Pablo Picasso
Biography of Spanish Artist: Founder Of Cubism.

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Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)


Blue Period
Rose Period
African Period
Birth of Cubism
Analytical Cubism
Synthetic Cubism
Neoclassical Period

NOTE: Picasso created some of the greatest 20th century paintings, several of which have achieved iconic status. In 2015, his abstract Cubist painting Les Femmes d'Alger (version O) (1955) was sold at auction by Christie's for a world record $179 million.

For analysis of works by Spanish modernists like Pablo Picasso,
please see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

Famous Paintings

Acrobat and Young Harlequin (1905)
Art Institute of Chicago.
From Picasso's Rose Period.

La Vie (Life) (1903).
Cleveland Museum of Art.
From Picasso's Blue Period.
It was during this early period
that he produced some of his
greatest expressionist paintings.

Les Demoiselles D'Avignon (1907)
Museum of Modern Art, New York.
(Detail) From Picasso's African Period.
Read the famous essay by art critic
Leo Steinberg (1920-2011).

Portrait of Ambroise Vollard (1910)
Pushkin Museum of Fine Art.
Example of Picasso's austere
analytical Cubism.

Guernica (1937). One of the great
treasures of the Reina Sofia, Madrid.


The greatest figure in modern Spanish painting, Pablo Picasso, the co-inventor (with Braque) of Cubism, is ranked among the top 20th century painters and must be one of the most influential artists in the history of art. Himself influenced by French Impressionism, as well as several expressionist painters, he nevertheless rejected Matisse's view of the primary importance and role of colour, and focused instead on new pictorial ways of representing form and space. This led him, in association with Georges Braque, to evolve an entirely new Cubist movement, which rapidly became the cutting edge of modern art. Picasso's works reveal a number of differing styles, especially expressionism - and spanned a number of periods including, the Blue Period, the Rose Period, his epoque negre, Cubism and Neoclassicism. He was also the leading figure in the Ecole de Paris, the loose-knit group of artists active in Paris. Supreme masterpieces by Picasso include Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907, MOMA, New York), Guernica (Reina Sofia, Madrid), and Weeping Woman (1937, Tate Collection). Many of Picasso's most famous paintings are available as prints in the form of poster art.

For a list of painters like
Pablo Picasso, see:
Greatest Modern Artists.

For a list of the highest prices paid
for works of art by famous artists:
Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings and
Top 20 Most Expensive Paintings.

Despite his association with Cubism and modern abstract art of the twentieth century, Pablo Picasso remained a creature of the nineteenth century. Arguably, both his art and his thinking are essentially a product of nineteenth century Romanticism and Expressionism. The Romantic movement refers to a cultural style that began at the end of the eighteenth century - a period that was dominated by the Enlightenment, a mood and value-system that arose from scientific advances and believed in reason and rationalization. The romanticists reacted against this rational approach by emphasizing the value of emotions, aesthetics and imagination. In the visual arts, like painting, this led the artist away from copying nature and towards self-expression, a process which, in Picasso's case, led to the full-blown expressionism of his Blue and Rose periods, contemporary with German Expressionism of the 1900s. For more about Picasso's links with expressionism, and the context of his contribution, see: History of Expressionist Painting (c.1880-1930).

The final stage of this development would be abstract art, in which Pablo Picasso's Cubism would play a pivotal role.




Pablo Picasso's first forty years as a painter can be divided into relatively clear but overlapping periods. These are his Blue Period (c.1901–1904), his Rose Period (c.1905–1907), his African art -influenced Period (epoque negre) (c.1907), Prototype Cubism (c.1908–1909), Analytical Cubism (c.1909–1912), and Synthetic Cubism (c.1912–1919).

Blue Period (c.1901-4)

During his blue period, and influenced by the suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas, he portrayed the world of the Parisian poor. These austere melancholy paintings of prostitutes and beggars, painted in shades of blue and blue-green, with a white El-Greco-style funereal skin color (such as La Vie, The Old Guitarist, The Frugal Repast, The Blindman's Meal, Celestina). His early days in Paris were marked by poverty, which may have contributed to the melancholy and subject matter of his art.


Rose Period (c.1905-7)

During the rose period Picasso started using a lighter palette with orange, tender fawns and pinks, making his canvases more cheery. An excellent example is Boy with a Pipe (Garcon à la Pipe) (1905, Private Collection). One reason for this brighter approach was his warm relationship with Fernande Olivier, as well as his increased exposure to French painting and other artists. Indeed, Picasso's Parisian studio attracted several of the major figures of the avant-garde art world at this time, including Matisse, Braque and Gertrude Stein. See for instance his Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art).

However, although there is a noticeable uplift in colour in his Rose Period, with pinks and light browns replacing some of the blue, Picasso's melancholy style did not evaporate with the end of his Blue Period. For example, Acrobat and Young Harlequin still displays sadness although no mourning. In fact, many of Picasso's contemporaries did not distinguish between a blue and a rose period but regarded the two as one single era. But the Rose Period marks the end of his realist figure painting. From hereon, his painting would take on a more intellectual style - more concerned with form rather than realism - as he moved towards Cubism.


