drinking gasoline and spitting fire." Eventually the painting was recognized as a masterpiece, but for the time being Picasso was the art world's bad boy.
What Picasso made of Cubism was something quite different from Braque's cool geometric constructions; he often produced paintings that seemed to resemble an image seen in a cracked mirror or through a broken window, and pictures of women with parts of their faces rearranged (such as the guitar-playing woman in Ma jolie of 1912) became one of his trademarks. In the late 1910s Picasso met the experimental French playwright Jean Cocteau. He did set design for an avant-garde dance piece called Parade, written by Cocteau and with music by composer Erik Satie. Picasso married a dancer from the production, Olga Khoklova, and their child Paulo was born in 1921. Again Picasso anticipated and helped to create a major artistic movement: the distorted figures and dark, subconscious quality of many of his works of the 1920s were grouped under the label of Surrealism, although once again Picasso's own take on the trend was immediately identifiable.
Late Art Inspired by War and Love
Picasso's greatest Surrealist painting had nothing to do with subconscious drives, however. Guernica (1937) was a response to Germany's bombing, abetted by Spain's right-wing government, of the Basque town of Guernica; over 1,600 innocent civilians died in the bombing, and an enraged Picasso immediately began to draw on his entire artistic vocabulary to create a painting that would reflect the horror of the event. Finished after several months, Guernica was a giant, jumbled nightmare image featuring fragments of a woman, a horse, and a bull representing brute force in human affairs. The painting, displayed at the Paris World's Fair of 1937, was, in the words of Picasso biographer Patrick O'Brian, "a passionate and universal outcry against all war, all oppression."
Picasso remained in occupied Paris during World War II. Always he had female companions who showed up in his paintings; in the 1920s he had had a daughter, Maria, by Marie-Thérèse Walter after his marriage to Khoklova broke up, and in the late 1940s, he had two more children by Françoise Gilot, Claude and Paloma. Picasso worked almost nonstop for the rest of his life, producing a staggering amount of work in a variety of styles and media—especially during a phase of his career where he favored paper cut-outs. "He had a much fresher and more childlike attitude than any of us," Claude Picasso recalled in a Newsweek International interview. One of Picasso's best-known works from the later stages of his career was a simple drawing of a white pigeon carrying a small branch. Executed in 1949, it was used for a poster associated with the Paris Peace Congress of that year. It was a rare print shop or college bookstore in the following decades that did not stock a reproduction of the drawing.
In the decades after World War II, Picasso was a celebrity both within and beyond the art world, venerated by younger artists who were creating revolutionary styles such as Abstract Expressionism and who saw Picasso as the very soul of daring innovation. Picasso moved to the south of France in 1948, settling near Aix in 1958 and in the small town of Mougins in 1961. At the age of 80 in 1961, he married Jacqueline Roque, and on his 80th birthday, he stayed up until two in the morning at a variety show, got up early the next morning to attend a ceremony held in his honor, and attended a bullfight the next afternoon. On the occasion of his 90th birthday, eight Picasso paintings were hung in the central Great Gallery of the Louvre Museum in Paris; some of the greatest names in the history of art were moved aside to make room. Picasso died in Antibes, France, on April 8, 1973, after producing hundreds of works in the last few years of his life. Among his last words, spoken to his bachelor doctor, were these, quoted by Patrick O'Brian: "You are wrong not to marry. It's useful."
Contemporary Artists, 4th ed., St. James, 1996.
Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale, 1996.
Huffington, Arianna Stassinopolous, Picasso: Creator and Destroyer, Simon & Schuster, 1988.
Mailer, Norman, Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995.
O'Brian, Patrick, Picasso: A Biography, Putnam's, 1976.
Atlantic, June 1988, p. 37.
Newsweek International, July 19, 1999, p. 58.
Time International, April 9, 2001, p. 50.
—James M. Manheim