Pablo Picasso was probably the most famous artist of the twentieth century. During his artistic career, which lasted more than 75 years, he created thousands of works, not only paintings but also sculptures, prints, and ceramics, using all kinds of materials. He almost single-handedly created modern art. He changed art more profoundly than any other artist of this century.
First famous for his pioneering role in Cubism, Picasso continued to develop his art with a pace and vitality comparable to the accelerated technological and cultural changes of the twentieth century. Each change embodied a radical new idea, and it might be said that Picasso lived several artistic lifetimes.
Picasso was born on October 25, 1881, in Malaga, Spain, son of an artist, Jose Ruiz, and Maria Picasso. Rather than adopt the common name Ruiz, the young Picasso took the rarer name of his mother. An artistic prodigy, Picasso, at the age of 14, completed the one-month qualifying examination of the Academy of Fine Arts in Barcelona in one day. From there he went to the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, returning in 1900 to Barcelona, where he frequented the city’s famous cabaret of intellectuals and artists, Els Quatre Gats.
The years of 1901 to 1904, known as the “blue period” because of the blue tonality of Picasso’s paintings were a time of frequent changes of residence between Barcelona and Paris. During this period, he would spend his days in Paris studying the masterworks at the Louvre and his nights enjoying the company of fellow artists at cabarets like the Lapin Agile.
1905 and 1906 marked a radical change in color and mood for Picasso. He became fascinated with the acrobats, clowns and wandering families of the circus world. He started to paint in subtle pinks and grays, often highlighted with brighter tones. This was known as his “rose period.”
In 1907, Picasso painted “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” considered the watershed picture of the twentieth century, and met Georges Braque, the other leading figure of the Cubist movement. Cubism was equally the creation of Picasso and Braque and from 1911 to 1913, the two men were in frequent contact. In 1917, Picasso did the set and costume design for Serge Diaghilev’s ballet “Parade.”
For Picasso the 1920’s were years of rich artistic exploration and great productivity. Picasso continued to design theater sets and painted in Cubist, Classical and Surreal modes. From 1929 to 1931, he pioneered wrought iron sculpture with his old friend Julio Gonzalez. In the early 1930’s, Picasso did a large quantity of graphic illustrations.
In late April of 1937, the world learned the shocking news of the saturation bombing of the civilian target of Guernica, Spain by the Nazi Luftwaffe. Picasso responded with his great anti-war painting, “Guernica.”
During World War II, Picasso lived in Paris, where he turned his energy to the art of ceramics. From 1947 to 1950, he pursued new methods of lithography.
The l950’s saw the beginning of a number of large retrospective exhibits of his works. During this time he began to a paint a series of works conceived as free variations on old master paintings.
In the 1960’s, he produced a monumental 50-foot sculpture for the Chicago Civic Center. In 1970, Picasso donated more than 800 of his works to the Berenguer de Aguilar Palace Museum in Barcelona.
Pablo Picasso died on April 8, 1973 in Mougins, France at the age of 91.