Pablo Picasso ~ Biography II (1881 - 1973)

Header Picture: Pablo Picasso, Woman with Green Hat, 1939
© Succession Picasso

Pablo Picasso Texts: Biog. II | Life Of Picasso | Biography 1

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Pablo Picasso Gallery: (1893 - 1902) | Paintings In Date Order | (1893 - 1902) | (1903 - 20) | (1921 - 40) | (1941 -73) | 50 Most Representative Paintings

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Pablo Picasso ~ Biography II (1881 - 1973)

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Best Book on Early Years: Picasso--The Early Years, 1892-1906

Known as: Most famous 20th-century painter
Born: 25 October 1881, Málaga, Andalucía, Spain
Birthname: Pablo Ruiz Picasso
Height: 5' 4"
Died: 8 April 1973, Mougins, Alpes Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France

Spanish painter, sculptor, draughtsman, graphic and stage designer, and ceramicist, born in Malaga, Andalusia. The indisputable genius of 20th-century art. Picasso, like Michelangelo whom he in some ways emulated, stands as one of a handful of the most important artists in the whole history of Western art.

Encouraged by his father Jose Ruiz Blasco, an artist and teacher of art, Picasso studied principally in Barcelona where he mostly lived (1896-1904). Until 1898 Picasso signed his pictures with his father's name, Ruiz, as well as his mother's, Picasso. In 1898—9 he began occasionally using only his mother's name and from 1900—1 he dropped his father's name. He 1st visited Paris in 1900, then in 1901 and 1902, and 1904. He showed prodigious artistic ability from his youth, e.g. Man in a Cap (1895) and Portrait of the Artist's Sister (1899). In 1900, the year of his 1st visit to Paris, he was deeply impressed by Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin and Van Gogh, while retaining what he had learnt in his native country from El Greco, Velazquez and Goya. Le Moulin de la Galette (1900), probably his 1st painting in Paris, shows the influence of Toulouse-Lautrec, while Paris Street (1900) and On the Upper Deck (1901) demonstrate how impressed he was by Parisian life seen in its cabarets, boulevards. public gardens and racecourses. In Self Portrait (1901) and also in his paintings until early 1904, his so-called Blue Period, an element of melancholy dominates his work with subjects of vagabonds, beggars, prostitutes, poverty-stricken and deprived people, e.g. the Old Guitarist (1903), who frequented the bars of Montmartre or the streets of Barcelona where he spent the greater part of these years until he settled in Paris in 1904. The restricted ethereal blue colour and simplified, plastic forms combined to an intense melancholy and pathos away from the atmospheric effects of Impressionism.

In Paris he took a studio at the 'Bateau-Lavoir', a building inhabited by painters and poets in Montmartre. He soon met artists and writers including Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Alfred Jarry, the art critic Andre Salmon and his early patrons, Gertrude and Leo Stein, the art dealer Wilhelm Uhde and the Russian collector Shchukin. The pessimism of his earlier work gave way to the so-called Rose Period. Actors and strolling players of the boulevards and circuses are rendered in a manner lighter in mood using a palette of gentle tones of pink, ochre and grey, e.g. Boy Leading a Horse, The Boy with a Pipe, The Acrobat's Family and Family of Saltimbanques (all 1905). During this period Picasso also produced a number of sculptures, e.g Head of Fernande (1905) and a remarkable series of etchings, The Frugal Repast (1904), The Saltimbanques (15 etchings made in 1904/5 published by Vollard in 1913) and Salome (1905). His early work exemplifies his extraordinary power to assimilate varied influences and his uninhibited will to experiment. In 1906 Picasso met Kahnweiler, Braque, Derain and Matisse. Although conscious of the revolutionary violence of Fauvism, he remained untouched by the prime importance it gave to colour alone.

