Pablo Picasso


1881 – 1973

I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them. Pablo Picasso

It’s pretty much agreed among art historians that Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse are the two greatest painters of the twentieth century.  After the dust clears we will see if they are still standing, but for now, we’ll stick with that assessment.

Pablo Picasso is famous because he continually and successfully changed his style.   By the time everyone noticed and begin imitating him, he had moved on.  He was almost endlessly inventive.

And he painted Guernica.  That painting alone would do it for me.

  • Child prodigy; father was art teacher
  • Changed his style frequently
  • Had many wives and lovers (usually concurrently).  Also had 4 children.  Famous quote:  There are only two types of women:  goddesses and doormats.

Childhood paintings (1896 – 1900):

Pablo Picasso, Portrait with Uncombed Hair, 1896
Pablo Picasso, First Communion, 1897
Pablo Picasso, Science and Charity, 1897

If you can paint like this in your teens – better than your art professor father  – what do you do next?  Whatever you like.

Blue Period (1901 – 1904):

It was tough starting out; he was poor and hungry and his best friend committed suicide.

Pablo Picasso, Self Portait, 1901
Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist, 1903
Pablo Picasso, Woman with Crow, 1903

Rose Period (1904 – 1906):

He started getting noticed and made some good friends.   He was still living the bohemian life, though, and was fascinated with traveling acrobats and other outsiders.

Pablo Picasso, The Family of Saltimbanques, 1905
Pablo Picasso, Boy with a Pipe, 1905

African Period (1907 – 1909):

This painting even made him uneasy; he hid it under his bed for ten years.

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907

Many people consider this the greatest painting of the twentieth century.  You should see it in real life, it is deeply disturbing.

Here is a study for the painting.  Did he make the right choices in the end?

This painting is charged with power.  Is it because:

  • Picasso was influenced by powerful African and ancient Spanish (Iberian) art?
  • The subject matter makes us uneasy?  (Women and sex as frightening).
  • There is no relief from the fractured, dangerous space?

Cubism (1909 – 1919)

Einstein was messing with reality at this time, and, coincidentally, painting followed suit.  Is your point of view the only reality?  What if you could see all sides of an object at the same time?  And from different angles?  And what if some parts were more important than others? And here’s a puzzle: how do you depict the passing of time?

Pablo Picasso, Houses on a Hill, 1909
Pablo Picasso, Girl with Mandolin, 1910
Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Daniel Henry Kahnweiler, 1910

Towards the end of this period he livened it up with bits of collage.  This is called Synthetic Cubism.  This is thought to be the first use of collage in fine art.

Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Chair Caning, 1911
Pablo Picasso, Glass and Bottle of Suze, 1912

The newspapers in this piece refer to harrowing wartime news (First Balkan War), meeting of 40,000 socialists to protest it, and a silly, serialized novel.  Picasso said of this:

We tried to get rid of trompe l’0eil to find a trompe l’esprit.  We didn’t any longer want to fool the eye; we wanted to fool the mind.  The sheet of newspaper was never used in order to make a newspaper…This displaced object has entered a universe for which it was not made and where it retains, in a measure, its strangeness.  And this strangeness was what we wanted to make people think about because we were quite aware that our world was becoming very strange and not exactly reassuring.

And doesn’t it look like a man reading the newspaper?

He took images apart, then stuck them back together, just for fun:

Pablo Picasso, The Card Player, 1913-14
Pablo Picasso, Harlequin with Violin, 1918

I’ve liked this painting since I was a kid.  It’s jolly and weird – an unusual combination:

Pablo Picasso, Three Musicians, 1921

Neoclassical Period (Roughly 1920s)

After the chaos of World War I everyone wanted a return to stability and order.  And these women are stable!

Pablo Picasso, Three Women at the Spring, 1921
Pablo Picasso, Two Women Running on the Beach, 1922

He soon lost interest in this heavyweight reality and returned to color, pattern and symbol:

Pablo Picasso, Mandolin and Guitar, 1924
Pablo Picasso, Studio with Plaster Head, 1925

Can you tell that this seated bather is his ex-wife?

Pablo Picasso, Seated Bather, 1930

And this is why she was upset – this is Picasso’s teenage girlfriend:

Pablo Picasso, The Dream, 1932
Pablo Picasso, Girl Before Mirror, 1932

He started sleeping with another woman when this girlfriend was pregnant (and he was not yet divorced from his first wife).   And the world was pretty messed up too; Spain was being torn apart by civil war and World War II was looming:

Pablo Picasso, Minotauromachy, 1935
Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937
Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman with Handkerchief, 1937
Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Steer's Skull, 1942
Pablo Picasso, The Charnel House, 1944-45

After the world settled down, he settled down too, enjoying the South of  France and a series of women.  He took up reworking Old Masters:

Eugene Delacroix, Woman of Algiers, 1834
Pablo Picasso, Women of Algiers, After Delacroix, 1955
Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas, 1656
Pablo Picasso, Las Meninas, 1957
Pablo Picasso, Las Meninas, 1957

Many art historians think that his power fell off after Guernica – but who could keep that up?  He was rich and famous and growing old;  bothered only by the drama of his family life.  That situation is hard on art.   He left an enormous legacy, however.  Almost all modern artists have been influenced by him, either directly or indirectly.  And for me,  his constant restless effort to express the inexpressible is a great inspiration.

Pablo Picasso, Self Portrait, 1972

Painting is stronger than me, it makes me do what it wants.  Pablo Picasso