Ask someone to name a famous artist, and they’ll likely say “Picasso.”
Pablo Picasso transformed art with bold subject matter, composition and technique. Fifty years after his death, he remains an enduring artistic force.
Spanish-born Pablo Ruiz Picasso began studying art under his father around age nine. He developed an unmistakable talent for painting as a teen. He admired old masters like El Greco, but was excited by new artists like Munch and Lautrec.
Picasso’s most famous early works are his “Blue Period” paintings. They are named “blue” not only for their use of color, but their depressing subjects. He found a uncommon beauty in the beggars and street-dwellers of Paris and Barcelona.
His more commercial “Rose Period” followed. These lighter-hearted paintings featured French circus performers and clowns.
Around this time, he befriended influential Paris personalities like Henri Matisse and Gertrude Stein. Soon, Pablo showed his work in prominent galleries. He also attracted plenty of attention for his womanizing.
Picasso neared his “signature style” around 1907 with the painting “Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon.”
The painting depicts the women of a brothel, but several of their faces are grotesque masks. The bodies are loosely constructed from geometric shapes. There are only hints of background and foreground objects. His use of masks and of simple shapes came from his interest in traditional African art.
This painting shocked even Picasso’s artist friends; he did not display it until 1916.
Cubism and Beyond
Picasso is most associated with the “Cubist” movement, which he started alongside Georges Braque.
What is Cubism?
Humans only see things from one perspective (their own eyes). Cubism asks, “What would it be like to see something from every angle simultaneously, to explore every dimension?”
Not only was the idea revolutionary, Cubism incorporated new materials such as newspaper scraps and wallpaper. Art movements like Surrealism and Pop Art would be unthinkable without Picasso’s developments.
In 1937, Picasso displayed “Guernica,” his most famous work. The massive painting depicts the utter chaos following a bombing raid during the Spanish Civil War.
Picasso experimented with many media: stage design, sculpture, printmaking, and even ceramics. Until his 1973 death, Picasso kept the art world guessing.