Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso

Spanish Draftsman, Painter, Printmaker, and Sculptor

Born: October 25, 1881 - Malaga, Spain
Died: April 8, 1973 - Mougins, France
"Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth."
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Pablo Picasso Signature
"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."
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"Every act of creation is first an act of destruction."
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"For those who know how to read, I have painted my autobiography."
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"Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist."
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"It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."
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"Go and do the things you can't. That is how you get to do them."
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"I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them."
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"There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality."
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"The idea of research has often made painting go astray, and made the artist lose himself in mental lucubrations. Perhaps this has been the principal fault of modern art. The spirit of research has poisoned those who have not fully understood all the positive and conclusive elements in modern art and has made them attempt to paint the invisible and, therefore, the unpaintable."
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"They speak of naturalism in opposition to modern painting. I would like to know if anyone has ever seen a natural work of art. Nature and art, being two different things, cannot be the same thing. Through art we express our conception of what nature is not. Velásquez left us his idea of the people of his epoch. Undoubtly they were different from what he painted them, but we cannot conceive a Philip IV in any other way than the one Velásquez painted"
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"Cubism is not a reality you can take in your hand. It's more like a perfume, in front of you, behind you, to the sides, the scent is everywhere but you don't quite know where it comes from."
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"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
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"Picasso used to be a great painter, now he is merely a genius."
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Facetious comment by Georges Braque

Summary of Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso was the most dominant and influential artist of the first half of the 20th 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.


  • 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 structure and ultimately set him on the path towards Cubism, in which he deconstructed the conventions of perspective 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, although never transforming his work entirely, encouraged not only the soft forms and tender eroticism of 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 Ingres, Velazquez, Goya, and Rembrandt.

Biography of Pablo Picasso

Actress Brigitte Bardot visiting Picasso's studio at Vallauris, near Cannes, during the film festival of 1956.

"I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them." Said Picasso, and whether he was partnering with Braque on Cubism or spending time with the poets he admired, or the muses he loved and craved, he was finding new ways to see, and represent what he saw. His life is a virtual progression of modernism.

Progression of Art

The Soup (1902-03)

The Soup

La Soupe 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, now unbelievably expensive.

Oil on canvas - Art Institute of Chicago

Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1905)

Portrait of Gertrude Stein

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)

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

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 Cézanne'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


Still Life with Chair Caning

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)

Maquette for Guitar

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 (1911-12).

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


Bowl of Fruit, Violin and Bottle

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

Ma Jolie (1911-12)

Ma Jolie

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

The Three Musicians (1921)

The Three Musicians

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, Philadelphia


Three Women at the Spring

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

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 Dalí - 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 - Musée National Picasso, Paris

Guernica (1937)


This painting was Picasso's response to the bombing of the Basque town named Guernica 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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First published on 22 Nov 2011. Updated and modified regularly
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