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Pablo Ruiz y Picasso (October 25, 1881, Málaga Spain, to April 8, 1973, Mougins, France) was a Spanish painter, sculptor, graphic artist, ceramist and designer who came to be known as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.
Attributes of His Works: Picasso’s name is synonymous with abstract art, modernism and cubism, as well as his focus on humanism, pacifism, and social commentary. His works showed a fascination with outcasts and the underclass, a trait that finally led him to join the Communist Party. He commonly switched painting styles, with one critic noting that “Picasso invented a new style each time he fell in love with a new woman.” Current events greatly influenced the subjects of his artwork, including the Spanish Civil War and the dictator Francisco Franco, the Holocaust, the Soviet Union, and the Korean War. His career is generally classified by periods: the Blue Period (1901–1904), the Rose Period (1904–1906), the African Period (1907–1909), Analytic Cubism (1909–1912), and Synthetic Cubism (1912–1919).
Famous Works: The Old Guitarist; The Dream; Nude, Green Leaves and Bust; Les Demoiselles d’Avignon; The Weeping Woman; Guernica.
The Early Life of the Artist
Picasso was the eldest of four siblings and the son of an art professor, who began formally teaching him art at the age of seven. He had little to no interest in any other subjects, focusing all of his passion on art and falling back in all of his other classes. In 1895 his younger sister died of diphtheria and his family moved to Barcelona, where his father taught at the La Lonja Academy of Fine Arts, which admitted Picasso at the age of 13 into the advanced class. This was also around the time he had his first art exhibit. In 1896 he painted the Portrait of Aunt Pepa (Museu Picasso, Barcelona) and the First Communion (Museu Picasso, Barcelona). At the age of 16, he was sent to Madrid to study at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, where he almost immediately stopped going to classes.
In 1900 Picasso went to Paris for the first time, followed by time in Madrid and then a return to Paris. It was in this part of his life that he started painting mostly in blue and blue-green, melancholy paintings driven by depression and a friend’s suicide. Although these are considered some of his most important works now, at the time they were too dreary for the average art lover or critic and he became poorer and poorer. The Blue Nude (1902, Picasso Museum, Barcelona) expresses this sadness perfectly, hunched over and viewed from behind, as does The Old Guitarist (1903–1904, Art Institute of Chicago), an old blind street musician, contorted and ragged, playing as if exhausted or close to death.
In 1904 Picasso’s Rose Period began, and his works began to take on a cheerier atmosphere, commonly with circus themes. He was living in Montmartre and he often painted local entertainers, such as The Actor (1904, Metropolitan Museum of Art); Boy with a Pipe (1905, private collection); Acrobat on a Ball (1905, Pushkin Museum, Moscow); Mother and Child, Acrobats (1904–1905 Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart); and Acrobat’s Family with a Monkey (1905, Göteborgs Konstmuseum, Gothenburg).
This was followed by the proto-Cubist African Period began, influenced by African sculptures and masks that had been making their way to Paris as the empire expanded, starting with The Young Ladies of Avignon (1907, Museum of Modern Art), a scandalous painting of five unclothed prostitutes that Picasso originally called The Brothel of Avignon. The faces of the rightmost two women are African masklike, and an early cubism can be seen in its most primitive form. He developed this style over about three years, most notably with Dryad (1908, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg), Three Women (1908, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg), Brick Factory at Tortosa (1909, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg), and Buste de femme (1909, Van Abbemuseum, Netherlands). Together with Georges Braque, Picasso’s style morphed into the revolutionary periods later classified as Analytical Cubism and Synthetic Cubism, in which he tried to show his subjects from all perspectives and added elements of collage, followed by the highly geometric Crystal period. These periods shocked the world and helped shape modern art to this day, and Picasso found himself the most famous artist alive.
Le Rêve (1932, Private Collection) is one of Picasso’s most well-known paintings, a portrait of his sleeping mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter. In the same distorted style, he painted her in Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932, Private Collection) and Nude in a Black Armchair (1932, Wexner Center for the Arts) and she was his inspiration for many years, appearing in sculptures, paintings and sketches, all while living in the shadows, hidden from Picasso’s wife Olga, until their divorce.
The brutal bombing of the town of Guernica by Nazi German and Italian Fascist planes during the Spanish Civil War inspired Picasso to paint Guernica (1937, Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid), a large black, gray and white mural which also featured his muse Walter as the running girl, the girl holding a lamp, and the mother wailing, holding her dead child.
His later works were also deeply political and humanistic: The Charnel House (1944–1945, The Museum of Modern Art), the War and Peace murals (1952, National Picasso Museum), The Rape of the Sabines (1963, Picasso Museum, Paris), and Young Bather with Sand Shovel (1971, Private Collection, France).
Picasso died of pulmonary edema, or fluid in the lungs, on April 8, 1973, at the age of 91 while having friends over for dinner. He left behind four children and his wife, Jacqueline Roque. Both Roque and Walter killed themselves after his death.