| Picasso, Pablo Biography
Spanish painter, who is widely acknowledged to be the most important artist of the 20th century. A long-lived and highly prolific artist, he experimented with a wide range of styles and themes throughout his career. Among Pablo Picasso's many contributions to the history of art, his most important include pioneering the modern art movement called cubism.
Pablo Picasso was born Pablo Ruiz in Malaga, Spain. Picasso's father, who was an art teacher, quickly recognized that his child Pablo was a prodigy. Picasso studied art first privately with his father and then at the Academy of Fine Arts in La Coruna, Spain, where his father taught. In 1895 his family moved to Barcelona, Spain, after his father obtained a teaching post at that city's Academy of Fine Arts. Picasso was admitted to advanced classes at the academy after he completed in a single day the entrance examination that applicants traditionally were given a month to finish. In 1897 Picasso left Barcelona to study at the Madrid Academy in the Spanish capital. Dissatisfied with the training, he quit and returned to Barcelona.
After Picasso visited Paris in October 1900, he moved back and forth between France and Spain until 1904, when he settled in the French capital. In Paris he encountered, and experimented with, a number of modern artistic styles. Picasso's oil painting Le Moulin de la Galette (1900, Guggenheim Museum, New York City) revealed his interest in the subject matter of Parisian nightlife and in the style of French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a style that verged on caricature. In addition to cafe scenes, Picasso painted landscapes, still lifes, and portraits of friends and performers.
From 1901 to 1903 Picasso initiated his first truly original style, which is known as the blue period. Restricting his color scheme to blue, Picasso depicted emaciated and forlorn figures whose body language and clothing bespeak the lowliness of their social status. Why blue dominated Picasso's oil paintings during this period remains unexplained. An explanation is that Picasso found blue particularly appropriate for his subject matter because it is a color associated with melancholy.
In 1904 Picasso's style shifted, inaugurating the rose period, sometimes referred to as the circus period. Although Picasso still focused on social outcasts, especially circus performers, his color scheme lightened, featuring warmer, reddish hues, and the thick outlines of the blue period disappeared.
Experimentation and rapid style changes mark the years from late 1905 on. Picasso's oil paintings from late 1905 are more emotionally detached than those of the blue or rose periods. The color scheme lightens, beiges and light browns predominate, and melancholy and alienation give way to a more reasoned approach. Picasso's increasing interest in form is apparent in his references to classical sculpture. The figure of a seated boy in Two Youths (1905, National Gallery, Washington, D.C.), for example, recalls an ancient Greek sculpture of a boy removing a thorn from his foot.
By 1906 Picasso had become interested in sculptures from the Iberian peninsula dating from about the 6th to the 3rd century bc. Picasso must have found them of particular interest both because they are native to Spain and because they display remarkable simplification of form.
The origins of cubism date to Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (Museum of Modern Art, New York City), according to many art historians. The 1907 oil painting depicts five women in a brothel. The artist distorted the women's anatomy and facial features into broken planes. The head of the figure at the bottom right, for example, turns in an anatomically impossible way. These discrepancies proved so shocking that even Picasso's fellow painters reacted negatively to The Demoiselles d'Avignon. French painter Henri Matisse allegedly told Picasso that he was trying to ridicule the modern movement.
The Demoiselles d'Avignon marks the beginning of the new visual language, known as cubism. Scholars generally divide the cubist innovations of Picasso and French painter Georges Braque into two stages. In the first stage, analytical cubism, the artists fragmented three-dimensional shapes into multiple geometric planes. In the second stage, synthetic cubism, they reversed the process, putting abstract planes together to represent human figures, still lifes, and other recognizable shapes.
The year 1912 marks another major development in the cubist language: the invention of collage. In Still Life with Chair Caning (1912, Mus?e Picasso), Picasso attached a piece of oilcloth (that depicts woven caning) to his work. With this action Picasso not only violated the integrity of the medium, oil painting on canvas, but also included a material that had no previous connection with high art. By including pieces of cloth, newspaper, wallpaper, advertising, and other materials in his work, Picasso opened the door for any object or material, however ordinary, to be included in a work of art. This innovation had important consequences for later 20th-century art.
From World War I (1914-1918) onward, Picasso moved from style to style. In 1915, for instance, Picasso painted the highly abstract Harlequin (Museum of Modern Art)
For Picasso the years 1920 to 1925 were marked by close attention to three-dimensional form and to classical themes: bathers and women in classical drapery. He depicted many of these figures as massive, dense, and weighty, an effect intensified by strong contrasts of light and dark.
From 1925 to 1936 Picasso again worked in a number of styles. He composed some oil paintings of tightly structured geometric shapes, limiting his color scheme to primary colors. In the early 1930s Picasso had increasing contact with the members of the surrealist movement and became fascinated with the classical myth of the Minotaur. This creature, which has the head of a man and the body of a bull, appears in a study by Picasso for the cover of the surrealist journal Minotaure (1933, Museum of Modern Art).
Picasso's Guernica Spanish artist Pablo Picasso painted Guernica in 1937 in reaction to the German bombing of the Spanish town of the same name. Francisco Franco, the Fascist general who eventually defeated Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War, ordered the bombing, which decimated this town in the Basque region of northeastern Spain. He executed the painting in black and white and transfigured the event according to his fascination with the bullfight theme.
Picasso remained a prolific artist until late in his life, although this later period has not received universal acclaim from historians or critics. He made variations on motifs that had fascinated him throughout his career, such as the bullfight and the painter and his model, the latter a theme that celebrated creativity. And he continued to paint portraits and landscapes. Picasso also experimented with ceramics, creating figurines, plates, and jugs, and he thereby blurred an existing distinction between fine art and craft.
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