Pablo Picasso Life and Art Periods

"Every act of creation is first an act of destruction."

PABLO PICASSO SYNOPSIS

Pablo Picasso was the most dominant and influential artist of the first half of the twentieth century. Associated most of all with pioneering Cubism, alongside Georges Braque, he also invented collage and made major contributions to Symbolism and Surrealism. He saw himself above all as a painter, yet his sculpture was greatly influential, and he also explored areas as diverse as printmaking and ceramics. Finally, he was a famously charismatic personality; his many relationships with women not only filtered into his art but also may have directed its course, and his behavior has come to embody that of the bohemian modern artist in the popular imagination.

PABLO PICASSO KEY IDEAS

Picasso first emerged as a Symbolist influenced by the likes of Edvard Munch and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. This tendency shaped his so-called Blue Period, in which he depicted beggars, prostitutes, and various urban misfits, and also the brighter moods of his subsequent Rose Period.
It was a confluence of influences - from Paul Cézanne and Henri Rousseau, to archaic and tribal art - that encouraged Picasso to lend his figures more weight and structure around 1906. And they ultimately set him on the path towards Cubism, in which he deconstructed the conventions of perspectival space that had dominated painting since the Renaissance. These innovations would have far-reaching consequences for practically all of modern art, revolutionizing attitudes to the depiction of form in space.
Picasso's immersion in Cubism also eventually led him to the invention of collage, in which he abandoned the idea of the picture as a window on objects in the world, and began to conceive of it merely as an arrangement of signs that used different, sometimes metaphorical means, to refer to those objects. This too would prove hugely influential for decades to come.
Picasso had an eclectic attitude to style, and although, at any one time, his work was usually characterized by a single dominant approach, he often moved interchangeably between different styles - sometimes even in the same artwork.
His encounter with Surrealism in the mid-1920s, although never transforming his work entirely, encouraged a new expressionism that had been suppressed throughout the years of experiment in Cubism and subsequently during the early 1920s when his style was predominantly classical. This development enabled not only the soft forms and tender eroticism of his portraits of his mistress Marie-Therese Walter, but also the starkly angular imagery of Guernica (1937), the century's most famous anti-war painting.
Picasso was always eager to place himself in history, and some of his greatest works, such as Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), refer to a wealth of past precedents - even while overturning them. As he matured he became only more conscious of assuring his legacy, and his late work is characterized by a frank dialogue with Old Masters such as Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, Diego Velazquez, Francisco Goya, and Rembrandt van Rijn.
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PABLO PICASSO BIOGRAPHY

Childhood

Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born into a creative family. His father was a painter, and he quickly showed signs of following the same path: his mother claimed that his first word was "piz," a shortened version of lapiz, or pencil, and his father was his first teacher. Picasso began formally studying art at the age of 11. Several paintings from his teenage years still exist, such as First Communion (1895), which is typical in its conventional, if accomplished, academic style. His father groomed the young prodigy to be a great artist by getting Picasso the best education the family could afford and visiting Madrid to see works by Spanish old masters. And when the family moved to Barcelona so his father could take up a new post, Picasso continued his art education.

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Early Training

It was in Barcelona that Picasso first matured as a painter. He frequented the Els Quatre Gats, a cafe popular with bohemians, anarchists, and modernists. And he came to be familiar with Art Nouveau and Symbolism, and artists such as Edvard Munch and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. It was here that he met Jaime Sabartes, who would go on to be his fiercely loyal secretary in later years. This was his introduction to a cultural avant-garde, in which young artists were encouraged to express themselves.

During the years from 1900 to 1904, Picasso traveled frequently, spending time in Madrid and Paris, in addition to spells in Barcelona. Although he began making sculpture during this time, critics characterize this time as his Blue Period, after the blue/grey palette that dominated his paintings. The mood of the work was also insistently melancholic. One might see the beginnings of this in the artist's sadness over the suicide of Carlos Casegemas, a friend he had met in Barcelona, though the subjects of much of the Blue Period work were drawn from the beggars and prostitutes he encountered in city streets. The Old Guitarist (1903) is a typical example of both the subject matter and the style of this phase.

In 1904, Picasso's palette began to brighten, and for a year or more he painted in a style that has been characterized as his Rose Period. He focused on performers and circus figures, switching his palette to various shades of more uplifting reds and pinks. And around 1906, soon after he had met Georges Braque, his palette darkened, his forms became heavier and more solid in aspect, and he began to find his way towards Cubism.

