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Pablo Picasso

Spanish Draftsman, Painter, Printmaker, and Sculptor

Movements and Styles: Cubism, Symbolism, Surrealism

Born: October 25, 1881 - Malaga, Spain

Died: April 8, 1973 - Mougins, France

Pablo Picasso Timeline

Important Art by Pablo Picasso

The below artworks are the most important by Pablo Picasso - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The Old Guitarist (1903)
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The Old Guitarist (1903)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Old Guitarist is characteristic of the somber melancholy of Picasso's Blue Period, and it was produced at the same time as a series of other pictures devoted to themes of destitution, old age, and blindness. The picture conveys something of Picasso's concern with the miserable conditions he witnessed while coming of age in Spain, and it is no doubt influenced by the religious painting he grew up with, and perhaps specifically by El Greco. But the picture is also typical of the wider Symbolist movement of the period. In later years Picasso dismissed his Blue Period works as "nothing but sentiment"; critics have often agreed with him, even though many of these pictures are iconic, and of course, unbelievably expensive.

Oil on canvas - Art Institute of Chicago

Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1905)
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Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1905)

Artwork description & Analysis: Gertrude Stein was an author, close friend, and even supporter of Picasso, and was integral to his growth as an artist. This portrait, in which Stein is wearing her favorite brown velvet coat, was made just a year before Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, and marks an important stage in his evolving style. In contrast to the flat appearance of the figures and objects in some of the Blue and Rose period works, the forms in this portrait seem almost sculpted, and indeed they were influenced by the artist's discovery of archaic Iberian sculpture. One can almost sense Picasso's increased interest in depicting a human face as a series of flat planes. Stein claimed that she sat for the artist some ninety times, and although that may be an exaggeration, Picasso certainly wrestled long and hard with painting her head. After approaching it in various ways, abandoning each attempt, one day he painted it out altogether, declaring "I can't see you any longer when I look," and soon abandoned the picture. It was only some time later, and without the model in front of him, that he completed the head.

Oil on canvas - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907)
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Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907)

Artwork description & Analysis: This painting was shocking even to Picasso's closest artist friends both for its content and its execution. The subject matter of nude women was not in itself unusual, but the fact that Picasso painted the women as prostitutes in aggressively sexual postures was novel. Picasso's studies of Iberian and tribal art is most evident in the faces of three of the women, which are rendered as mask-like, suggesting that their sexuality is not just aggressive, but also primitive. Picasso also went further with his spatial experiments by abandoning the Renaissance illusion of three-dimensionality, instead presenting a radically flattened picture plane that is broken up into geometric shards, something Picasso borrowed in part from Paul Cezanne's brushwork. For instance, the leg of the woman on the left is painted as if seen from several points of view simultaneously; it is difficult to distinguish the leg from the negative space around it making it appear as if the two are both in the foreground.

The painting was widely thought to be immoral when it was finally exhibited in public in 1916. Braque is one of the few artists who studied it intently in 1907, leading directly to his Cubist collaborations with Picasso. Because Les Demoiselles predicted some of the characteristics of Cubism, the work is considered proto or pre Cubism.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

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Ma Jolie (1911-12)
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Ma Jolie (1911-12)

Artwork description & Analysis: In this work, Picasso challenges the distinction between high art and popular culture, pushing his experiments in new directions. Building on the geometric forms of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Picasso moves further towards abstraction by reducing color and by increasing the illusion of low-relief sculpture. Most significantly, however, Picasso included painted words on the canvas. The words, "ma jolie" on the surface not only flatten the space further, but they also liken the painting to a poster because they are painted in a font reminiscent of one used in advertising. This is the first time that an artist so blatantly uses elements of popular culture in a work of high art. Further linking the work to pop culture and to the everyday, "Ma Jolie" was also the name of a popular tune at the time as well as Picasso's nickname for his girlfriend.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Still Life with Chair Caning (1912)
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Still Life with Chair Caning (1912)

Artwork description & Analysis: Still Life with Chair Caning is celebrated for being modern art's first collage. Picasso had affixed preexisting objects to his canvases before, but this picture marks the first time he did so with such playful and emphatic intent. The chair caning in the picture in fact comes from a piece of printed oilcloth - and not, as the title suggests, an actual piece of chair caning. But the rope around the canvas is very real, and serves to evoke the carved border of a café table. Furthermore, the viewer can imagine that the canvas is a glass table, and the chair caning is the actual seat of the chair that can be seen through the table. Hence the picture not only dramatically contrasts visual space as is typical of Picasso's experiments, it also confuses our sense of what it is that we are looking at.

Oil on canvas - National Gallery, London

Maquette for Guitar (1912)
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Maquette for Guitar (1912)

Artwork description & Analysis: Picasso's experiments with collaged elements such as those in Still Life with Chair Caning encouraged him to reconsider traditional sculpture as well. Rather than a collage, however, Maquette for Guitar is an assemblage or three-dimensional collage. Picasso took pieces of cardboard, paper, string, and wire that he then folded, threaded, and glued together, making it the first sculpture assembled from disparate parts. The work is also innovative because it is not a solid material surrounded by a void, but instead fluidly integrates mass and its surrounding void. Picasso has translated the Cubist interest in multiple perspectives and geometric form into a three-dimensional medium, using non-traditional art materials that continue to challenge the distinction between high art and popular culture as he did in Ma Jolie.

