Pablo Picasso




Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is amongst the most celebrated artists of the twentieth century. During his long career, he experimented with numerous styles from Symbolism, to Pointillism and Neo-Classicism and the invention of Cubism, with Georges Braque. His work is often characterised by geometric and de-constructed forms and an inventive use of colour. With a prolific output, Picasso created thousands of paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, ceramics and textiles in his lifetime.

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Watch | Picasso : The Ceramics | Exhibition Walk Through

The 2020 exhibition at Huxley-Parlour features a plethora of the artist's ceramics, including female muses, faces and curious animals in unique designs and unusual shapes. The exhibition speaks to the variety of the artist’s practice and its enduring appeal over time.

Early Life

Pablo Picasso was born, Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, on 25 October 1881 in Malága, Spain. His father, Ruiz, was a painter who worked at the School of Crafts and as a curator for a local museum who developed Picasso’s love of art from a young age.

Following the death of his sister, Conchita, in 1895, which left Picasso devastated, the family moved to Barcelona where his father took a position at the Academy of Fine Arts. The school accepted Picasso as a student at the age of just thirteen, where he studied for three years before his father decided that his son should move to Madrid to study at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Spain’s foremost school of art.

The rigour and discipline of the school did not suit Picasso, and he stopped attending classes soon after enrolment. The city, however, offered Picasso the opportunity to engage with works by some of the most celebrated masters, including Francisco de Goya, Francisco de Zurbaran, Bartolomé Murillo and El Greco, whose work Picasso was particularly inspired by.


During his early years, Picasso painted in a realist style, influenced by the formal training he has received and his father’s own naturalistic style. By 1897, however, his style began to show signs of a Symbolist influence, using colours in non-naturalistic ways, influenced by contemporaries such as Edvard Munch and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.

Picasso made his first trip to Paris in 1900, then the centre of the Western art world. For the next five years Picasso divided his time between Paris and Barcelona, creating works in sombre blues and greens, in what has come to be termed his ‘Blue Period.’ The austere colour palette and doleful subject matter were influenced by Picasso’s travels through Spain and the suicide of his close friend Carles Casegamas. His paintings of this period often depict gaunt figures of sex workers and beggars amongst scenes of poverty.

Picasso’s ‘Rose Period’ followed from approximately 1904-1906, characterised by his use of light oranges and pinks. This body of work marked a change in tone, depicting more lively scenes that frequently included Harlequins and circus acrobats. The Harlequin was a particularly favourite subject and became a personal symbol of Picasso’s.

By 1905, Picasso had begun to achieve early success, establishing a market for his works. Gertrude Stein became one of his most important collectors, who introduced him to several important figures in the Parisian art world including Henri Matisse, who would become a lifelong rival and friend. In 1907, he signed a contract with Kahnweiler gallery, one of the foremost dealers in France at the time, who were significant in championing the work of young modern artists such as Georges Braque and Juan Gris.

Having by this time moved to Paris, Picasso began experimenting with form and composition, creating works such as Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon (1907). Inspired by Iberian sculpture and ethnographic objects from Africa which he had seen at the ethnographic museum in the Palais du Trocadéro in Paris, Picasso created angular figures and shapes which signalled the early development of Cubism. When Picasso unveiled the painting it was met with disgust – Matisse believed the work was a hoax – and the painting was not exhibited publicly for another nine years.

Undeterred by the reaction to Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon, Picasso continued to experiment in this new style. Alongside his contemporary Georges Braque, Picasso conceived a new way of painting, using neutral tones to depict de-constructed objects, offering multiple-perspectives in a single image. The style that they developed became known as ‘Analytical Cubism’.

Picasso continued to experiment in this new style for the next decade, developing the technique further, he pasted collage, ground-breaking at the time, into his compositions through the use of newspaper cuttings and wallpaper. Between 1915 and 1917, Picasso produced increasingly geometric paintings of Cubist objects, such as guitars, bottles and pipes. As well as paintings, the artist produced a number of Cubist sculptures, abandoning his earlier technique of carving and modelling, in favour of constructed objects in diverse materials.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Picasso was living in Avignon, France. Picasso was exempt from serving in the military and continued to paint during this time, however, his subject returned again to more sombre scenes. At the beginning of 1918, Picasso began working with Sergei Diaghilev, director of the Ballets Russes, during which time he met the dancer, Olga Khokhlova, who became his wife. In the same year, Picasso travelled to Italy for the first time, where his style shifted, in what has been described as a ‘return to order’. Along with a number of important avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century, such as André Derain, Giorgio de Chirico and Gino Severini, Picasso created works in the neo-classical style, reminiscent of Raphael and Ingrès.