Mature Period

Pablo Picasso Biography

In the past critics dated the beginnings of Cubism to his early masterpiece Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907). Although that work is now seen as transitional (lacking the radical distortions of his later experiments), it was clearly crucial in his development since it was heavily influenced by African sculpture and ancient Iberian art. It is said to have inspired Braque to paint his own first series of Cubist paintings, and in subsequent years the two would mount one of the most remarkable collaborations in modern painting, sometimes eagerly learning from each other, at other times trying to outdo one another in their fast-paced and competitive race to innovate. They visited each other daily during their formulation of this radical technique, and Picasso described himself and Braque as "two mountaineers, roped together." In their shared vision, multiple perspectives on an object are depicted simultaneously by being fragmented and rearranged in splintered configurations. Form and space became the most crucial elements, and so both artists restricted their palettes to earth tones, in stark contrast with the bright colors used by the Fauves that had preceded them.

Picasso rejected the label "Cubism," especially when critics began to differentiate between the two key approaches he pursued - Analytic and Synthetic. He saw his body of work as a continuum. But it is beyond doubt that there was a change in his work around 1912. He became less concerned with representing the placement of objects in space than in using shapes and motifs as signs to playfully allude to their presence. He developed the technique of collage, and from Braque he learned the related method of papiers colles, which used cutout pieces of paper in addition to fragments of existing materials. This phase has since come to be known as the "Synthetic" phase of Cubism, due to its reliance on various allusions to an object in order to create the description of it. This approach opened up the possibilities of more decorative and playful compositions, and its versatility encouraged Picasso to continue to utilize it well in the 1920s.

But the artist's dawning interest in ballet also sent his work in new directions around 1916. This was in part prompted by meeting the poet, artist, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau. Through him he met Sergei Diaghilev, and went on to produce numerous set designs for the Ballets Russes.

Pablo Picasso Photo

For some years Picasso had occasionally toyed with classical imagery, and he began to give this free rein in the early 1920s. His figures became heavier and more massive, and he often imagined them against backgrounds of a Mediterranean Golden Age. They have long been associated with the wider conservative trends of culture's so-called rappel a l'ordre ("return to order") in the 1920s.

His encounter with Surrealism in the mid 1920s again prompted a change of direction. His work became more expressive, and often violent or erotic. This phase in his work can also be correlated with the period in his personal life when his marriage to dancer Olga Koklova began to break down and he began a new relationship with Marie-Therese Walter. Indeed, critics have often noted how changes in style in Picasso's work often go hand in hand with changes in his romantic relationships; his partnership with Koklova spanned the years of his interest in dance and, later, his time with Jacqueline Roque is associated with his late phase in which he became preoccupied with his legacy alongside the old masters. Picasso frequently painted the women he was in love with, and, as a result, his tumultuous personal life is well represented on canvas. He was known to have kept many mistresses, most famously Eva Gouel, Dora Maar, and Francoise Gilot. He married twice, and had four children, Claude, Paloma, Maia, and Paolo.

In the late 1920s he began a collaboration with the sculptor Julio Gonzalez. This was his most significant creative partnership since he had worked alongside Braque, and it culminated in some welded metal sculptures, which were subsequently highly influential.

As the 1930s wore on, political concerns began to cloud Picasso's view, and these would continue to preoccupy him for some time. His disgust at the bombing of civilians in the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War prompted him to create the painting Guernica, in 1937. During WWII he stayed in Paris, and the German authorities left him sufficiently unmolested to allow him to continue his work. However, the war did have a huge impact on Picasso, with his Paris painting collection confiscated by Nazis and some of his closest Jewish friends killed. Picasso made works commemorating them - sculptures employing hard, cold materials such as metal, and a particularly violent follow up to Guernica, entitled The Charnel House (1945). Following the war he was also closely involved with the Communist Party, and several major pictures from this period, such as War in Korea (1951), make that new allegiance clear.

Late Years and Death

Pablo Picasso Portrait

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Picasso worked on his own versions of canonical masterpieces by artists such as Nicolas Poussin, Diego Velazquez, and El Greco. In the latter years of his life, Picasso sought solace from his celebrity, marrying Jacqueline Rogue in 1961. His later paintings were heavily portrait-based and their palettes nearly garish in hue. Critics have generally considered them inferior to his earlier work, though in recent years they have been more enthusiastically received. He also created many ceramic and bronze sculptures during this later period. He died in the South of France in 1973.

