Pablo Picasso possibly the greatest contemporary artist!
A new exhibition opens at the National Gallery showcasing one of the most influential and celebrated artists of the twentieth century – Pablo Picasso. The exhibition, “Picasso: Challenging the Past” examines and explores how Picasso was influenced by past masters and his re-interpretation of some of their works and his own responses to them.
Picasso was an artist that all other artists had to reckon with – he had a huge and appreciative audience in his own lifetime (he had two museums devoted to his works in his lifetime) and was very prolific – producing more than 22,000 works of art in his lifetime. He painted in many different styles and produced art works in many different types of media – paintings, sculptures, film sets etc., letting his work expand into any direction that at the time influenced him. Picasso’s work is a source of un-ending discussion, fascination and analysis. He is best known for co-founding Cubism with Georges Braque and his work has inspired many famous and modern artists, his works also contributed to many twentieth century art movements.
Not only was Picasso an art force in himself, he was also a very charismatic man with a very colourful personal life. He had four children with three different partners; was married twice and had numerous other mistresses – some of them became his muses.
Picasso’s work has often been categorised into different periods according to the moods and themes that his paintings had taken, the most accepted divisions are:
The Blue Period – 1901-1904 where his paintings were sombre and the canvases were filled in shades of blue.
The Rose Period – 1905-1907 – Picasso’s canvasses took on warmer hues, suffused with pink and orange colours.
African Influenced Period – 1908-1909 – where some of his works were influenced by tribal masks.
Cubism – 1909-1919
Three of Picasso’s most famous and iconic works include:
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907)
Weeping Woman – Dora Maar (1907)
The Early Life of Pablo Picasso
Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santisima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruiz y Picasso was born to Don Jose Ruiz y Blasco and Maria Picasso y Lopez in Malaga, Spain on 25th October 1881, and was baptised with a series of names honouring different saints and relatives. Picasso had a difficult birth, and when he was finally born, the midwife thought that he was stillborn and left him on the table to attend to his mother. However, his uncle, a doctor called Don Salvador saved his life by blowing cigar smoke into his face. Picasso had later said that he immediately reacted to this with a grimace and a bellow of fury! The family had two other children – Dolores (Lola) and Concepcion (Conchita).
Picasso showed artistic talent at a very early age, his mother had said that his first words were “piz, piz” a shortened form of the Spanish word “lapiz” meaning pencil. His father, Ruiz, was descended from minor aristocrats and spent most of his life as a professor of art at the School of Crafts, a curator of a local museum and was also a painter who specialised in naturalistic paintings of bird and game. Pablo Picasso’s earliest known drawings were of pigeons, full length pictures and sketches of Hercules and bullfights (which his father took him to).
With his background, Ruiz gave Picasso formal artistic training by traditional means – that of disciplined copying of the masters and drawing of the human body from plaster casts and live models.
An early painting does exist for this time period painted by the young Picasso around 1889-1890 called Le Picador. It depicts a Spanish bullfighter on a horse with three people in the background, painted with oil on wood.
The family moved to La Coruna in 1891 for four years as Ruiz was offered a better paid job as a professor at the School of Fine Arts. During these four years, Picasso entered the School of Fine Arts in 1982 and by 1984 (at the age of 13) his talent so astounded Ruiz that he felt he far surpassed him and handed him his brush and palette and said that he will never paint again. In 1892 Picasso had his first patron – Ramon Perez Costales, a Galician doctor and a celebrated Republican politician. Costales acted as a protector for the family and also sponsored Picasso’s first exhibition.
Tragedy befell the family in 1895 when Picasso’s sister Conchita died of diphtheria at the age of seven. The family then moved to Barcelona where Ruiz received a professorship at La Lonja School of Fine Arts. Picasso passed the entrance exam for the advanced class (which usually took students a month), impressing the academic juries as he was able to pass in a week and surpassed even those senior students taking their final exam projects.
First Communion – Primera Comunion is the first large academic piece executed by Picasso at the age of 14 during his time at La Lonja. This painting shows Picasso’s mastery of colour, technique and composition and also shows that he began his career with more traditional styles of painting. The painting depicts Lola’s first communion (in the white dress), with a gentleman (modelled on his father or Vilches, a family doctor and friend) and the alter boy is Vilches’ son. This painting was exhibited at the Exposicion de Bellas Artes y Industrias Artisticas in Barcelona.
