Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) Part II

Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain, to Don Jose Ruiz y Blasco and Maria Picasso y Lopez. His baptized name is much longer than the Pablo Picasso, and in traditional Andalusian custom honored several saints and relatives. His father was a painter and a professor of art, and was impressed by his son’s drawing from an early age. His mother stated at one time that his first words were to ask for a pencil. At the age of seven Picasso begin receiving formal training from his father. Because of his traditional academic training, Ruiz believed training consisted of copying of masterworks and drawing the human form from live figure-models and plaster casts.

In 1891 at ten years old, the family moved to A Coruna where School of Fine Arts hired Ruiz to be a professor. They spent four years there where Ruiz felt his son surpassed him as an artist at the age of 13 and reportedly vowed to give up painting. Though paintings by Ruiz still seem to have been generated years later, Picasso’s father certainly felt humbled by his son’s natural skill and technique.



Picasso and his family were horrified when his seven year old sister died of diphtheria in 1895. They relocated to Barcelona and Ruiz began working at its School of Fine Arts. He persuaded officials there to let his son take an entrance exam for an advanced class and Picasso was admitted at the age of just 13. At the age of 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 his classes soon after he arrived. He filled his days inside Madrid’s Prado, which displayed paintings such as Francisco Goya and El Greco.

The body of work Picasso created throughout his lifetime is enormous and spans from his early childhood years until his death, creating a more comprehensive record of his development than perhaps any other artist. When examining the records of his early work there is said to be a shift where the child-like quality of his drawings vanished, therefore being the official beginning of his career. That date is said to be 1894, when Picasso was just 13. At the age of 14 he painted Portrait of Aunt Pepa, a striking depiction that has been referred to as one of the best portraits in Spanish history. And at age 16, Picasso created his award-winning Science and Charity.

His technique for realism, so ingrained by his father and his childhood studies, evolved with his introduction to symbolist influences. It led Picasso to develop his own take on modernism, and then to make his first trip to Paris, France. The poet Max Jacob, a Parisian friend, taught Picasso French. They shared an apartment where they experienced the true meaning of what it meant to be a “starving artist.” They were cold and in poverty, burning their own work to keep the apartment warm.

Picasso would predominately spend his working adult life in France. His work has been divided roughly by periods of time in which he would fully develop complex themes and feelings to create a unifying body of work.

The somber period within which Picasso both personally experienced poverty and its effect on society right around him is characterized by paintings essentially monochromatic paintings in shades of blue and blue-green, only occasionally warmed by other colors. Picasso’s works during this period depict malnutrition, prostitution, and the posthumous portraits of friend Carlos Casagemas after his suicide, culminating in the gloomy allegorical painting La Vie. La Vie (1903) portrayed his friend’s inner torment in the face of a lover he tried to murder.

Fitting to the name, once Picasso seemed to find some small measure of success and overcame some of his depression, he had a more cheery period featuring orange and pink hues and the playful worlds of circus people and harlequins. Picasso met a bohemian artist named Fernande Olivier who became his lover. She subsequently appeared in many of these more optimistic paintings.

American art collectors Leo and Gertrude Stein became great fans of Picasso. They not only became his chief patrons, Gertrude was also pictured in his Portrait of Gertrude Stein, one of his most famous portraits.

For Picasso, the seminal moment was the Paul Cezanne retrospective held at the Salon d’Automne, one year after the artist’s death in 1906. Though he previously had been familiar with Cezanne, it was not until the retrospective that Picasso experienced the full impact of his artistic achievement. In Cezanne’s works, Picasso found a model of how to distill the essential from nature in order to achieve a cohesive surface that expressed the artist’s singular vision. In about the same time, the aesthetics of traditional African sculpture became a powerful influence among European artists. In France, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and their School of Paris friends start blending the highly stylized treatment of the human figure in African sculptures with painting styles derived from the post-Impressionist works of Cezanne and Gauguin.

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was Picasso’s first masterpiece. The painting depicts five naked women with figures composed of flat, splintered planes and faces inspired by Iberian sculpture and African masks. The compressed space the figures inhabit appears to project forward in jagged shards; a fiercely pointed slice of melon in the still life of fruit at the bottom of the composition teeters on an impossibly upturned tabletop. In this painting, Picasso makes a radical departure from traditional European painting by adaptation of Primitivism and abandonment of perspective in favor of a flat, two-dimensional picture plane.

When Les Demoiselles d’Avignon first appeared, it was as if the art world had collapsed. Known form and representation were completely abandoned. Hence it was called the most innovative painting in modern art history. With the new strategies applied in the painting, Picasso suddenly found freedom of expression away from current and classical French influences and was able to carve his own path. Formal ideas developed during this period lead directly into the Cubist period that follows.

To be continued in part III

See the beginning of this article in part I




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