‘My mother said to me, “If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.” Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.’
‘Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.’
Pablo Picasso was one of the most outstanding artists of his age. He produced over 1800 paintings and 1200 sculptures, and many of his valuable creations have been sold for over one hundred million dollars. He holds the record for the artist with the most stolen artworks in the world. One thing is for certain, the twentieth century wouldn’t have been the same without Picasso. His works had a great impact on many contemporary artists. His mastery of a great variety of styles, his unfettered embrace of experimentation and an immense body of work made Picasso such a rarity. The brilliant artist’s love of life, creative habits and astounding number of artworks have spawned many legends.
Celebration Picasso 1973-2023
On 8 April 2023, Celebration Picasso 1973-2023 will be in full swing to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, supported by renowned cultural institutions in Europe and the United States. 2023 is thus the year to celebrate his work and artistic legacy in France, Spain and internationally. The programme of the large-scale event includes some fifty exhibitions and events that, taken together, trace a historiographical approach to Picasso’s work. The governments of France and Spain have agreed to work together through a bi-national commission, bringing together the cultural and diplomatic administrations of the two countries. On that occasion, Madrid is set to host many of the ambitious and extensive cultural events.
The Picasso 1973-2023 celebration seeks to showcase the career of a European artist who not only drew on his deep knowledge of heritage and the principles of tradition, but also on his understanding of classicism as an ethical value to create iconic, internationally acclaimed works. The initiative aims to highlight Picasso’s career during which he produced universal symbols such as Guernica, today a collective emblem of the defence of human rights.
Pablo Picasso was born on 25 October 1881 in Malaga, Spain, as the first-born of painter José Ruiz Blasco and María Picasso López. His birth was difficult, as complications during labour resulted in the baby’s brain being deprived of oxygen, which would gravely affect his childhood. Picasso learned to draw before he could talk. His mother said the first word he had spoken was not ‘mama’ but ‘piz-piz’ (short of lapiz, the Spanish word for pencil). He couldn’t touch a pencil to paper without sitting in complete silence for hours and becoming wholly absorbed in drawing.
But his cognitive development severely decreased at school. The young Picasso struggled with reading, writing and using math through his school years. Due to the disfunction of his left hemisphere, he had not learned to read and write until he was ten years old. Picasso constantly complained of having difficulty in mixing up letters when writing. Nevertheless, he would also produce poetic and literary works. However, his right hemisphere, that is known to be responsible for artistic creativity, functioned optimally.
His father discovered his son’s exceptional artistic talent at an early age and would give nine-year-old Picasso his own palette and brushes. Since school was difficult for him, Pablo was sent to an art school, he thus attended art academies in Barcelona and Madrid. During that period, his works were mainly influenced by the art of Steinlen and Toulouse-Lautrec. He decided to move to live in Paris, the art capital of the world. In 1900, he shared a studio with one of his best friends, Casagemas in Paris. Shortly thereafter, however, his friend committed suicide. Casagemas’ death was a seismic event for the young Picasso and contributed to the melancholy of his Blue Period paintings.
His first exhibition in Paris sold well, he managed to sell fifteen paintings. The artist used his mother’s surname from then on and signed his works ‘Picasso’. Probably few are who know that he had painted fairly realistic portraits and landscapes at the very beginning of his career and his painting style changed constantly throughout his career. This is the thought expressed in the following quotation:
‘Learn the rules like a pro,
so you can break them like an artist.’
Blue Period (1901-1904)
The paintings from the Blue Period depict the themes of poverty, loneliness and maternity. Shades of blue and green dominate every piece. Since he lived in Paris at that time, the city provided him compelling subject matter. His major works from this period include Motherhood, The Absinthe Drinker, Beggar Old Man with a Boy, Women Ironing, The Old Guitarist, The Life and The Couple.
Rose Period (1904-1906)
The Rose Period introduced more lyrical subjects such as clowns and acrobats. Human beauty and longing for idyll are reflected in his paintings. Picasso’s palette brightened and was dominated by hues of pink, orange and red. Well-known examples of the Rose Period include Boy with a Pipe, Harlequin and Boy Leading a Horse.
