Pablo Picasso: A Titan of 20th Century Art

By Thomas Kydd

Copywriter at Up!

Pablo Ruiz Picasso stands as one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century, with a prolific career spanning over 75 years and creating hundreds of works, including paintings, sculptures, engravings, illustrations, and ceramics. This article aims to explore his groundbreaking contributions to the art world, particularly in developing the Cubism movement alongside Georges Braque, and his relentless evolution in sync with the century’s cultural and technological shifts.

Early Life and Artistic Beginnings

Born on October 25, 1881, in Málaga, southern Spain, to artist José Ruiz and María Picasso, Pablo chose his mother’s more distinctive surname as his own. Showing early signs of genius, he allegedly uttered "piz, piz" as a toddler, a truncated attempt at "lápiz," the Spanish word for 'pencil.' His family moved to Galicia in 1891, where his talent began to crystallize. By the age of 14, Picasso passed the entrance exam to the Barcelona Academy of Fine Arts in just one day, showcasing his precocious skill. His formal education continued at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, although he soon returned to Barcelona disenchanted with the capital’s cultural scene.

In Barcelona, Picasso frequented Els Quatre Gats café, a hub for modernist artists and intellectuals, where he began to break away from traditional techniques, adopting an experimental and innovative approach. Reflecting on his career choices, Picasso famously quoted his mother's advice, illustrating his destined uniqueness: "If you become a soldier, you will be a general. If you become a monk, you will end as the pope." Instead, he said, "I became a painter and ended up as Picasso."

Paris and the Blue Period

The turn of the century saw Picasso relocating to Paris, marking the beginning of his 'Blue Period' (1901-1904), characterized by somber paintings in blue hues, reflecting his depression following the death of his close friend Carlos Casagemas. Influences from El Greco, Van Gogh, and Gauguin are evident during this period. His romantic involvement with model Fernande Olivier around 1904 brought an end to this phase, heralding his 'Rose Period' marked by warmer colors and the joy of circus life.

Cubism and Its Evolution

Picasso's most renowned contribution to the art world, Cubism, began with his 1907 masterpiece, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, depicting five disconcertingly angular nude women, a stark departure from traditional female nudes and incorporating elements of African and Iberian art. This painting, initially met with bewilderment, set the stage for Cubism's development, a movement co-founded with Georges Braque. Their collaboration significantly influenced subsequent avant-garde movements.

Throughout his career, Picasso didn't just adhere to one style. After a brief flirtation with Classicism during World War I, he delved into Surrealism around 1925, influenced by his tumultuous relationship with his first wife, Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, and later his affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter.

Later Years and Political Engagement

Commissioned to create a mural for the Spanish Republic at the 1937 Paris International Exposition, Picasso chose the bombing of Guernica as his subject, producing one of the most poignant anti-war artworks in history, now housed in Madrid’s Reina Sofía Museum. World War II saw him in Paris, focusing on ceramic and lithography, aligning politically with the Communist Party, which influenced his later works.

Picasso continued to innovate until his later years, famously reinterpreting Velázquez's Las Meninas 58 times in 1957. He remarried in 1961 to Jacqueline Roque, with whom he lived until his death in 1973 at the age of 91 in Mougins, France.

Pablo Picasso, 20th-century artists, Cubism, Blue Period, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, art movements, Surrealism, Guernica, Spanish artists, art history, Modern Art.