Photo by Rene Burri/Magnum Photos
Carolyn and I have long admired the extraordinary work of the Spanish painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso, who is one of Carolyn’s all-time favorite artists, and is considered one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.
Pablo Picasso was born in 1881 in southern Spain. His father, a painter who specialized in naturalistic depictions of birds and other animals, was a professor of art and the curator of a local museum. From an early age, Picasso demonstrated a passion for creative expression and a skill for drawing. According to his mother, Picasso’s first word was the Spanish term for “pencil.”
In 1890, at the age of seven, Picasso began his formal art training, when his father taught him figure drawing and oil painting. Since Picasso’s father was a traditional academic artist, he believed that proper training required a disciplined copying of the masters, and accurately drawing the human body from plaster casts and live models. Picasso demonstrated incredible artistic talent in his early years, painting in a naturalistic manner through his childhood and adolescence, but this rigid style of expression was destined to be re-imagined during Picasso’s career.
In 1900 Picasso moved to Paris and shared an apartment with a friend who was a writer. This was a difficult time marked by extreme poverty and much of his work was actually burned to keep their small place warm. In 1901 Picasso moved to Madrid and shared another apartment with a different writer, who wrote for a journal that Picasso illustrated. The paintings that Picasso painted from 1901 to 1904 are characterized by somber renditions of people, done mostly in shades of blue and blue-green, and this time frame is known as Picasso’s Blue Period.
By 1905 Picasso had already established himself among well-known art collectors at the time, such as Leo and Gertrude Stein. Gertrude Stein, who became Picasso’s principal patron, acquired some of Picasso’s drawings and paintings, and she exhibited them at her Parisian home in her legendary salon, which The New York Times called “the first museum of modern art.”
Between 1907 and 1909 Picasso created a series of paintings that were inspired by the African artifacts that he saw at an ethnographic museum in Paris. This became known as his “African-influenced primitivism period” and is most characterized by his famous work, Demoiselles d’Avignon, a large oil painting created in 1907, of five nude women in a Barcelona brothel, rendered with angular and disjointed body shapes.
From 1909 to 1919 Picasso’s style of work is described as Cubism. This was an art movement that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, where objects and people are broken up and reassembled in an abstract form—and instead of depicting them from a single perspective, they are painted from a multitude of different viewpoints in order to represent a greater context.
In 1917 Picasso journeyed to Italy, and here he produced work that is considered to be in a “neoclassical style.” This was an art movement that drew inspiration from the art and culture of classical antiquity. Picasso’s paintings and drawings from this period frequently recall the work of earlier European painters Raphael and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.
In 1925 some of Picasso’s work appeared at a group exhibition of Surrealist artists, and although his work at this exhibit was really more representative of Cubism, Surrealism influenced Picasso’s work during this time by reviving his interest in primitivism and eroticism.
In 1937 Picasso produced a large oil painting called Guernica which is probably his best-known work, which depicts the German bombing of a Spanish city during the Spanish Civil War. It is a powerful piece that, for many, expresses the brutality, horrors, and inhumanity of the war.
In 1939 and 1940 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City held a major retrospective of Picasso’s major works at the time, and this exhibition brought Picasso into full public view in the United States. This resulted in a reinterpretation of his work by contemporary art historians and scholars.
During the years of World War II Picasso remained in Paris while the Germans occupied the city, from 1940 to 1944. Picasso’s artistic style didn’t exactly fit in with the Nazi ideal of art, so he never exhibited his work during this time, and the Gestapo often harassed him.
During a search of his apartment, a Nazi officer saw a photograph of his painting Guernica. “Did you do that?” he asked Picasso. “No,” Picasso replied, “You did.”
Picasso’s immense creativity found its way into other mediums. Between 1935 and 1959 Picasso wrote poetry as another form of artistic expression, and he crafted over 300 poems. He also wrote two screenplays, in 1941 and 1949. Additionally, Picasso made a few film appearances as himself, including Jean Cocteau’s Testament of Orpheus in 1960, and in 1955 he helped make the film The Mystery of Picasso.
The last years of Picasso’s life were marked by a period of great creativity, during which he continued to explore new media and techniques. He also experienced great success, receiving numerous honors and awards, such as the International Lenin Peace Prize award, which he won twice, in 1950 and 1962.
Picasso’s later works often contained a mix of elements from different styles, including Cubism, Surrealism, and his own unique vision. He also continued to draw inspiration from the world around him; his paintings often contained references to current events and the political landscape at the time.
Picasso remained very active in the art world through his nineties, and he continued to exhibit his work in galleries and museums around the world until the end of his life. He also continued to work with a variety of different media, including sculpture and lithography. Picasso painted 13,500 paintings in his lifetime, and more of his paintings have been stolen than any other artist. He also produced 100,000 prints and engravings, 300 sculptures and ceramics, and 34,000 illustrations.
Picasso died in 1973 at the age of 91, and he was active as an artist until his last breath. His work has inspired generations of artists, and his influence can be seen in many of the works of modern and contemporary art. Carolyn’s painting After Picasso was inspired by Picasso’s Cubist work, for example. Picasso’s iconic pieces continue to be exhibited in museums and galleries around the world, and his influence can not only be seen in the development of modern art, but also in popular culture, with his works inspiring films, music, fashion, and other forms of artistic expression.
Some of the quotes that Picasso is known for include:
Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.
It takes a long time to become young.
The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.
Everything you can imagine is real.
Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.
“f there were only one truth, you couldn’t paint a hundred canvases on the same theme.
Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.
Love is the greatest refreshment in life.
I don’t believe in accidents. There are only encounters in history. There are no accidents.
The chief enemy of creativity is ‘good’ sense.
To finish a work? To finish a picture? What nonsense! To finish it means to be through with it, to kill it, to rid it of its soul, to give it its final blow the coup de grace for the painter as well as for the picture.