In the 1920s, Picasso returned to a more contemporary style. The founder of Surrealism, André Breton, claimed Picasso to be a Surrealist artist, and his painting Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon was reproduced for the first time in the magazine Revolution Surrealiste. Picasso however, did not consider himself a Surrealist, but he did credit the movement with the revival of his interest in Primitivism and eroticism. His earlier motif of the Harlequin was also replaced by the minotaur during this time.

With the onset of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Picasso supplied the funds to move the contents of the Prado museum to safety in Geneva, Switzerland. It is during this time that Picasso created his first overtly political works. His work The Dream and Lie of Franco (1937), the artist expressed discuss in the dictator and his Falangist supporters. His best-known painting, Guernica (1937) was also created during this time. The painting was made as a response to the bombing of the small Basque town of Guernica, by Nationalist forces. The large-scale painting, laden with symbolism is emptied of colour, and contains a number of Picasso’s most important motifs, such as the bull and distorted figures. Often asked to explain the symbolism of the painting, Picasso stated it was not for him to explain but for the viewer to draw their own meaning from the image.

Guernica was displayed in the Spanish Republic’s pavilion at the 1937 International Exhibition in Paris before being toured in exhibitions in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, after which it was sent to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where it remained until 1981. Picasso stipulated that he did not want the painting to be returned to Spain until democracy and liberty had been restored. The Director of the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred H. Barr Jr., organised a major retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work in 1939. This brought the artist’s work and the full scope of his artistry to an American audience, bringing Picasso significant acclaim.

Throughout the Second World War, Picasso continued to live in Paris under its occupation by the Nazis, and was frequently harassed by the Gestapo. His avant-garde style was not favoured by the National Socialists and his work was not exhibited for the duration of the war. Retreating to his studio he produced paintings such as Still Life with Guitar (1942) and The Charnel House (1944-48), as well as writing poetry as an alternative outlet. Between 1939 and 1959, he wrote over 300 poems which were often gustatory and erotic. In 1944, Picasso began a relationship with a young art student, Francois Gilot, the couple had two children, Claude in 1947 and Paloma in 1949.

By the mid-1940s, Picasso was spending an increasing amount of time in the South of France, drawn by the light and colour of the Côte d’Azur. In the summer of 1946, he visited the coastal town of Vallauris, renowned for its annual pottery exhibition. Meeting the owners of the Madoura pottery workshop, who invited him to use the tools and materials at their studio, Picasso began exploring the potential of clay with intensity.

For the next couple of decades, he made hundreds of designs, often using recognisable motifs from his paintings and drawings, such as bulls, figures and mythological references. His interest in ceramics lay in their functionality, with an already significant market of collectors, Picasso created his ceramics in editions through the Madoura pottery, viewing this as a way of democratising his practice.

In the 1950s, Picasso adapted his characteristic use of geometric forms, simplified shapes and flat colour, to produce a new series of works which re-interpreted artworks from artists such as Eugène Delacroix, Nicolas Poussin and most notably, Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas. For the next couple of decades, Picasso continued to work with intensity on a number of projects, including films, poems, and sculpture. He was commissioned to create a 50-foot high sculpture to be placed in the Chicago downtown area, known as the ‘Chicago Picasso’, the sculpture was unveiled in 1967.

In the last years of his life, the work he produced continued to experiment with colour and expression, becoming increasingly bold and often blending a mixture of styles. Between 1968 and 1971, he produced a vast number of paintings and copper-plate etchings. At the time of his death on 8 April 1973 in Mougins, France, he left behind a prolific output of paintings, sculptures, drawings, ceramics, tapestries and prints, totalling approximately 50,000 artworks. Many of these were in Picasso’s possession when he died and became the basis of the collection for the Musée Picasso in Paris.

Exhibitions and Awards

Picasso is one of the best-known artists of the Western world, celebrated for his inventive use of colour and form and his varied output. There are museums dedicated to his work in Paris, France, Barcelona, Spain and in his hometown of Malága. His work is held in the collections of international museums and galleries including, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museo Nacional Centro d’Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Tate, London and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. His work is amongst the most expensive ever sold at auction.

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