Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) - Biography

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) - Biography

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Spanish painter, draftsman and sculptor, Pablo Picasso is generally presented as one of the greatest artists of the XXe century. A ladies' man whose companions will deeply inspire his work, he is, along with Georges Braque, the founder of cubism and one of the pillars of modern art. Author of a rich work of more than 20,000 pieces, Pablo Picasso tried his hand, from the 1950s onwards, to all media (lithography, linoleum engraving, ceramics, sculpture, poster and painting) which tackled as many themes as of techniques, revealing an exceptional creative freedom.

The Life of Pablo Picasso

Born October 25, 1881 in Málaga (Andalusia), Pablo Ruiz began drawing very young with his father, a drawing teacher. From 1895, he studied at the Barcelona School of Fine Arts, La Lonja, before continuing at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. Returning from 1899 to Barcelona, ​​he worked in particular by doing illustrations for magazines and newspapers and frequented the Cabaret els quatre gats. In 1901, he adopted his mother's name as his signature: “Picasso”. He will henceforth sign his works.

From 1904, he settled permanently in France after three stays in previous years. He first moved with his first wife Fernande Olivier to the famous Montmartre workshop, the Bateau-Lavoir. He meets in the capital among so many others: Max Jacob, Guillaume Apollinaire, Henri Matisse or Braque with whom he invented Cubism. From 1910, he stayed regularly in Provence with Derain and Braque, however returning to the capital, especially during the First World War, to collaborate with the Russian ballets. Although the two men do not know each other, Picasso and Toulouse Lautrec paint the same Paris of the 1900s and share a passion for the effervescence of the bustling places of the capital, for caricature portraits or for the world of the circus.

In 1925, he participated in the first surrealist exhibition at the Pierre gallery in Paris. However, he does not buy into the movement. He became the companion of Marie-Thérèse Walter between 1927 and 1935, with whom he had a daughter: Maya Widmaier-Picasso. In 1936, he joined the Spanish Republicans against Franco. During the Second World War, he returned to work in Paris despite his qualification as a "degenerate artist" by the Nazi regime. It was only after the Liberation that he joined the Communist Party and returned to live in the south of France. He maintains relations with a good number of artists, including Jean Cocteau with whom he exchanges a considerable number of letters. From 1958, he made the Château de Vauvenargues one of his private residences. He died on April 8, 1973 near Mougins.

From the Blue and Pink periods to Cézanne

Pablo Ruiz Picasso's work begins with different periods symbolized by colors. From 1901 to 1904 corresponds the Blue period. He then uses cold tones predominantly blue in his painting. Picasso presents bare backgrounds with characters suffering from the harshness of life (The Poor by the Sea, 1903) with a sinister, dark side, inspired by the painter El Greco (The girl with the crow, 1904). After a transitional phase, Picasso entered his gentler Rose period (1905-1906) even if he kept the same themes, illustrating in particular the artists and acrobats of the Médrano circus that he frequented regularly (Acrobat and young harlequin, 1905).

From 1906 to 1908, he approached the work of Cézanne while being interested in primitive Iberian art and African art. This period also corresponds to his meeting with the Steins (brother and sister), American Jews living in Paris and buying works with real commercial potential: Renoir, Cézanne, Manet, etc. The sister, Gertrude Stein, has a strong interest in Henri Matisse and Picasso introducing the two artists to each other. She commissions her portrait from Picasso. Very sober and austere, this is more of a statuary representation than a true portrait.

The following year, he signed a work announcing a revolution in the history of twentieth century art, the Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907). This "ex-voto painting" refers both to Cézanne and to African and primitive art, it also marks the beginning of a new movement, cubism.

Pablo Picasso and the Cubist movement

Picasso appears as the main representative of cubism with Georges Braque. This movement raises a controversy by developing a new way of painting, by breaking down the forms and by multiplying the points of view that appear simultaneously on the same work. Indeed, if artists like Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger will develop a true theory of cubism, Picasso and Braque remain attached to technical novelty more than to theory. Following on from Cézanne's precubism, the years 1908 to 1912 correspond to "Analytical Cubism" of which Picasso will say "it is simply an art which is concerned with form". He indeed seeks to break the traditional perspective (Woman Seated in an Armchair, 1910).

The artist then enters the period known as "Synthetic Cubism" where he reintroduces color into his work while increasingly refining the forms. It was also during this period that he made his first collages in order to abolish the difference between painting and sculpture.

A new turning point

The end of the First World War and the 1920s also marked the end of Cubism. In the conscience, this current is attached to modernity, this same modernity factor of war and death. From 1925, Picasso shows a radical turn by approaching Surrealism (Bather playing ball, 1932). In 1935, he exhibited a whole series of papers pasted at the Pierre gallery in Paris. While traveling in the south of France with Dora Maar, Picasso will create his painting Night fishing in Antibes. During World War II, he went to Paris with another painter, Françoise Gilot.

Subsequently, his work announces the rise of tensions, of cruelty (series of Corridas and Minotaurs) and especially the war in Europe. On this subject, his most emblematic work remains Guernica (1937) which he painted for the Spanish Pavilion at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. A mural inspired by the Spanish Civil War, this work above all symbolizes the horror and barbarity of conflicts.

After the Second World War and his accession to the Communist Party, Picasso painted works committed against the absurdity of war and for peace (the joy of living, 1946 ; War and peace, 1952). He says: “Painting is not made to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of offensive war against the enemy. " Among other things, he designed a dove for the World Peace Congress in 1949. Constant inventor of forms, inexhaustible worker, he nevertheless continued his questioning on the different styles of painting until the end of his career, revisiting famous paintings (The Meninas, after Vélasquez, 1957). Feeling the inexorably passing of time in his last years, he produces with unquenchable passion and fervor a powerfully erotic series on couples. For Pablo Picasso, "It is in the work of a lifetime that lies the real seduction".


- Picasso by Gilles Plazy. Biography Folio, 2006.

- Comments on the art of Pablo Picasso. Gallimard, 1998.

For further

- Picasso Museum in Paris

- Metropolitan Museum of New York

- Prado Museum

Video: Pablo Picasso 1881 - 1973