Pablo Picasso Photograph
Pablo Picasso
© Succession Picasso
Recommended Reading: Picasso Prints ~ The Vollard Suite
© Succession Picasso

The experimental nature of his work intensified c. 1906/7 inspired, on the one hand, by 'primitive' forms (ancient Iberian sculpture at 1st and later African and Oceanic masks and carvings), e.g. Gertrude Stein, Self Portrait and Two Nudes (all 1906) and, on the other, by Cezanne's empirical reorganization of forms in paintings which became familiar to Picasso through the dealer Vollard who had given Picasso his 1st exhibition in Paris in 1901. In 1906 he discovered the greatness of 'Le Douanier' Rousseau, the vitality of whose work greatly appealed to Picasso's eagerness to find new forms of expression. The epoch-making Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (studies started in 1906 and the painting executed in 1907) was a conscious attempt to complete his researches and, although these were obviously still evolving during its production, this painting seen in retrospect was the vital step in liberating Picasso from conventional representation. The African art which Picasso 1st saw c. 1906/7 was not inhibited by the representational tradition of Western art, and its forms became for Picasso a precedent of paramount importance. Cubism was evolved by Picasso and Braque, whom Picasso had met in 1907 through Apollinaire, by tempering this freedom with Cezanne's sense of structural discipline (a retrospective exhibition of Cezanne was held at the Salon d'Automne in 1907). In the same year the dealer Kahnweiler signed a contract with Picasso that gave him exclusive sales rights to his work. In early Analytical Cubist paintings (1909—12), e.g. Portrait of Ambroise Vollard (1909-10), the form is still clearly recognizable, although the traditional rules of linear perspective are abandoned — freely dissected, separated into its elements, penetrated and reconstructed in terms of a complex arrangement of overlapping translucent planes, executed in sepia and grey with only occasional use of olive green and ochre, the figure and its shallow spatial background setting are homogeneously integrated. The same quality characterizes Portrait of Uhde (1910), but in Portrait of Kahnweiler (1910) likeness has been abandoned to the uncompromising organization of form into the broken facets of Analytical Cubism. In 1911 Picasso's 1st venture in book illustration was a commission by Kahnweiler to do etchings for Max Jacob's Saint Matorel.

In Synthetic Cubism (c. 1912-13 to 1916) - e.g. Still Life with Chair Canin (1911-12), The Violin, The Aficionado (both 1912), Bottle of Vieux Marc (1913), Guitar, Playing Card, Glass, Bottle of Bass (1914) - the use of found objects, newspaper, etc. in collages and papiers colles on the picture surface firstly placed an outspoken emphasis on that surface and secondly declared in a revolutionary manner that painting creates its own reality rather than imitates nature. In 1912 Picasso began exploring the possibilities of 3-dimensional constructions in relief, e.g. Still Life (1914) and in the same year (1914) in a polychrome, freestanding bronze sculpture, Le verre d'Absinthe. By 1913 the subdued colour of early Cubism had been abandoned and it now assumed a new role — it glowed from flat, evenly coloured and clearly defined areas, e.g. Woman in an Armchair (1913) and Card Player (1913—14). From 1914, when his partnership with Braque was ended by the outbreak of war, until 1921, Picasso continued to work in a Synthetic Cubist idiom culminating in the monumental Three Musicians (1921). By this time, however, Cubism was no longer Picasso's exclusive style, although Cubist devices continued to be used even decades later. Picasso worked on designs for several of Diaghilev's ballets (1917-24), e.g. dropcurtain for Parade (1917) and Pulcinella (1920) and visited Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Florence and Barcelona with the co. His visits to Italy possibly inspired the classicism of his figure compositions of 1919—25. The colossal, sculptural figures, e.g. Two Seated Women (1920), Seated Nude and Three Women at the Fountain (both 1921) make references to classical subjects, but were made in parallel with Cubist paintings. The strong influence of classicism, however, gave way to the ecstatic violence and frenzy of Three Dancers (1925), the 1st to show violent distortions and a new freedom of expression.

