Modern Master: Pablo Picasso


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PicassoPortraitPablo Picasso (1881 – 1974) was born on October 25, 1881, in Málaga, Spain. His name is synonymous with 20th century art. No artist was ever as famous as Picasso was in his own lifetime, or has been since. The son of an academic painter, José Ruiz Blasco, he began to draw at an early age. In 1895 his family moved to Barcelona, and Picasso studied there at La Lonja, the academy of fine arts. His visit to Horta de Ebro from 1898 to 1899 and his association with the group at the café Els Quatre Gats about 1899 were crucial to his early artistic development. Picasso’s first exhibition took place in Barcelona in 1900, and that fall he went to Paris for the first of several stays during the early years of the century. Picasso settled in Paris in April 1904, and his circle of friends soon included Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Gertrude and Leo Stein.

Picasso’s early works are known as the Blue and Rose periods, so called for the color tones in which they are rendered. With their wistful elongated figures of Spanish and French life, they are examples of late 19th century Symbolism.

In the summer of 1906, during Picasso’s stay in Gosol, Spain, his work entered a new phase, marked by the influence of Greek, Iverian, and African art. It was at this time that he produced one of his most important works, Les demoiselles d’Avingnon. The work appears to have a surface of fractured glass, destroying spatial depth and the classic form of the female nude, rendering it in harsh, angular planes. This work ushered in a critical turning point in modern art. Along with the French artist Georges Braque, he created a style which broke down and analyzed form, fracturing it into “little cubes”, ushering in the age of cubism. It proved to be the most influential movement of the early twentieth century.

Picasso’s collaboration on ballet and theatrical productions began in 1916. Soon thereafter, his work was characterized by neoclassicism and a renewed interest in drawing and figural representation. In the 1920s the artist and his wife, Olga (whom he had married in 1918), continued to live in Paris, to travel frequently, and to spend their summers at the beach. As if to distance himself from his imitators, Picasso then went to the opposite extreme of embracing the classical past. He expressed a renewed interest in drawing and figural representation.

From 1925 to the 1930s Picasso was involved to a certain degree with the Surrealists. From the fall of 1931 he became especially interested in making sculpture. In 1932, with large exhibitions at the Galeries Georges Petit, Paris, and the Kunsthaus Zürich, and the publication of the first volume of Christian Zervos’s catalogue raisonné, Picasso’s fame increased markedly.

The Spanish Civil War in 1936 also had a profound affect on Picasso. He painted Guernica, one of his greatest works. He was inspired to paint it after the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by the Germans. Completed in less than two months, the enormous work expresses Picasso’s outrage by employing such imagery as a fallen warrior and a mother and dead child. 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.

From the late 1940s Picasso lived in the south of France. Among the enormous number of exhibitions that were held during the artist’s lifetime, those at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1939 and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, in 1955 were most significant. In 1961 the artist married Jacqueline Roque, and they moved to Mougins. There Picasso continued his prolific work in painting, drawing, prints, ceramics, and sculpture. He died in 1973 at the age of 91, having earned a level of world wide fame and admiration that no other modern artist has achieved.