African (Negro) Period (1907-1909)
In this period, Picasso turned away from the traditional style of painting in Europe. He was influenced by African art, borrowing motifs from wood sculptures. His work was overwhelmingly centred on producing distorted figures and faces with disproportionately large eyes and nose. The most famous pieces from this period include Nude Combing Her Hair, Two Nudes and one of his most highly regarded paintings, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. The latter painting is traditionally seen as his pivotal first step towards the new Cubist style.
Cubist Period (1910-1919)
Picasso completely abandoned known form and representation and started to use a monochromatic colour palette, thus creating an entirely new artistic movement. He used simplified geometric shapes in his Cubist works to grasp the inner meaning behind the external form of objects. Examples of his notable Cubism artworks include Woman with a Flower, Weeping Woman, Portrait and Guitar.
Muses and Lovers
Picasso had two wives and four children. He met his first great love, Fernande Oliver in 1904. Picasso proposed marriage to her several times, but she never accepted his marriage proposals. She is credited for inspiring Picasso’s artistic transition from the Blue Period to the Rose Period. Fernande’s friend, who Picasso called Eva, became his second great love and appears in several of his works. He considered Eva as a gift sent by God. They forged a harmonious relationship, but Eva fell ill and passed away unexpectedly. The couple had four years together before Eva died. Picasso suffered great grief because of her death: he slipped into a depression, lived in complete solitude and threw himself into painting for two years.
He met Olga Koklova, a Russian ballet dancer of aristocratic background, in Rome, who would become his first wife. In 1921, they had a son, Paulo. His marriage with Olga went sour, as the cool beauty wished to break into higher circles and suffered from constant mood swings.
Picasso met Marie-Thérèse in 1927. She became the forty-six-year-old Picasso’s long-time muse when she was but seventeen years old and would inspire more than a hundred paintings. The painter developed a secret love affair with her who would become the woman to give birth, in 1935, to his second child, Maya. It prompted Olga to immediately leave Picasso and move with their son Paulo.
In 1936, after breaking up with Marie-Thérèse, he fell in love with Dora Maar. This new love had a remarkable creative impact on him, but the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War also had a profound effect on his art. He gave up painting and turned his hand to writing. He wrote poems and plays in French and Spanish. His manuscripts were riddled with spelling errors but remained unpunctuated and uncorrected to preserve their uniqueness and original meaning.
In 1944, he met Françoise Gilot, a twenty-one-year-old painter, who quickly became the painter’s muse. Gilot was also his subject, famously depicted in his painting, a piece of a portrait series, La Femme-Fleur. They had two children together, Claude, born in 1947, and Paloma, born in 1949. However, the Master cheated on Françoise too, who moved out with their children in 1953.
His seventh, and last, love was Jacqueline Roque, the woman Picasso, then eighty years old, would eventually marry in 1961.
On the basis of the above, it is clear that women played a central role in both his professional and personal life. Each major period of his art was defined by his love affairs. Women provided him with artistic impulse and inspiration, giving Picasso’s art a new direction. The stormy events of the twentieth century also influenced his art and life. The horrors of the Spanish Civil War and two world wars appeared in his art.
One of his famous war-inspired paintings is Guernica, portraying the bombing of a small Spanish town during the Spanish Civil War. Art historians’ interpretations of Guernica vary widely. Characteristically, Picasso’s answer proved ambiguous. Shortly after the end of the Second World War, in 1949, he drew his famous Dove of Peace that would become an iconographic symbol.
Though best known for his painting, Picasso created so many different kinds of art, experimenting with a number of different mediums, including sculpture and ceramics, he even created works in the field of poetry and prose. In addition to writing hundreds of poems, he also authored two plays and created remarkable sculptures, ceramics and other items. It is estimated that he produced up to fifty thousand works of art in his life. The painter scribbled his lines, inter alia, in toilet paper because sometimes he retreated from distractions in an unlikely place: the bathroom.
Picasso made a portrait of Stalin on the dictator’s death, although he had initially planned to, but did not, portray Stalin as a nude. Nevertheless, the portrait created an uproar among France’s Communist faithful due to the style in which it was drawn.
Pablo Picasso died on 8 April 1973, at the age of ninety-one, in Mougins, south-eastern France.