Picasso at work, courtesy of HistoMephistix’s YouTube Channel
CAIRO – 25 October 2017: Legendary Spanish artist Pablo Picasso was born on this day in history on 1881. Today marks the first day in the life of one of the world’s most famous, influential and revolutionary artists of the 20th century, and indeed of all time.
When Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain, he was a small, sickly baby; indeed, his midwife first thought he was a stillborn. Originally Pablo Ruiz, he adopted his mother’s Italian surname. Picasso’s father, Jose Ruiz Blasco, was a professor of art and a painter himself who taught and encouraged his son to start drawing.
Picasso completed his first painting when he was only nine years old. He was identified as an art prodigy by the time he was 13, and his father vowed to give up painting for his son had surpassed him.
Picasso didn’t even need art school, having quit when he was also 13 in order to experiment with his style. With the dawning of the 20th century, the artist would first set foot in Paris in 1900, which would become his permanent residence. In an attempt to categorize and identify the sheer amount of work Picasso had put out, 50,000 works of art across numerous mediums, art historians break them down into several periods.
From 1900 to 1904, Picasso’s artwork primarily used deep, sad, blue colors and is thus referred to as the “Blue Period.” These colors reflected the artist’s internal state at the time, as he was depressed and lonely, mourning over the suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas. The subject matter of this period also reflected this sadness, as Picasso frequently painted beggars. His most famous work of this time is “The Old Guitarist,” painted in 1903.
The Old Guitarist” (1903) via uhuru1701's Flickr
Yet Picasso would lighten up a year later in 1904, his sadness finally lifting. This was the “Rose Period,” a time of experimentation and color. He had taken up an interest in the circus, delighting in the colorful and outrageous costumes performers would wear. He featured frequent uses of red and pink hues, colors that would raise the spirits of the viewers as high as the performers would soar. A sense of melancholy still remained, however, for these performers were poor outcasts, perhaps explaining the reason why Picasso felt so drawn to them, as that is how he saw himself.
Family of Saltimbanques” (1905) via nostri-imago’s Flickr
In 1906, Picasso would encounter revolutionary French artist Georges Braque, and his influence, coupled with Picasso’s growing interest in African sculptures, would slowly give rise to what would become known as Cubism. Picasso’s 1907 painting “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” was unlike anything ever seen in the European art scene – a distortion of the human form so unrecognizable and a radical departure from all conventional wisdom about art.
Les demoiselles d'Avignon” (1907) via Gautier Poupeau’s Flickr
Cubism arose in 1909, founded by Picasso and Braque, though the term itself was rejected by Picasso. This radical art movement sought to break free of what the art world at the time considered proper, and defined itself as artwork that sought not to represent reality directly. The art world was both appalled and amazed. It was also around this time that Picasso also helped invent “collage;” a style of art that involves the usage of other artworks or photographs, spliced and clipped together to create a brand new work of art.
Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler” (1910) via Wikimedia Commons
As Picasso experimented and evolved, he would continue to define and push both the limits of art and what it means to be an artist. Outside of painting, he would work in costume design for ballet, theater and sculpture; applying his principles of cubism to create real 3D works of art like nothing else.
Head of a Woman” (1909) via Wikimedia Commons
The artist’s work would continue to grow in both scope and skill, and Picasso began looking into the past once again, where he explored classical and Mediterranean artworks. This is known as the “Classical Period,” which lasted from 1918 to 1927. He also had a stint with Surrealism in 1920, another new art movement that sought to transcend reality, pioneered by legendary artists such as Salvador Dali. Picasso would produce massive sculptures in this period, working alongside Julio Gonzalez.
Classical Head” (1922) via Cliff’s Flickr
Picasso also sought to use his art to make a political statement, which led to the birth of his masterpiece “Guernica” in 1937, a large surrealist landscape painting that depicts the horrors of war and the aftermath of suffering in the Spanish town of Guernica, after German plane bombers attacked.
Guernica” (1937) via Mark Barry’s Flickr
After World War II, Picasso would continue his endless artistic march of growth and evolution. His later artwork seemed to show a return to more childish roots, a contrast to the complexity of his Cubist pieces and the Realism of his classical works. By this time, Picasso the man had become far more famous than his artwork, holding the title of the most famous living artist.
The attention didn’t hinder his output, which continued to be staggering. Picasso had grown more invested into politics as well, joining the communist party. He was awarded the International Lenin Peace Prize twice in 1950 and 1961. As his life began to wind down, Picasso’s artwork began to be focused solely on portraits, and his final piece, done a year before his death in 1973, was done in crayons. He was 90 years old when he passed away.
After his death, Picasso had left a permanent mark on the tapestry of art history, forever inspiring and influencing generation upon generation of artists. Picasso, a man who drew like a hundred different artists, redefined all conceptions of what art and artistry meant, challenging even our own perceptions of how we view reality.
Weeping Woman” (1937) via Nicho Design’s Flickr