Pablo Picasso

The most famous artist of modern times, most versatile and most fruitful, was horn in Malaga, only son of a painter who symbolically handed over his brushes when the boy was 13.

From 1892, Pablo studied at Coruna and Barcelona art schools and, for a few months in 1897, at the Royal Academy in Madrid. By then, his strong but quite unoriginal work, paintings and drawing’s, had been favorably noticed.

In 1899, he returned to Barcelona and became part of a circle of artists and writers who met at the cafe Els Quatre Gats, associating as a local Art Nouveau movement stimulated by French art such as Steinlen’s, but also by Spaniel, expressive art such as El Greco’s, and often representing the life of the poor in a realistic manner.

In 1900, a painting of his, was included in the Paris Universal Exhibition. That October Picasso and his friend Casagemas visited Paris and Picasso painted his first Paris pictures, a cafe scene and a Pierrot with dancer, influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec.

Until 1904, he spent part of each year in Paris.

In 1901, he began to exhibit and to sell his work there, being seen as a ‘brilliant newcomer’. Casagemas’s suicide affected him deeply. Death and deprivation became dominant themes in his work, and by the end of 1902 he was working in Barcelona and in Paris in the manner known as his Blue Period. La Vie is the outstanding work of these years, suggestive in content and sombre in mood.

His spring 1904 visit to Paris became his emigration. He took a studio in the Bateau-Lavoir, close to the circus which he and his friends frequented. He formed a liaison with Fernande Olivier who lived with him for seven years: like his other sexual relationships, this one impressed itself on his work. Its tone and color lightened – Rose Period – and its themes were often related to circus performers, harlequins, clowns etc.

He was also making occasional modelled sculptures, e.g. The Jester (1905). A visit to Holland in the summer of 1905 brought a more solid, sculptural quality into his painting, reinforced in 1906 by his visit to Gosol in the Spanish Pyrenees: his painted figures became more massive and primitive under the influence of ancient Iberian sculpture. That autumn he completed his portrait of Gertrude Stein, making her face a hard mask with sharp details. The sculptural character of his painting at this time shows powerfully in Two Nudes.

By this time Picasso was recognized as part of the Paris avant garde along with Matisse, Derain and other leading figures. Impelled by the example of Cezanne, but reacting also to Matisse’s Bonheur de Vivre, he began planning a large figure painting: theirs were outdoor scenes of happiness, his would be a dramatic brothel scene. The result, left unfinished in 1907, was Les Demoiselles d’Angnon, in which there are elements of Cezanne and Matisse, as well as El Greco and, at the last moment, African masks, jostle to make a discord of harsh forms and colors and contradictory styles. Some of its angular forms have caused it to be seen as the first Cubist painting, but its size and subject matter as well as other aspects suggest rather a summation of ideas, ambitions and impulses affecting him up to that point. There followed an exploratory period in which ideas from African sculpture conflict with painterly methods.

In 1907, Picasso carved massive figures in wood in a quasi-African manner. The same massiveness shows in several of his 1907-08 paintings, notably the Dryad or Large Nude and Three Women, in which tone is used to establish solid forms and relief at the expense of color and atmosphere.

Braque, working in the same building, was disconcerted by the Demoiselles. Their friendship ripened in 1908 as Braque developed his first Cubist paintings. Three Women owes something to Braque’s careful interrelating of tilting, close-toned planes.

Picasso was moving towards Braque’s new art, and soon they were working closely together to develop Cubism. It is as the great Cubist that Picasso has been inscribed in the annals of modernism. Yet Cubism misrepresents him; the painter of life’s passions diverts himself, playing intricate formal games, mostly with still-life motif’s, in an essentially French vein.

The humor he shows in his Cubist work is characteristic, but not the impersonal, exploratory method. For a while, the sculptural emphasis continued, but by spring 1910, Picasso’s paintings showed all the ambiguities of form and space that Braque had been developing, and 1911 saw the climax of early (Analytical) Cubism in the work of both.

