Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso (1887-1973)  Guernica (1937)

Pablo Picasso (1887-1973)  Guernica (1937)


Pablo Picasso  is acknowledged as the dominant figure and most prolific painter of the 20th century with a career spanning 78 years, famously charismatic, the artist's many relationships with women not only filtered into his art, his lifestyle has come to embody the classic successful bohemian artist of popular imagination.

Before the age of 50, the Spanish born artist was highly regarded for his distinctive style and eye for artistic creation. No other artist prior or since has made such an impact or had the mass following of fans and critics alike, as he did.

During his lifetime he created a staggering 13,500 paintings, 100,000 prints, 34,000 illustrations, 300 sculptures, ceramics and other items such as costumes and theatre sets. He also holds the dubious record for art theft and is known to have had over 350 pieces stolen.

Picasso's ability to produce works in an astonishing range of styles ensured his respect amongst peers. Following his death in 1973, his value as an artist and inspiration to other artists has only grown. Acknowledged as one of the greatest artists of all time, he is without doubt one of the most bankable, setting the record in May 2015 for the highest amount ever paid for a painting at auction – Les Femmes d'Alger (version O) for a cool  US$179.3m.

His credits as an artist and an innovator include co-founding the Cubist movement (1910-1920) the avant-garde art movement changed forever the face of European painting and sculpture while simultaneously affecting contemporary architecture, music and literature. Also credited with the invention of constructed sculpture and co-inventing the collage art style. He is considered one of three artists in the twentieth century with defining the elements of plastic arts, creating revolutionary sculptural art works the like of which the world had never seen before.

Born in Malaga, Spain in 1883, to Don Jose Ruiz y Blasco and Maria Picasso y Lopez, his baptizmal name is much longer (23 words), a traditional Andalusian custom honoring several saints and relatives. His birth was long and difficult, he was such a weak baby that the midwife thought he was stillborn so she left him on a table to attend to his mother. According to Picasso, it was fortunate his uncle, a doctor, was also in attendance.  ‘Doctors at that time used to smoke big cigars and my uncle was no exception. When he saw me lying there he blew smoke into my face. To this I immediately reacted with a grimace and a bellow of fury’.

Picasso’s father, a painter and a professor of art was impressed by his son's drawing skills from an early age. By the age of seven Picasso began receiving formal training from his father. In 1891 at ten years old, the family moved to A Coruna where his father worked at the School of Fine Arts as a professor.  By the age of 13, his father felt his son had surpassed him as an artist and reportedly vowed to give up painting, feeling humbled by his natural skill and technique.

The family, devastated by the death of his seven year old sister from diphtheria in 1895 relocated to Barcelona. At 14 he painted, Portrait of Aunt Pepa, a striking depiction, referred to as one of the best portraits in Spanish history. At 16 he was sent to Spain's foremost art school in Madrid, the Royal Academy of San Fernando. Picasso disliked the formal instructions and decided to stop attending classes soon after his arrival. Instead he filled his days inside Madrid's Prado Musuem, where he admired and was particularly influenced by the works of El Greco. 

Moving to Paris he experienced the true meaning of what it meant to be a 'starving artist' initially living in cold and poverty, sometimes burning his own work to keep the apartment warm.

His life was as colourful as his paintings, by turns a philosopher, poet, playwright, actor, philanthropist, Lenin peace prize recipient and prominent political figure. He scandalised the cultural norms of his time yet his eccentricity and genius endeared and ensured an enduring legacy.

Final Years

Picasso's final works were a mixture of the many styles he'd embraced throughout his life. His sculptures were larger, his paintings more expressive and colorful. Towards the end of his career, Picasso enjoyed examining classical works that had influenced his development over the years and produced several series of variations of paintings of old masters, including Goya,  Diego Velazquez and Manet. Some of his most notable works include Massacre in Korea after Goya, Las Meninas after Velazquez, and Luncheon on the Grass  after Manet. Many of these pieces are still influential in the art world today due to his distinctive creative style, a number of his later paintings are now widely accepted as the beginning of the Neo-Expressionism movement.

Considered as the father of modern art, Pablo Picasso continues to have a major impact. Picasso's free spirit, eccentric style and complete disregard for what others thought of his work made him a catalyst for artists to follow. His originality touched every major artist and art movement following in his wake. Today, his life and works continue to invite countless scholarly interpretations and attracts thousands of followers around the world. No other artist has achieved the same degree of success and widespread fame or displayed such incredible versatility as Pablo Picasso in the history of art. 

Picasso was and is still seen as a magician by writers and critics alike, a metaphor that captures both the sense of an artist able to transform everything around him at a touch and a man who can also transform himself and continues to elude, fascinate and mesmerise us.

Picasso passed away aged 91 in April 1973 whilst entertaining friends during a dinner party at his chateau, bought on a whim in 1958 in the village of Vauvenargues, near Aix-en-Provence. He is said to have bought the estate after discovering it lay on the slopes of Mont Sainte-Victoire, painted over than 30 times by Paul Cezanne, whom Picasso credits as ‘my one and only master’. He lies buried in the grounds of the chateau. Small groups of visitors are now allowed to view his final resting place.

His most well known painting Guernica (1937, pictured above) and arguably his most powerful political statement, was painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazi’s devastating bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. Guernica symbolises the tragedies of war and suffering inflicted upon individuals and innocent civilians. The work gained a monumental status, as an anti-war statement and embodiment of peace. On completion Guernica was displayed around the world.

During the German occupation of Paris (WWII) he continued to work and was frequently harassed by the Gestapo, during one search of his apartment an officer on seeing a photograph of the painting asked ‘Did you do that?’ ‘No’ he replied ‘You did’. The oil at 3.5m H x 7.8m W can be viewed in the Madrid Museo Reina Sofia Gallery. 

Other prominent museums dedicated to Picasso include, Picasso Museum Barcelona – (featuring early works), the Museo Picasso Malaga and the Musee Picasso in Paris. Significant works are also held in the Prado Museum Madrid.