Paperboard, paper, thread, string, twine, and coated wire - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle (1914)
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Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle (1914)

Artwork description & Analysis: Picasso's Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle is typical of his Synthetic Cubism, in which he uses various means - painted dots, silhouettes, grains of sand - to allude to the depicted objects. This combination of painting and mixed media is an example of the way Picasso "synthesized" color and texture - synthesizing new wholes after mentally dissecting the objects at hand. During his Analytic Cubist phase Picasso had suppressed color, so as to concentrate more on the forms and volumes of the objects, and this rationale also no doubt guided his preference for still life throughout this phase. The life of the café certainly summed up modern Parisian life for the artists - it was where he spent a good deal of time talking with other artists - but the simple array of objects also ensured that questions of symbolism and allusion might be kept under control.

Oil on canvas - National Gallery, London

The Three Musicians (1921)
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The Three Musicians (1921)

Artwork description & Analysis: Picasso painted two version of this picture. The slightly smaller version hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but both are unusually large for Picasso's Cubist period, and he may have chosen to work on this grand scale because they mark the conclusion of his Synthetic Cubism, which had occupied him for nearly a decade. He painted it in the same summer as the very different, classical painting Three Women at the Spring. Some have interpreted the pictures as nostalgic remembrances of the artist's early days: Picasso sits in the center - as ever the Harlequin - and his old friends Guillaume Apollinaire, who died in 1918, and Max Jacob, from whom he had become estranged, sit on either side. However, another argument links the pictures to Picasso's work for the Ballets Russes, and identifies the characters with more recent friends. Either way, the costumes of the figures certainly derive from traditions in Italian popular theatre.

Oil on canvas - Philadelphia Museum of Art

Three Women at the Spring (1921)
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Three Women at the Spring (1921)

Artwork description & Analysis: Picasso made careful studies in preparation for this, his most ambitious treatment of what is an old classical subject. It makes reference to earlier pictures by Poussin and Ingres - titans of classical painting - but it also draws inspiration from Greek sculpture, and indeed the massive gravity of the figures is very sculptural. Critics have speculated that the subject appealed to him because of the recent birth of his first son, Paulo; the somber attitude of the figures may be explained by the contemporary preoccupation in France with mourning the dead of the First World War.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Large Nude in a Red Armchair (1929)
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Large Nude in a Red Armchair (1929)

Artwork description & Analysis: When Picasso's work came under the influence of the Surrealists in the late 1920s, his forms often took on melting, organic contours. This work was completed in May 1929, around the same time the Surrealists were preoccupied with the way in which ugly and disgusting imagery might provide a route into the unconscious. It was clearly intended to shock, and it may have been influenced by Salvador Dali - and Joan Miro. It is thought that the picture represents the former dancer Olga Koklova, whose relationship with Picasso was failing around this time.

Oil on canvas

Guernica (1937)
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Guernica (1937)

Artwork description & Analysis: Guernica was Picasso's response to the bombing of the Basque town of the same name on April 26, 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. Painted in one month - from May to June 1937 - it became the centerpiece of the Spanish pavilion at the Paris World's Fair later that year. While it was a sensation at the fair, it was consequently banned from exhibition in Spain until military dictator Francisco Franco fell from power in 1975. Much time has been spent trying to decode the symbolism of the picture, and some believe that the dying horse in the center of the painting alludes to the people of Spain. The minotaur may allude to bull fighting, a favorite national past-time in Spain, though it also had complex personal significance for the artist. Although Guernica is undoubtedly modern art's most famous response to war, critics have been divided on its success as a painting.

Oil on canvas - Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid



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Pablo Picasso Photo

Related Art and Artists

Vision After the Sermon (Jacob's Fight with the Angel) (1888)

Vision After the Sermon (Jacob's Fight with the Angel) (1888)

Artist: Paul Gauguin

Artwork description & Analysis: Vision after the Sermon represents a significant departure from the subject matter of Impressionism, namely the city or rural landscape, which was still quite prevalent in Europe and the United States during the last two decades of the 19th century. Instead of choosing to paint pastoral landscape or urban entertainments, Gauguin depicted a rural Biblical scene of praying women envisioning Jacob wrestling with an angel. The decision to paint a religious subject was reminiscent of the Renaissance tradition, yet Gauguin rendered his subject in a decidedly modern style derived in part from Japanese prints, his own experiments in ceramics, stained-glass window methods, and other popular and "high art" traditions, finally emphasizing bold outlines and flat areas of color.

Oil on canvas - National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

Table, Napkin, and Fruit (A Corner of the Table) (1895-1900)

Table, Napkin, and Fruit (A Corner of the Table) (1895-1900)

Artist: Paul Cézanne

Artwork description & Analysis: After studying Dutch and French Old Master still life painting at the Musée du Louvre and other Paris galleries, Cézanne formulated his own semi-sculptural approach to still lifes. Typically strewn across an upturned tabletop, Cézanne's pears, peaches, and other pictorial elements seem at once to rest on a solid, wooden plank and yet float across the surface of the canvas like a new kind of calligraphy. As if to press home that point, Cézanne typically includes chairs, wooden screens, water pitchers, and wine bottles to suggest that the gaze of the viewer rise vertically up the canvas, rather than plunge deep within any implied corner of a real kitchen.

Oil on canvas, 47 x 56 cm (18 1/4 x 22 in) - The Barnes Foundation, Pennsylvania

The Woman with a Hat (1905)
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The Woman with a Hat (1905)

Artist: Henri Matisse

Artwork description & Analysis: Matisse attacked conventional portraiture with this image of his wife. Amelie's pose and dress are typical for the day, but Matisse roughly applied brilliant color across her face, hat, dress, and even the background. This shocked his contemporaries when he sent the picture to the 1905 Salon d'Automne. Leo Stein called it, "the nastiest smear of paint I had ever seen," yet he and Gertrude bought it for the importance they knew it would have to modern painting.

Oil on canvas - The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

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