The Early Days
Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain on October 25, 1881. His mother was called Maria Picasso López and his father Jose Ruiz Blasco. Even when he was young, he showed promising artistic talent. His father was a painted and art teacher, so it was hardly surprising he noted his son's talents.
Picasso studied privately with his father at first, then at the Spanish collage, the Academy of Fine Arts in La Coruña, where his father taught. By the time he was fourteen he produced work that looked very professional. The amount of detail, and shading in those pictures was incredible, compared to his age.
He learnt from his father techniques such as oil painting, and how to draw figures, his styles being then influenced by those of the time. His drawings showed an immense feeling of depth and maturity that was very rarely seen at such a young age.
In 1897, Picasso left Barcelona to study at the Royal Acadamy of San Fernando in Madrid, but he never actually finished the course. He was unhappy with the place, and so left after one year to return home.
While he was 16, he spent much of his time experimenting with drawing, though it wasn't really until he left Barcelona for Paris, that he really developed his first own style.
The Blue Period
All these things affected Picasso's style. His pictures were of poverty, the Old Guitarist of 1903 (in the picture) being a classic example of this, one of his most well known. The man looks extremely miserable, his body is bent and seems to be trapped within the boundaries of the canvas, and his head is bend in a kind of helplessness. The man is all alone, shunned by the rest of society, ignored.
The Old Guitarist is just one of many miserable pictures of poverty Picasso depicted in blue during the period up to 1904. Picasso strongly created a mood of intense misery, and his own life and the colouring he used, mimicked this.
The Rose Period
Picasso had finally decided to stay in France by 1904. It was in this year, in France, where Picasso met Ferande Oliver, who had large influence on his themes and colours. He felt happier, and so his blue depression was finally over, and the Rose Period paintings did look much more cheerful from first glance. Ferande Oliver would have a big influence over him in the years to come, and many of his pictures were of her.
The Rose Period began when he began to use lighter, warmer colours such as pinks, light blues, beige and roses as an oppose to blue. Though the pictures are still of the same subjects as those in the Blue Period, mainly social outcasts, and especially clowns, just by the colours he chose, Picasso's pictures looked much warmer.
Warmer, but not necessarily happier. More than one of his pictures showed a group of figures unable to speak to each other, trapped forever in silence.
The clowns in the Family of Saltimbanques painted in 1905 (in the image) is a good example of this. The people are all facing away from one another, several just staring into space, on that desolate landscape.
During this period, Picasso portrayed many clowns. This could have been because of how their job was similar to his, they had to put on a 'mask' and pretend to be happy, when in reality, it was very likely they were not. The alienated uncommunicative subjects in his picture in a way, could be like the way clowns were separate from their true feelings.
Whereas the Blue Period was trying to show the misery and poverty the poor suffered, during the Rose Period Picasso was trying to show more, I think, of how the poor were isolated from the rich.
Cubism, the Blue Period and the Rose Period, are probably three of the most important stages Picasso went through. Although the Rose Period followed on directly after the Blue, the same can't be said for Cubism. After the short Rose Period ended, Picasso continued his short styles, experimenting in many different types, eventually leading him onto Cubism.
Pre-Cubism (1905 - 1908)
It was based roughly around Greek mythology and Roman; for example, in the oil painting Two Youths, the boy sat down shows the ancient Greek sculpture of the boy removing a thorn from his foot.
This Period, Picasso also painted many pictures of nudity, Two Youths of 1905 being once again an example of this. Picasso created many works of large nude figures in this short phase, and was trying to put across the beauty and romance of the old arts.
The next phase, the Iberian Period, in 1906, was similar to the Classical Period as it was also based around sculptures. However, the paintings Picasso made during this Period were influenced by sculptures found in the Iberian peninsula, giving the Period it's name.
These sculptures were showed figures in their simplest of forms, and were Spanish, which is probably why he was so interested and the influence from them is clear when he did a self portrait in 1906. The shapes were all very simple, no more than black lines for eye brows and a coloured in section for hair, showing his ever increasing interest in simplicity.
The next style Picasso took was in 1907, the African Period. In this Period, he continued with the idea of simplicity, but also took a great deal of influence from the masks and art of Africa. By far the most famous picture from this time was the Les Demoiselles d'Avignon of 1907 (the picture).
The influence of masks is most clear in the top right figure, and the simplicity is taken even further than the self portrait. Many people would argue that this was the beginning of Cubism, and in it's time was was certainly ridiculed by other artists.
Cubism is the period that really make Picasso famous. In 1907, he met the landscape painter, Georges Braque, and up until the War in 1914, they worked closely together. He was the only artist to ever work with Picasso as an equal. During this period, their work was almost identical, but it was the first stage of a type of art knows as Cubism.
