Pablo Picasso

"What will painting do when I'm dead ? It'll have to walk over my body. There's no way round, is there"

- Picasso, quoted in P. Cabanne, Le Siècle de Picasso (Paris, 1975), at p. 411)

The Spanish-born Picasso spent most of his career in France. Immensely prolific, he was primarily a painter but also produced influential sculpture, drawing, printmaking, ceramics, and theatre designs, as well as writing poetry, and on art. The dominant European artist of the 20th century, he represented the popular idea of a modern artist.

Pablo Picasso acquired traditional art skills from his father José Ruiz Blasco, a painter and drawing teacher, and at Spanish art academies. He remained a magnificent draughtsman all his life (The Three Graces, 1923). From 1904, Picasso was based in Paris, summering at French seaside resorts from the early 1920s. His art reflects his study of many European, African and Oceanic artists. Picasso developed Cubism with Georges Braque. He was also influenced by writers, including his friends Max Jacob, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Jean Cocteau, and by the Ballets Russes circle. Experimenting in unfamiliar media, Picasso collaborated with the metalworker Julio González, several master printers and ceramicists. He visited Italy in 1917, and Spain in the early 1930s.

After early academic works, Picasso created bleak images of the Parisian poor during his 'Blue Period' (The Frugal Meal, 1904), and warmer ones of entertainers during his 'Rose Period' (from 1904). He then experimented with less naturalistic art in his groundbreaking 'Primitivist' paintings, influenced by African and Oceanic art, and by Gauguin's sculpture. In 1907 Picasso met Georges Braque. Together they developed Cubism, fragmenting naturalistic forms (The Small Table, 1919), or combining shapes. Picasso continued to work naturalistically even as he incorporated pre-existing materials in collages and sculpture to create new meanings. He combined Cubism and naturalism in his 1916-1921 designs for the Ballets Russes). In the 1920s, his art became more emotionally expressive, and he developed a modern neoclassicism. Already interested in bullfighting and classical antiquity (he visited Italy in 1917), he adopted the Surrealist figure of the Minotaur. His sculptures ranged from bas-reliefs of assembled cloth and nails (1926) to innovative metal works (created with Julio González) and neoclassical bronze heads (1928 to 1932). Working with master printmakers, Picasso explored (and expanded) the technical possibilities of printmaking. He presented an often-idealized image of love and artmaking in his The Vollard Suite, 1937. Internationally famous, Picasso used his art against Franco when the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936 (Dream and Lie of Franco, 1937). The Spanish Republican Government appointed him director of the Prado, and commissioned his mural Guernica (1937, Madrid, Centre Reina Sophia) for the Spanish Pavilion at the Exposition Universelle, Paris. Picasso reworked part of this painting in Weeping Woman, 1937.

During World War II, his Spanish citizenship and great fame enabled him to remain in France. He prospered during the Cold War despite having joined the French Communist Party in 1944. From 1947, Picasso made ceramics at Vallauris in southern France. Playful as well as savage in his art, he incorporated found objects in his bronze sculpture. In his late works, Picasso responded to old age with compulsive productivity. He felt himself challenged by the great artists of the past, including Velasquez and Rembrandt, and reworked their most famous paintings in his own art. Picasso's late works revealed his preoccupation with erotic fantasies, creative decline, and mortality. His art, in which women often appear in fragmented form, reflected his turbulent private life, notably his failed relationships with a succession of wives and lovers (among them the artists Fernande Olivier, Dora Maar, and Françoise Gilot). Picasso retained his Spanish popular beliefs all his life, along with a self-image as Hero-Artist deriving from Goethe, Wagner and Nietzsche.



1962 awarded Lenin Peace Prize

Photography: © 1954 Yousuf Karsh

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