PABLO PICASSO LEGACY

Picasso's influence was profound and far-reaching for most of his life. His work in pioneering Cubism established a set of pictorial problems, devices, and approaches, which remained important well into the 1950s. And at each stage of his career, from the classical works of the 1920s to the works produced in occupied Paris during the 1940s, his example was important. Even after the war, even though the energy in avant-garde art shifted to New York, Picasso remained a titanic figure, and one who could never be ignored. Indeed, even though the Abstract Expressionists could be said to have superseded aspects of Cubism (even while being strongly influenced by him), The Museum of Modern Art in New York has been called "the house that Pablo built," because it has so widely exhibited the artist's work. MoMA's opening exhibition in 1930 included fifteen paintings by Picasso. He was also a part of Alfred Barr's highly influential survey shows Cubism and Abstract Art (1936) and Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism (1936-37). Although his influence undoubtedly waned in the 1960s, he had by that time become a Pop icon, and the public's fascination with his life story continue to fuel interest in his work.

Original content written by The Art Story Contributors
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PABLO PICASSO QUOTES

"Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success."

"For those who know how to read, I have painted my autobiography"

"Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth."

"I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them."

"There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality."

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso Influences

Interactive chart with Pablo Picasso's main influencers, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.

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Francisco Goya
Francisco Goya
Francisco Goya was an eighteenth-century Spanish painter, and is considered by many to be "the father of modern painting." Informed by the Baroque style and the Classicists, Goya's art bridged the gap between Realism and Romanticism, but also contained provocative elements such as nudes, war, and allegories of death. He is considered a major influence on the works of Manet and Picasso.

Modern Art Information Francisco Goya
El Greco
El Greco
El Greco was a sixteenth-century Greek-born painter, sculptor and architect, most often associated with the Spanish Renaissace and Mannerism of the Ventian Renaissance. As a master artist who employed highly expressive techniques, El Greco's paintings both confounded his contemporaries and influenced later movements like Expressionism and Cubism.

Modern Art Information El Greco
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin was a French Post-Impressionist artist who employed color fields and painterly strokes in his work. He is best known for his primitivist depictions of native life in Tahiti and Polynesia.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Paul Gauguin
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne was an influential French Post-Impressionist painter whose depictions of the natural world, based on internal geometric planes, paved the way for Cubism and later modern art movements.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Paul Cézanne
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse was a French painter and sculptor who helped forge modern art. From his early Fauvist works to his late cutouts, he emphasized expansive fields of color, the expressive potential of gesture, and the sensuality inherent in art-making.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Henri Matisse
Guillaume Apollinaire
Guillaume Apollinaire
Guillaume Apollinaire was a French writer and art critic who in the early twentieth century was a member of the avant-garde group of artists based in the Montparnasse community of Paris, which included Picasso, André Breton and Henri Rousseau. He is credited with coining the term "Surrealism."

Modern Art Information Guillaume Apollinaire
Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein was an American writer and supporter of the arts whose Paris salons were key sites for avant-garde art in the early twentieth century. She built one of the earliest collections of modern art, including works by Matisse, Picasso, Braque, and others.

Modern Art Information Gertrude Stein
Georges Braque
Georges Braque
Georges Braque was a modern French painter who, along with Pablo Picasso, developed analytic Cubism and Cubist collage in the early twentieth century.
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Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler was a German art dealer, gallery owner and champion of Cubism. Kahnweiler is credited as one of the first people to truly appreciate the early works of Picasso, Braque, Léger and other experimental Cubist painters. The success of such artists is in large part due to Kahnweiler's purchase and promotion of these works.

Modern Art Information Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler
Ambroise Vollard
Ambroise Vollard
Ambroise Vollard was an important dealer, collector, and arts patron in late nineteenth-centry and early twentieth-century Paris. His interests were diverse, spanning Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Expressionism, and modernism, and included such artists as Renoir, Cézanne, Gaugin, Matisse, and Picasso.

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Impressionism
Impressionism
A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
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Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism refers to a number of styles that emerged in reaction to Impressionism in the 1880s. The movement encompassed Symbolism and Neo-Impressionism before ceding to Fauvism around 1905. Its artists turned away from effects of light and atmosphere to explore new avenues such as color theory and personal feeling, often using colors and forms in intense and expressive ways.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Post-Impressionism
Expressionism
Expressionism
Expressionism is a broad term for a host of movements in early twentieth-century Germany, from Die Brücke (1905) and Der Blaue Reiter (1911) to the early Neue Sachlichkeit painters in the 1920s and '30s. Many German Expressionists used vivid colors and abstracted forms to create spiritually or psychologically intense works, while others focused on depictions of war, alienation, and the modern city.
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Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau was a movement that swept through the decorative arts and architecture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Generating enthusiasts throughout Europe, it was aimed at modernizing design and escaping the eclectic historical styles that had previously been popular. It drew inspiration from both organic and geometric forms, evolving elegant designs that united flowing, natural forms with more angular contours.
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African Art
African Art
Beginning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, traditional African art, often seen through a primitivizing eye, began to exert a strong influence on modern Western artists. Artists were influenced by the emphasis on ritual and spiritualism, and the stylistic conventions of flattened planes and mask-like faces.

