The name of Pablo Picasso is almost a synonym for art itself, as he is widely believed to be one of the most famous modern painters. Born in 1881 in Malaga, Spain, he spent most of his adult life in France, and passed away in 1973 at the age of 91.
Picasso is mostly known for his paintings—of which there are estimated to be over a whopping 13,000—but he was also a prolific print-maker, ceramicist, stage designer, and poet.
His career is partially fascinating because he adopted many different styles throughout his long life. Upon researching Picasso, you might think you’re looking at five different artists’ works, not just one.
Picasso showed a passion and a skill for drawing from an early age. From the age of seven, Picasso was taught formal artistic methods in figure drawing and oil painting from his father, who was also an artist and teacher.
Despite being much younger than the typical entry-level student, he was accepted into the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona. By 1900, he moved to Paris, which was the center of the art scene in Europe. He moved back to Spain in 1901 but would live much of the rest of his life in France. His subsequent relationship with French artist Henri Matisse would become on of the most famous rivalries in art history.
Evolution of Picasso’s Art
Picasso famously has a very diverse portfolio of work, and art historians have divided up his long artistic career into several different “periods”—here are the major ones.
- Early Work: As a young talented artist who had not discovered his own style, he painted primarily in a realist style. He used accurate colors and representing subjects very realistically; these works showcase Picasso’s technical skills. Many of these were inspired by Catholicism.
- Blue Period: The Blue Period is aptly named, as Picasso primarily used blues and other dark hues. During this time—around 1901—he was quite depressed due to the suicide of a close friend. He made paintings of impoverished people, characters in despair, and other morose-feeling subjects. This lasted until about 1904.
- Rose Period: During Picasso’s Rose Period, he began to paint in brighter colors and adopted a slightly more painterly style. While blues were still in his work, he included warmer shades like red. These paintings were mostly of entertainers like acrobats and other circus performers, and while they can’t quite be called happy, they are livelier than the paintings made during his depression.
- African Period: From 1906 to 1909, Picasso painted in a style strongly influenced by African sculpture, especially traditional face masks. He brought these sculptural qualities into his paintings, at times shocking the art world, in which he was well known at this point. One of his most famous paintings, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, showcases this influence—if you look at the manner in which he painted the faces, you can discern a sculptural quality to them.
- Cubism: Also, the title of a movement he helped start, Cubism is a distinct style often considered the beginning of modern art. This period was defined, in part, by a fruitful artistic relationship with a fellow painter in France named Georges Braque. In Cubist works, Picasso used multiple vantage points and shapes to form an image. The result are subjects that are broken up, yet still identifiable, and often largely monochromatic. This period was from 1909 to 1912.
One of Picasso’s most famous works, Guernica, was done later in 1930 as a response to the Spanish Civil War. In this massive 25-foot-long composition, he captures the intense violence and suffering inflicted upon people. This is perhaps one of the paintings that he is so well known for, even today, and is a classic example of an anti-war painting.
Artistic Accomplishments and Legacy
Picasso’s legacy is multifaceted and rich. His huge array of work—over 20,000 including paintings, prints, sculptures, and photographs—still float around the art market today. Cubism, absolutely, is a significant part of his legacy; it sparked a whole movement and continues to be cited as hugely important in modern art history. And, although his painting was influential, he also revolutionized the ways a sculpture can be made. Artists from around the world continue to look back at Picasso’s work for inspiration and interpretation.