In 1912, they went their separate ways, stylistically (although the work of both is labelled Synthetic Cubism) and physically. Picasso moved into a smart apartment with his new lover, Eva. He introduced collage into his paintings, and used larger forms, stronger colors sometimes, and a lot of visual jokes. He also made constructed as well as modelled sculptures, including the metal Guitar, which launched constructed art.

By 1913 there was a new flavor in his work, a stridency (e.g. Woman in an Armchair) that points to the 1920s and surrealism, and also at times a willingness to form apparently abstract images. Picasso’s international fame was extensive by now, and he was selling for substantial prices through Kahnweiler’s gallery. He knew he had replaced Matisse as leader of the avant-garde.

The WW1 interrupted his public progress: Kahnweiler had to close his gallery and its stock was sequestered though Leonce Rosenberg came forward to be Picasso’s dealer. Many of Picasso’s friends left Paris for the front.

In 1915, Eva died. Picasso painted his harshest Synthetic Cubist picture in Harlequin, and thought it the best thing he had ever done.

What came next was not harshness but charm and wit.

In 1916, the poet Cocteau proposed that Picasso should make the designs for a ballet for which Satic was preparing the music.

In 1917, Picasso went to Rome to work with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes company. The ballet. Parade, was premiered in Paris that May. Picasso had meanwhile fallen for one of the dancers, Olga Koklova. They married in July 1918. They lived in high society and Picasso’s work now switched between a decorative late Cubism and a fine academic classicism influenced by Ingres.

He made further designs for Diaghilev, and also drawings of ballet dancers, some of which announce a new massiveness in his figure style. This emerges fully in 1921 with the monumental Three Women at the Spring; for other subjects, especially still lifes, Picasso still used a decorative form of Cubism. The Dante is the opposite: strident, violent in action and distortion, harsh in color, flat and thin in its forms, an image of pain. The Surrealists now pointed to Picasso as their natural leader.

Unhappy with Olga, he worked on discurbing themes, violent lovers, the Minotaur, aggressive females confronting a classical view of himself, monstrously abstracted bathers, the Crucifixion, etc. He spent time in his friend Gonzalez’s studio, learning how to construct metal sculptures by welding. Meanwhile, he fell in love with Marie-Therese Walter and embarked on a long liaison with her. His pleasure in her resulted in rounded and colorful images of women and in large, cheerful modelled female heads in plaster, as well as other markedly harmonious productions, such as his etchings for Ovid’s Metamorphoses (1931). He now worked at the chateau of Boisgeloup as well as in his Paris studio and in Gonzalez’s.

In 1932, after many smaller exhibitions, he showed 236 works in Paris and in Zurich, from the Blue Period to the present. The critics’ response was mixed, some seeing a decline, others marvelling at his vast talent.

The first issue of Minotaure, a Surrealist journal (1933), had a Picasso cover and illustrated some of his Crucifixion drawings in which hones suggest figures and also An Anatomy, drawings of figures paraphrased in terms of furniture and utensils. Domestic tension mounted with the news of Marie-Therese’s pregnancy; Picasso and Olga separated. For a time he ceased to paint, and gave time to writing Surrealist poems, some of which were published.

In 1936, he met the photographer Dora Maar and painted her.

The Spanish Civil War broke out; Picasso’s sympathies were wholly with the republican government which had made him director of the Prado Museum in Madrid.

In January 1937, he produced the two etchings with words, Dream and Lie of Franco, a sharp satire on die general, sold to make money for the Republicans. In three weeks, in May-June he painted his great mural for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition: Guernica, dealing in almost monochrome symbolism with the bombing of a Spanish town as an instance of all violence. He went on developing motifs related to it, notably the Weeping Woman, and other emotional portraits of Dora. Guernica and associated studies were shown in London, Leeds and Liverpool in 1938, and in 1939 in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, to raise money for Spanish Relief. It attracted crowds. 1939 saw also a great retrospective, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and then on tour in the USA.

1939 brought the victory of Franco in Spain, the onset of the Second World War and difficulties for Picasso as a foreigner in France. There was further domestic strife: Marie-Therese and Dora becoming aware of their lover’s duplicity. Picasso divided his time between Royan and Paris where the occupying Germans failed to gain his respect.