pablo picasso photograph
Pablo Picasso
© Succession Picasso

During the following years, his freely inventive anatomies and architectures began to incorporate Surrealist elements, e.g. Crucifixion and Seated Bather (both 1930). In the late '20s he returned to bas-reliefs and sculpture inventing new forms, e.g. Figure of a Woman (l928) and Woman in Garden (1929-30), and sometimes using painting and sculpture interchangeably, e.g. The Painter and His Model (1928), part of which was also made as a painted metal construction. Picasso exhibited in the 1st Surrealist exhibition (Paris, 1925) and contributed etchings and writings to Surrealist publications although he did not sign the Surrealist manifestos. In 1931 Vollard published 12 etchings by ' Picasso as illustrations to Balzac's Le chef-d'oeuvre inconnu and Albert Skira Ovid's Metamorphoses with etchings by Picasso.

From the 1930s Picasso became increasing involved with political unrest in Europe. His interest in classical mythology combined with his passion for bullfights resulted in his frequent use of the subject of the Minotaur. During 1931-5 Picasso made a series of 100 etching called Vollard Suite (3 portraits of Vollard made later in 1937). 46 of these (1933-4) were of 'The Sculptor's Studio' and 15 (1933-5?) on the theme of the Minotaur. An additional etching Minotauromachy (1935) was to be used years later as the departing point for Picasso historically, most important painting since Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the Guernica. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936, Picasso associated himself with the Spanish Republican cause. In 1937 he made 2 large engravings, Dream and Lie of Franco, and the Guernica - named after the Basque town destroyed by an air raid. This enormous canvas (11ft 6in. x 25ft 8in., 3.5 m. x 7.8 m.) has been called 'the most famous painting of our time'. It is a complex allegory that expresses the anguish of human tragedy; it combines violent distortion with restrained subtlety of colour. It was shown at the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris World Fair soon after it was completed. The Minotaurs of the Vollard Suite and of Minotauromachy, as well as numerous drawings and studies, e.g. Horse's Head, Woman Weeping and Woman and Dead Child (all 1937) were all fed into the painting of the Guernica. As World War II was approaching he painted a number of pictures that indicate his foreboding, e.g. Cat Devouring a Bird and Fishing at Antibes (both 1939). Picasso's wartime output was prodigious in painting and sculpture, including the bronzes Death's Head (1943) and Man with Sheep (modelled 1st in clay, 1944). From 1944 he was a member of the French Communist Party. His final great painting expressing the horror of World War II was The Channel House (1945). He was, however, to return to the subject again, responding to the Korean War, in Massacre in Korea (1951) and in two enormous paintings War and Peace (both 1952). Picasso's constant preoccupation with forms in space find brilliantly imaginative expression in his ground-breaking sculpture (664 catalogued) which includes Cubist bronzes (c. 1909), collage constructions (1912—16), e.g. Glass of Absinthe (1914), the wrought-iron constructions made in collaboration with J. Gonzalez (1928-32), the use of readymades, e.g. Bull (1943), Goat (1950) and Monkey with Young (1952). Picasso's post-war work included several series of extraordinarily inventive paintings after other artists (Poussin, Delacroix, Velazquez and Manet) as well as a prodigious volume of graphic work and ceramics. He was prolifically productive to the end of his life. The extraordinary versatility, energy and freedom that characterize every phase of his work were yet again manifest in the astonishing new paintings and engravings he made in the last decade of his life until the very day he died, daring and innovative in style and imique, including 347 etchings produced in 1968. A large statue in bronze, Woman Holding a Vase from his plaster model of 1933 and shown beside Guernica in 1937, was placed on his grave.

Source: The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Art and Artists (World of Art)

Further Reading: Biography I
Further Reading: Biography II

The ultimate Picasso book - spoil yourself!: Picasso's Masterpieces: The Musée Picasso Paris Collection


Pablo Picasso Texts: Biog. II | Life Of Picasso | Biography 1

Pablo Picasso Links: Picasso & Cocteau | Le Testament d'Orphee

Pablo Picasso Gallery: Paintings In Date Order >> (1893 - 1902) >> (1903 - 20) >> (1921 - 40) >> (1941 -73) >> 50 Most Representative Paintings

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