Pablo Picasso’s second academic piece – Science et Charite was exhibited at the Exposicion General de Bellas Artes in Madrid in 1897. He worked on the piece at his first studio and the doctor was modelled on his father. It won a gold medal, but upset by one of the reviews of the piece, Pcasso moved to a different location to work on a new piece, refusing to tell anyone where he’d located his new studio and what he was working on.
In 1897 at the age of16, Picasso’s father and uncle enrolled him into Madrid’s Academia Real de San Fernando where he was able to complete all of his admission drawings in one day. However Picasso was disappointed in his classes and failed to attend all of them. Although Picasso wanted to learn to improve his skills, he knew that he would learn nothing new at this academy that he hadn’t already learnt in Corunna or Barcelona. Instead he spent the time sketching in cafes and streets, often going to the Prado to admire and study the works of Goya, Valezquez and Zurbaran. Picasso especially admired El Greco’s paintings – his expressionistic and dramatic styles and elongated limbs. There are several portraits that he painted around this time that illustrates him trying to paint in the style of these great masters. Even at this young age, Picasso showed that he wanted to be different and find and paint in his own style. In a letter to his friend, he says that he doesn’t want to follow any school of art or follow any fashions such as pointillism as it only brings about a similarity in the paintings. Near the end of 1897, Picasso had a falling out with his father and leaves the academy for good.
Picasso the Independant Artist
Picasso’s decision to leave the Madrid academy was a big decision for him, the stress may have indirectly led to him contracting scarlet fever in early 1898. His sister Lola went to nurse him in Madrid and he was quarantined for forty days. Once he was well enough, he left Madrid and accepted an invitation from his friend Manuel Pallares to spend time recuperating at his family home in Horta D’Ebre on the border of Catalonia and Aragon.
Picasso spent nine months with his friend, going on painting expeditions that would last weeks at a time. They would live their life out in the open and camp in caves finally returning for the grape harvest to earn some money.
Picasso finally returned to his family in Barcelona in 1899 earning a living as a graphic artist and contributing drawings to journals and printed ephemera. He also becomes a member of the Els Quatre Gats where he meets many famous artists and writers, including his great friend, an artist and writer named Casagemas whom he shared a studio with in Barcelona – not too far from his family.
In early 1900, an exhibition of around one hundred and fifty art works took place at the Els Quatre Gats of Picasso’s work, mainly of portraits. He started to sign his works Pablo R. Picasso or P.R.Picasso and decided to go to Paris with his friend Casagemas. Picasso found that belonging to Els Quatre Gats had helped smooth his way in Paris, and he was able to use his friends’ studio while in Spain.
In Paris, Picasso was impressed by the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – especially his colourful subject matter of night-clubs and the decadent and provocative images of fin de siecle Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec’s influence on Picasso’s art can be seen the painting Le Moulin de la Galette which shows a warm and merry scene of dancing men and women – the subject matter and treatment like that of Toulouse-Lautrec. In the foreground is a table sat with three ladies and the background a crowd of dancing men and women. This painting is also reminiscent of Renoir’s famous Moulin painting in 1876, however the brush strokes are bolder, the details of each individual is not really shown, and the whole is intensified by the setting of gas lights at night. Picasso also toyed with Pointillism and techniques from van Gogh and Gauguin, producing the painting Pierreuse in 1901, trying to find a style of his own. Many of his paintings from this period in Paris shows that Picasso was influenced by many different contemporary artists producing very diverse pieces of work, trying techniques from Manet, Monet, Delacroix, Pissarro and Degas, not merely copying but using the strongest elements from each to create a style all his own.
During 1901, Picasso had an exhibition at the Galerie Vollard where he exhibited some sixty-four different works. The paintings included watercolours, pastels and sketches all done in the space of three weeks. Although Vollard did not think that it was a success, more than half of the paintings were sold before the exhibition – maybe even more if there was a follow-up show. It was at this show that Picasso was introduced to the poet Max Jacob whom he was close friends with throughout his life. It was Max Jacob who later recalls how quickly Picasso worked and sold his art and how brilliant Picasso’s works were at the time, although the critics felt he was just imitating his favourite contemporary artists at the time.