There are very few people in the modern world who have not heard the name, Pablo Picasso. His works have become the most valuable pieces of art to go in and out of auctions. Throughout his lifetime, the man has been a legend.
Picasso’s full name was actually “Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso”. It includes the names of many of his relatives, and of some saints as well.
Picasso was awarded, by the Guinness Book of World Records, the title of being world’s most prolific painter. He became larger than life in more ways than just one. He has the most number of artistic works, which have been stolen. His works are the most traded art commodities, with most of them traveling through auction houses. He was also the world’s wealthiest artist, who possessed an estate that was rumored to cost around $200 million in 1973. But a man like Picasso was never happy with materialistic accolades, rather he found much more pleasure in working on his art till his last breath. His own words, in fact, were “Give me a museum and I’ll fill it.”
Birth and Early Life
1881: Pablo Picasso was born to María Picasso y López and Don José Ruiz y Blasco in Málaga in Spain.
1888: As a child, he received a semi-professional tutelage from his father at the age of seven.
Indeed, such was his inclination towards painting that his first words uttered were “piz, piz”, ‘piz’, being the common shortened version of “lápiz” (pencil).
1891: The entire family moved to A Coruña, since Picasso’s father had taken up a job as a professor at the ‘Guarda School of Fine Arts’.
1892: Picasso began his formal education in Fine Arts at the same place, where his father was teaching.
1895: The Ruiz-Picassos moved to Barcelona.
His seven-year-old sister had died due to diphtheria. After that, the entire family moved to Barcelona. This was the time when Picasso gave an entrance exam and impressed the jury at the academy, which also helped him to secure admission into the ‘Llotja School of Fine Arts’, where he studied for two years.
1896: He painted ‘The First Communion’ and the ‘Portrait of Aunt Pepa’.
The two paintings marked the beginning of Picasso’s career as a painter. They were so different and inspirational than his earlier, rather juvenile works, that he began to be called the ‘Pride of Spain’ in the Parisian art circle.
Period of Struggle
1897: Picasso studied at the ‘Sand Fernando Academy of Fine Arts’ in Madrid.
He studied here at his father’s request, but soon found out that the education was not what he had expected. He soon started wandering the streets of Madrid, trying to look for inspiration. He would frequent the ‘Prado Museum’, where he would observe works by Diego Velázquez and El Greco. He was particularly fascinated by the paintings of El Greco, which later also influenced his own works.
1898: Picasso was struck with scarlet fever. After recovering, he moved to Horta d’Ebre in Barcelona, after being invited by his friend, Manuel Pallarés, from whom, he admits, he has learned all about art. He found further inspiration in 1899, from Carlos Casagemas, when he started frequenting a place called “Quatre Gats”, a tavern in Barcelona, that a lot of prominent avant-garde artists would frequent.
1900: He visited Paris, the art capital of Europe, for the first time. This was where he met Max Jacob, a journalist and poet.
1901: Picasso, along with his friend Francisco de Asís Soler, opened the magazine, “Arte Joven” (Young Art). He added grim cartoons that spoke about the state of the poor. Only five editions of the magazine were published.
The Blue Period
Between 1901-1904: The suicide of Casagemas, the meeting of Picasso with Max Jacob, and other events marked the beginning of the artist’s Blue Period. Here, he used no colors other than the shades of blue and green. His common subjects included prostitutes, beggars, and mothers holding their children, along with several blind people.
The time between 1901 to 1904 was Picasso’s most financially crippled stage. He shared a room and a bed with Max. Picasso would sleep in the day and work at night, while Max would do the otherwise. Their poverty was highlighted by the fact that Picasso would often burn his own works in order to keep warm during winter.
The most prominent of paintings from the Blue Period are ‘The Old Guitarist’ (1903), ‘Femme aux Bras Croisés’ (1902), ‘La Vie’ (1903), ‘Le Gourmet’ (1901), and ‘Les Noces de Pierrette’ (1905).
A subtle irony noticed by most who wrote about Picasso was that the paintings were so devoid of anything positive and optimistic, and were so cheerless and depressing that nobody would buy them. They wrote that it wasn’t Picasso’s utter poverty that drove him to paint in his Blue Period, rather it was the somber nature of his unsaleable paintings that caused Picasso to be poor.
The Rose Period
Between 1904-1906: In an astounding change of character, Picasso went from being severely depressed to being relatively joyful. Whether it is true or not, much of this change was credited to Fernande Olivier, Picasso’s muse and lover. Picasso painted over 60 paintings with her as the model.