They began breaking away from the concept of a flat plane, rejecting all concepts such as perspective, texture, shading and colour that were important for making the picture look like it should. The pictures they created were simplified, fragmented and strangely coloured. They were put together using the logic of the artist themselves, rather than the logic of everyday people, which is one reason they look so strange.
Cubism was first used to describe Picasso's new experimental work by a French critic Louis Vauxcelles in 1908, and as the name suggests, it was made up in of cubes. The paintings showed subjects from various angles, which had never been seen before, giving the pictures a rather sectional look - as if they were split into cubes.
Art historians will generally divide the work of Picasso and Braque at this time into two stages. First came analytical cubism, then came synthetic cubism. There are differences even in the art style itself, it was so huge. Picasso had been the key to a whole new world for art.
The first stage of Picasso's cubism is known as analytical cubism. It began in 1908 and ended in 1912, which for Picasso is quite a long time for a style to last.
Picasso's work lost all concept of dimensions, and no great detail had gone into any section of the art, he had taken simplicity to the extreme. In one image you could see many different angles and perspectives, making it difficult, at first glance to depict any image.
The colour scheme for this style also made it difficult to see the pictures. It was limited, largely to blacks, browns and dark greens, such as in the painting to the right. These colours were used to show the difference between cubism and average art.
Le Guitariste was painted in 1910, but it is very difficult to see any guitarist at all. If you look very carefully, you can just about make out an image of a man, and the slightest suggestion of a guitar. It's nothing like the Old Guitarist of the Blue Period.
During this time many of Picasso's paintings were of landscapes and buildings, mainly due to the fact that Braque was a landscape painter. In one picture you could see buildings at very different angles, on top of one another, but there was always a difference between land and sky. For example, Picasso wouldn't put a building in the sky. This helped the paintings look more unified, and easier to understand, but they were still very sectional, made up of little triangles and squares almost, and very difficult to see, the first time you looked at them.
By 1912, Picasso had taken cubism even further. There were no longer definite cubes, but the images and figures merged together and into the background environment.
Picasso was also behind collages. Before 1912, no one had ever made a piece of art using different kinds of material all placed together to form an image, but Picasso changed all that. He began making pictures with what ever he could find, newspapers, pieces of cloth, wallpaper. It was only really a small step from the work before really, as many art pieces were so sectional.
Picasso lead on from Analytical Cubism to Synthetic Cubism in 1912. Whereas analytical was taking a picture and making it look abstract by creating different sections with several different angles and perspectives of the same image, synthetic was the opposite. Picasso took abstract images to start with and arranged them to make an image of some meaning.
Collage was really the turning point for Picasso. Many artists would start off analytical and slowly get more abstract until it was almost impossible to see an image. Picasso however, began creating collages as well as paintings, and so began his synthetic period.
He often made images during this period in similar fashion to the collages he made. He drew separate things, or more accurately parts of things and textures, and arranged them into a picture. He would either stick on textures, forming a collage, or draw them on, creating the same visual effect.
In 1914, the First World War broke out and Picasso lost contact with Braque. Because of this Braque's landscape influence wore off and Picasso went back to painting mainly human figures and still life. A large number of his pictures during this time were of instruments, as had become popular around that time.
The colour scheme is also quite different from that of the analytical stage. Where as they seemed rather plain, the colours in the synthetic pictures were usually bright and decorative. The colour played an important part in making the image look as if it had been cut and pasted, even if it had been painted.
Although synthetic cubism kept Picasso preoccupied from 1912 to 1917, he didn't produce that many pieces of art during this period. However this style of art left its mark. In 1921, Picasso painted the Three Musicians that was very much like the synthetic cubism with it's bold colours and shapes that seemed to have been cut out and stuck on.
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Influence of War
In 1914, the First World War broke out. France was one of the key players in the fighting, but because Picasso was Spanish he wasn't forced to join the fighting as French painters would have been. During the time the War took place, Picasso moved from style to style very quickly.
The War could have affected Picasso's styles, but the only real way it did this was cutting off Picasso from Braque. The main reason for the contact change of style was due to his life and relationships.
In 1912, Picasso split up with Olivier after meeting Eva Gouel. However this relationship only lasted 3 years, when at the end of 1915 she died of tuberculosis. The picture to the right was painted for her in 1912, and if you look closely you can see 'ma jolie' at the bottom, 'my pretty' in English.
However, Picasso's loneliness for the loss of Eva didn't last long. He travelled to Rome in 1917 and married the following year to Olga Koklova, a dancer. She and their Paulo feature is several pieces of Picasso's work.
From 1936 to 1939, civil war raged over Spain. The newly elected government came to Picasso in 1917 and asked him to paint a mural (large painting often the size of a wall) to go inside the Spanish Pavilion at the World Fair, taking place in France.
Picasso spent a long time wondering over the subject of the painting. He was going through a tough time personally, and even though he didn't generally concern himself with politics, he was worried about the situation in Spain. He was tired of War too. Having lived through the First World War, and now having to endure another War, even if this was small.