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Amedeo Modigliani
Amedeo Modigliani
Amedeo Modigliani was a Jewish-Itailan painter working in Paris from 1906 onwards. His unique style was influenced by Post-Impressionism, Brancusi and Cézanne, and featured ovaloid faces, elongated forms, and the use of brushed, modulated color fields.
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Arshile Gorky
Arshile Gorky
Arshile Gorky was an Armenian-born American painter and a major influence on the development of Abstract Expressionism. In his own art he fused elements of Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism, and was close with key figures central to New York's burgeoning abstrct art scene, such as John Graham, Stuart Davis and Willem de Kooning.
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Willem De Kooning
Willem De Kooning
Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
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Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns is an American artist who rose to prominence in the late 1950s for his multi-media constructions, dubbed by critics as Neo-Dada. Johns' work, including his world-famous targets and American flags series, were important predecessors to Pop art.
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Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
Alfred H. Barr, Jr. was an American art historian, collector, and the first director of The Museum of Modern Art. Barr was very influential in MoMA's early years, arranging seminal exhibitions of works by Van Gogh, Léger, the Post-Impressionists and the Cubists.
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Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg was one the leading American art critics during the twentieth century. Best known as the ideological counterpart to Harold Rosenberg, Greenberg was a formalist who coined the terms "American-type painting" and 'Post-painterly abstraction.' He was a staunch champion of pure abstraction, including the work of Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still and Hans Hofmann.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Clement Greenberg
Meyer Schapiro
Meyer Schapiro
Meyer Schapiro was an important art historian and theorist who wrote on the social and political dimensions of art and its historiography. He made seminal contributions to the fields of Romanesque and medieval art as well as to theories of modernism, abstraction, and Abstract Expressionism.
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Robert Rosenblum
Robert Rosenblum
Robert Rosenblum was an American art critic, curator and historian. His greatest contribution to the modern canon was his redefinition of Modern art history, offering that the era began not with Impressionism but with Neo-Classicists of the late eighteenth century.
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Leo Steinberg
Leo Steinberg
Leo Steinberg is one the twentieth century's foremost historians and scholars on the works of Michelangelo, Leonardo and other Italian Renaissance artists. In addition to his scholarly work on Renaissance art, Steinberg is also a significant authority on twentieth-century modern art, including the paintings and sculptures of Pablo Picasso, Jasper Johns's Flag series, and Willem de Kooning's Woman series.
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Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
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Abstract Art
Abstract Art
Abstraction from nature, objects, or figures has been common throughout the history of art, but it was not until the early twentieth century that abstraction was pursued for its own sake. From about 1913 it became a central characteristic of modernist art, and it continues to an important part of contemporary artists' repertoire.

Modern Art Information Abstract Art
Surrealism
Surrealism
Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
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Pop Art
Pop Art
British artists of the 1950s were the first to make popular culture the dominant subject of their art, and this idea became an international phenomenon in the 1960s. But the Pop art movement is most associated with New York, and artists such as Andy Warhol, who broke with the private concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, and turned to themes which touched on public life and mass society.
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Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid-1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
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Collage
Collage
Collage was first employed in fine art in the context of Cubism, and involved the introduction of pre-existing materials into new designs, often to produce a playful ambiguity between art and reality. It has since been enormously influential, impacting not only drawing and painting but also attitudes to sculpture.

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Symbolism
Symbolism
Symbolism is an artistic and literary movement that first emerged in France in the 1880s. In the visual arts it is often considered part of Post-Impressionism. It is characterized by an emphasis on the mystical, romantic and expressive, and often by the use of symbolic figures.

Modern Art Information Symbolism
Edvard Munch
Edvard Munch
Norweigan painter and printmaker Edvard Munch was a pioneer of the German Expressionist movement. His works such as The Scream explored deeply psychological concepts in a Symbolist style.
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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a Post-Impressionist artist who depicted the dancers, prostitutes, drinkers, and other characters of fin-de-siecle Paris. He is known for his paintings, his caricatures of friends, and his well-designed posters for Parisian dance halls.