The entire year of 1904 marked Picasso’s struggle with his own self. What came out in the end was an array of paintings, often made with shades of pink. The subjects were so lost behind the colors and the idea, that it became rather difficult to separate one aspect of the painting from the other. Everything would merge itself flawlessly with the other.
The three-year-long rose period saw Picasso use the most vibrant of reds, yellows, oranges, and other bright and delightful colors to paint all the good things around him. The most common subjects were clowns, circus performers, and comedians or harlequins. Picasso painted his best-selling painting, “Garçon à la pipe” (Boy with a pipe), during this period.
Although you’ll find that today, his blue period paintings often sell for more than his rose period ones, the rose period was still historically, a defining moment in the art world. It was here that Picasso found his signature style, and the world got to see a new and vivid world of hues, one that they had never seen. Other famous works from this period include ‘The Actor’ (1905), ‘Lady With a Fan’ (1905), and ‘La Familie de Saltimbanques’ (1905).
The African Period
1907: Picasso completed his work, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (The Young Ladies of Avignon) in France. This is one of his most famous and controversial works, created during his African Period.
There is an interesting story to the creation of “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”. At the time, Picasso was competing against Henri Matisse, the Fauvist. Matisse was already famous for shocking the world with his notorious paintings. The one he completed in 1907, ‘The Blue Nude’, created an uproar, never seen before in the art circles. Picasso wanted to better his own work and be called the best artist of Modern paintings. He, thus, created ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’, a painting that catapulted his eminence directly to the forefront. This is where Picasso came to be known as the ‘Avant-garde wild beast’, a title that remained with him for the rest of his life.
The Onset of the Cubist Movement (1909)
Between 1908 and 1914: It started with Picasso and another painter named Georges Braque. Jointly, they began working towards the development of the art movement of Cubism.
In the words of Guillaume Apollinaire (The Beginnings of Cubism, 1912), Cubism is “The art of painting original arrangements composed of elements taken from conceived rather than perceived reality.” It explains more about how Picasso, along with Braque, heralded the beginning of the movement, as neither of them would often paint only what they saw. They would prefer to paint what they thought they saw. Groundbreaking as it was, the Cubist movement was not fully realized yet.
In the Meanwhile
1911: Picasso was arrested and questioned about the theft of the ‘Mona Lisa’ from the Louvre, however, he was immediately exonerated.
1912: The development of ‘Synthetic Cubism’.
Up till 1912, the Cubist movement was in a phase known as ‘Analytical Cubism’. This involved seeing a person or an object from multiple points of view, and painting accordingly. The most advanced and rather extreme version of Analytical Cubism was termed as ‘Hermetic Cubism’. In the beginning of 1912 came ‘Synthetic Cubism’, when collage was first used; portions of newspaper were used to create compositions.
1918: He married the ballerina Olga Khokhlova.
1927: He had a secret affair with 17-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter. His marriage was one that had constant conflicts.
1937: His depiction of the German bombing of Guernica (April 26) brought him much fame.
The painting ‘Guernica’ remains one of Picasso’s biggest works. It is a great anti-war symbol to the world, and it helped popularize and expose the Spanish Civil War. He sided with the Republicans.
By this time, Picasso had separated from Olga, and had a daughter named Maya (1935) from his lover, Marie.
Towards the End
1939: Between 1939-1940, the ‘Museum of Modern Art’ in New York City held a successful exhibition of his works.
The Second World War had started by this time. Picasso was in Paris, when the German forces occupied it. The Germans opposed his painting style; so, he could not exhibit, he could only keep working in his studio. Although the Germans banned the use of bronze, the French Resistance would sometimes smuggle some to Picasso, and so he could make more art.
1942: Picasso completed ‘Still Life With Guitar’.
1944: Picasso completed ‘The Charnel House’.
1944: He had a relationship with Françoise Gilot, a young art student who ultimately left him in 1953.
1946: “Fifty years of his Art”, an exhibition of Picasso’s vast work was held at MoMA, New York.
1947: His son Claude was born, with Gilot.
1949: His daughter Paloma was born, with Gilot.
1953: Picasso met Jacquelin Roque, who would stay with him till he died.
1967: He made a small-scale model of a public sculpture, the ‘Chicago Picasso’. This sculpture is one of the most recognized landmarks in Chicago. He refused to accept payment for the same.
This was the period when his works turned out to be more creative and expressive, although he did not really receive the kind of recognition he deserved. His works were criticized, and it was only after his death that artists realized the use of neo-expressionism in his art.
1973: Pablo Picasso passed away on 8th of April, 1973.
Picasso holds a special place in the history of modern art. He had the talent and the vision to think beyond his time, and this is primarily one of the reasons why he has attained such an iconic image in the hearts of all art lovers.