However, by May of 1917, Picasso had found his subject. Nazi airforces had bombed a remote area of Spain, in support of the Francisco Franco, who was trying to overthrow the new Spanish Republic. On the 27th of April, bombs rained down on a small hamlet.
The hamlet was totally destroyed and 1,600 people were killed or wounded. The hamlet was called Guernica.
News reached Paris of the slaughter by 1st May. Picasso reacted by painting Guenica. Although it was not realistic, another picture of cubism style, the picture was painted in black and white and grey, showing the seriousness and badness.
It featured bulls, that showed the ferociousness of the Nazis, and many people. The people were all screaming and suffering, lying around on top of one another. A woman holding a baby is screaming to the sky, showing her torment. The chaos of people was showed by how the bodies were all tangled together on top of one another, a barely distinctive mass. Picasso tried to represent the screaming by drawing the people's tongues as daggers.
The picture showed Picasso's feelings towards War, and the reaction to it was overwhelming. The Germans called it 'a hodgepodge of body parts that any four-year-old could have painted', but it was them that the cruelty of the picture was targeted at.
World War II
July 22 1940, France surrendered to German occupation. The Second World War had only been going on a year, and France was forced to give way, thanks to Hitler's Blitzkrieg. Picasso was in a very precarious position. He was already classed an an enemy to the Germans since his Guernica, but as long as he wasn't Jewish and didn't get involved in anything to do with the Germans, the Germans had no reason to touch him.
Picasso was in a dangerous position, but although he painted a few pictures such as the Still Life with Steer's Skull in 1942 (in the picture), a menacing, dark picture resembling life under the Germans, he didn't do anything to outrage the Germans. Although he was constantly harassed by them, and threaten by camps, he was never actually imprisoned during the German rule, nor was any of his art stolen.
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Picasso lived a very long life. He survived two World Wars, and a Civil War and not many people could say they'd done that. He was also very famous even during his life, a rarity of artists, and able to sell his work for large amounts of money. One of the first things the Americans did, after the occupation of the War was to check if he was still alive, and he was, still painting away in his studio.
Later in his life, in the 1960s and 70s, Picasso's style had changed to a very comic, fantasy style. The work was bright and colourful, and full of expression. During these last few years of his life he produced more work than ever.
His personal life had become even more complicated. He had met Francoise Gilet in the 40s, during his marriage with Olga, and she had been very influential. However in 1953, she left him. She was the first person to ever do that and he was devastated. Soon after, he met Jacqueline Roque, who he married shortly after Olga's death in 1961. She was his devoted partner, but often loneliness would drive Picasso to painting, one reason, towards the end he created so much art.
Picasso also experimented in poetry and ceramics at this point. He made many sculptures, not only from pot, but even steel. The poetry, because he didn't like grammar, lead him to write many free poems.
Picasso died April 8, 1973. The final piece of art work he did, whether intentional or not, was a self portrait in 1972, which in a way put the finishing touched on many long years of art.
He was buried in his chateau in the south of France, where he'd lived out the remainder of his life, and left behind a very large collection of his work. In a way, though, he will never truly die, for there will always be this art to remember him by. An artist renowned for his work on cubism and developing all kinds of new and intense ways of expressing emotion.
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Picasso lead the way in a revolution for art. He died a famous, multimillionaire. All his life was devoted to art, and finding new ways to break away from the styles of the time. Thanks to him, cubism was created, as was collage.
I think of all Picasso's many pieces of work, the Old Guitarist has to be my favourite. I think this is partly to do with the fact that I like the guitar, and the colour scheme. Picasso successfully created a very depressed mood, but the blues and blacks do look very beautiful. The colour scheme does it's job very well, and I know if I wished to create a miserable mood, a good way would be to use Picasso's style.
Studying Picasso, I have discovered there's so much more to paintings than first appearance. Often many pictures will hold some kind of emotion, or something to do with the artist. Even abstract art, if looked at closely can be seen to hold a kind of meaning, create an image. There are many different layers to Picasso's work.
Another favourite of mine is the Weeping Woman painted in 1937. It is a little like Guenica with daggers to create emotion, but it is much brighter. Picasso still manages to create a strong feeling of despair, even with brighter colours. And the use of daggers as tears shows the pain of the woman. You can just about see a hand holding a handkerchief, biting into it in anxiety.
Picasso is truly a very fine artist. Before I studied him, I know I wouldn't have liked the very abstract cubism he made, but now I see it for what it is - a different type of art, but still very fine art. Picasso deserves every credit he gets, and I can only aspire to become as great an artist as he.
Interested in finding out more about Picasso? Look up the book: Picasso: Creator and Destroyer by Arianna Huffington. Thanks to Diana for recommending it!
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Last revised: 27th November 2004.
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