Modern Art Information Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri Rousseau
Henri Rousseau
Henri Rousseau was a French self-taught painter. His most famous works, done in his characteristic flat figurative style, show surreal and dream-like scenes in primitive or natural settings.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Henri Rousseau
Ingres
Ingres
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres was a French Neoclassical painter. Although he considered himself to be a history painter in the tradition of Nicolas Poussin and Jacques-Louis David, it was Ingres's portraits, both painted and drawn, that were recognized as his greatest legacy.

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Diego Velazquez
Diego Velazquez
Diego Velazquez was a Spanish artist, court painter for King Philip IV, and one of the leading figures in the Baroque period. Known as a master of detail and light, Velazquez's work has been a significant influence on generations of artists and movements, from Realism to Surrealism.

Modern Art Information Diego Velazquez
Rembrandt
Rembrandt
Known throughout history simply as Rembrandt, the seventeenth-century Dutch artist is among the premier master painters in Western civilization. Working during the time historians have dubbed the Dutch Golden Age (or the Dutch Baroque period), Rembrandt's art was characterized by his sweeping Biblical narratives, stunning attention to detail, and masterful use of chiaroscuro, the painterly application of light and shadow. In this respect, he remains one of the most influential painters of all time.

Modern Art Information Rembrandt
Fauvism
Fauvism
Fauvism was an early twentieth-century art movement founded by Henri Matisse and André Derain. Labeled as "wild beasts", Fauve artists favored vibrant colors and winding gestural strokes across the canvas.
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Jean Cocteau
Jean Cocteau
Jean Cocteau was a French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, playwright, artist, and filmmaker. Along with other avant-garde artists of his generation Cocteau grappled to define the paradox of classical avant-garde. His circle of associates, friends and lovers included Pablo Picasso, Jean Hugo, and Coco Chanel.

Modern Art Information Jean Cocteau
Sergei Diaghilev
Sergei Diaghilev
Sergei Diaghilev was a Russian art critic, patron, ballet impresario and founder of the Ballets Russes, from which many famous dancers and choreographers would rise. The end of the nineteenth century brought changes in harmonic and metric devices. They became either more rigid, or much more unpredictable, and each approach had a liberating effect on rhythm, which also affected ballet. Diaghilev was a pioneer in adapting these new musical styles to modern ballet.

Modern Art Information Sergei Diaghilev
Julio Gonzalez
Julio Gonzalez
Julio Gonzalez was a Catalan-Spanish sculptor and painter. His best known early works were Synthetic Cubist paintings, and later in life turned to bronze and iron welding, creating many famous abstract sculptures. In 1927 he introduced Picasso to oxy-fuel welding and cutting techniques, and became one of the artist's closest confidantes.

Modern Art Information Julio Gonzalez
Nicolas Poussin
Nicolas Poussin
Nicolas Poussin was a French painter in the classical style. His work predominantly features clarity, logic, and order, and favors line over color. It served as an alternative to the dominant Baroque style of the seventeenth century. He inspired such classically-oriented artists as Jacques-Louis David and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.

Modern Art Information Nicolas Poussin
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
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Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Modern Art
The Museum has become the home for some of the greatest works of avant-garde painting, sculpture, film and multi-media art in the world. While MoMA remains true to its roots as a place where new styles of art can circulate, its permanent collection is widely considered the most impressive and diverse assortment of Modern art to ever exist, ranging from late-nineteenth-century van Goghs, Monets and Gauguins to works produced in the present day.
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The Old Guitarist
The Old Guitarist

Title: 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 the pictures remain moving.


Oil on canvas - Art Institute of Chicago

Portrait of Gertrude Stein
Portrait of Gertrude Stein

Title: 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
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Title: Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Although it is probably the single most analyzed picture of the century, ironically, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon was not exhibited in public until 1916. Picasso's friends felt that the highly distorted brothel scene would be too controversial. The work of Paul Cézanne, and also African masks, were crucial in shaping it, and for many years it was regarded as the first Cubist painting. Critics have since concluded that it is a transitional work, but this has done nothing to dampen its enormous power or influence. Willem de Kooning's Woman series (1951-53), for example, was directly informed by this work.


Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Still Life with Chair Caning
Still Life with Chair Caning

Title: 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 cafe table. Hence the picture not only dramatically contrasts visual and sculptural/tactile information, it also confuses our sense of what is horizontal and what is vertical.


Oil on canvas - National Gallery, London

Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle
Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle

Title: 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 cafe 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
The Three Musicians

Title: 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
Three Women at the Spring

Title: 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
Large Nude in a Red Armchair

Title: 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
Guernica

Title: 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

Bibliography
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggests some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.