In 1943, he met Francoise Gilot. Much of his work now exhibits extreme distortion and harshness; some of it is classical and calm, notably the large bronze Man with Sheep (1944). His Head of a Hull, a bicycle saddle and handlebars, is both witty and grave; a modelled Death’s Head in bronze and copper (1943) he kept by him for the rest of his life.

In 1944, it was announced that he had joined the Communist party; a special display of Picasso’s work at the Salon d’Automne in Paris that year drew loud protests, against his politics and against his art, but also statements in his support from leading intellectuals.

From 1946 on, Picasso and Francoise lived together. In Antibes, offered studio space in the Palais Grimaldi, he opted for decorating it with murals; in 1947 it became Antibes’s Musee Picasso. That August Picasso began working at a pottery in Vallauris, making a long series of painted ceramics and giving new life to a dying industry.

In 1948, he attended the Congress of Intellectuals for Peace, in Poland, and visited Auschwitz. His lithograph of a pigeon was for the poster of Paris’s Peace Congress in 1949 and became known as the ‘Dove of Peace’.

In 1950, he attended the Second World Peace Conference in Sheffield; thar November he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. 1950-53 saw him making major assembled sculptures, subsequently cast in bronze, e.g. She-Goat (1950) and Baboon and Young (1952).

In 1954, he began a long, intermittent, series of sculptures of a new sort, cut shapes of sheet metal folded to become three-dimensional and self-supporting. The first of these were heads hut later he made whole figures and animals, and some were produced as monumental public sculptures. Like the ceramics, these were light-hearted works.

In 1954, Picasso began to live with Jacqueline Rucque. A major retrospective of his art was shown at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1955 and in amended form in Munich, Cologne and Hamburg. That summer he acquired a large villa outside Cannes, La Californie, and painted a series of interiors of his studio there, and the following year his long series of variations on Velazquez’s Las Alemnas. A very large 75th Anniversary Exhibition of his work was shown in New York in 1957 and subsequently in Chicago and Philadelphia.

In 1957-58, he painted a mural for the UNESCO building in Paris on the theme of The Fall of hams.

In 1958, he added the chateau of Vauvenargues, below Cezanne’s Mont Saint-Victoire, to his properties, filling it with his work.

In 1961, he married Jacqueline.

His 80th birthday brought major exhibitions and tributes, and in 1963 the Museo Picasso opened in Barcelona.

In 1964, a retrospective in Tokyo, Kyoto and Nagoya took him to Japan. A vast retrospective was shown in the Grand and Petit Palais in Paris in 1966. Picasso, having lately undergone an ulcer operation and saddened by the death of friends including Cocteau and Breton, did not attend.

In 1967, he refused the Legion d’Honneur award.

1972 saw the exhibition ‘Picasso in the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art’ in New York, with a catalogue by William Rubin.

Picasso was now living at Mougins, making mostly prints and drawings.

After his death on 8 April 1973 he was buried at Vauvenargues.

Reported on from his earliest professional days, Picasso was the most public of artists, the subject of intimate biographies and photographic chronicles as well as many monographs and an infinity of essays and reviews.

Christian Zervos began in 1932 to publish his catalogue of Picasso’s work. His life seemed public too: his involvement in the world of ballet as well as of art, his taste for bullfights and for days on the Cote d’Azur.

Clouzot’s film, Le Mystere Picasso (1955), showed him working his magic effortlessly. It seemed he could make spirited art out of anything while also living well, in beautiful places, in the company of beautiful women and befriended by the great.

His late paintings included lively variations on paintings by Delacroix, Velazquez, Manct and others, as well as sometimes jocular treatments of time-honored History painting themes, e.g. The Rape of the Sabines. These attracted the charge that he had lost his appetite for innovation and was content to amuse himself by making versions of the art of others and at limes his own.

Since his death this work has been reconsidered as being of great significance as well as masterly. An exhibition of his late work in several media was shown in Paris and London in 1988.

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