African Period (c. 1907)

Picasso's African-influenced Period (epoque negre), during which he was inspired by African tribal art, begins with the two figures on the right in his painting, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, which were inspired by African artifacts.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon was a landmark painting in the development of modern art which signalled a radical departure from the artistic ideas of the preceding ages and heralded the coming of a new artistic movement (Cubism) as well as the birth of modern abstraction. The influence of Paul Cezanne and African sculpture is visible in its fragmented forms and unprecedented distortions. For more, see: Primitivism/Primitive Art.

The painting depicts five prostitutes in a brothel in the Avignon Street of Barcelona, portraying them from several angles, which became one of the characteristic features of Cubism. The picture marked a fundamental break with the principles of traditional naturalistic art - in particular, it rejected the use of perspective - and was an entirely different way of painting. Picasso's predecessors - whether painting portraits or landscapes - remained focused on portraying nature as they saw it, whereas in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon Picasso sought to represent three dimensional objects on a flat two dimensional canvas.

The relative lack of roundedness in the forms and the jigsaw-like fragments indicate the abstract direction that his painting was now taking. Meanwhile, another painter was having similar thoughts: his name was Georges Braque. the two met in Paris in 1908 and collaborated closely for several years.

Birth of Cubism (c.1908-9)

In 1908, influenced by Paul Cezanne's geometric-style landscape paintings of Montagne Sainte-Victoire, as well as his masterpiece The Large Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) Picasso and Braque executed a series of landscape paintings that were very similar to Cezanne's, both in their colours (dark greens, light browns) and simplified geometrical shapes. They painted houses in the form of 3-D cubes. It was these paintings that the French art critic Louis Vauxcelles was referring to in 1909, when he used the expression 'bizarreries cubiques', which led to the adoption of the word Cubism. This style was then further refined and duly evolved into Analytical Cubism.

It was about this time that Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979) became Picasso's art dealer and agent. Later he would be superceded by Leonce Rosenberg (1879-1947) and his younger but smarter brother Paul Rosenberg (1881-1959).

Analytical Cubism (c.1909-12)

Portrait of Ambroise Vollard (1910) was one of the first full-blown examples of the new austere Analytical Cubism. In this painting, Picasso disassembled a human figure into a series of flat transparent geometric plates that overlap and intersect at various angles. Now, suddenly all the 'cubes' of the earlier proto-type Cubist painting have disappeared.

Analytical Cubism - a most challenging form of art - is the most austere and intellectual stage of the Cubism movement. During this period, the forms of the objects portrayed are fragmented into a large number of small intricately hinged opaque and transparent planes that fuse with one another and with the surrounding space. Analytical Cubist paintings are typically executed in monochrome, with no bright colour.

Synthetic Cubism (c.1912-19)

During his Synthetic Cubism phase, Picasso's forms became larger and more representational, with flat, bright decorative patterns replacing the earlier, more austere compositions. New techniques adopted by Picasso in his art of this period included the pasting of cut paper fragments (eg. wallpaper or pieces of newspaper) into compositions, marking the first major use of collage and papier collé in fine art. Examples of his Cubist works at this time include: Still-Life with Chair-Caning, and The Guitar. By this period, the new style had caught on with a number of other talented Cubist painters.


Neoclassical Period

Beginning in 1906 and continuing up until the mid-1920s, in parallel with his abstract Cubism, Picasso painted a series of neoclassical figure paintings, portraits and still lifes. (Please see: Neoclassical Paintings by Picasso for more details.) Among his famous neoclassicist pictures are: Two Nudes (1906), Seated Woman (Picasso) (1920), Large Bather (1921), Woman in White (1923) and the diminutive mythological gouache painting Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race) (1922). For the background to this classicism, and for an explanation of how it can be reconciled with his abstract style of analytical and synthetic Cubist painting, please see: Classical Revival in modern art (c.1900-30).


The Spanish Civil War (1936-9) prompted his second landmark painting, Guernica, which depicts the Nazi German bombing of Guernica, Spain, on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War.

Seen as one of the greatest modern paintings, it is an immense black and white mural measuring 11 feet in height and 23 feet in width. It portrays a scene of death, violence, brutality, suffering, and helplessness, without adverting to its immediate causes.

Guernica was originally exhibited in July 1937 at the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition. It was then, at Picasso's request, entrusted to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City until it was eventually returned to Spain in 1981. A copy of Picasso's Guernica (in browns as well as back and white) is displayed in the United Nations building in New York City, at the entrance to the Security Council room.

In 1947 Picasso moved to the South of France where he laboured consistently in sculpture, ceramics, and in the graphic arts, producing thousands of superb drawings, illustrations, and stage designs. He created a large public art mural for the UNESCO building in Paris, as well as the Chicago Picasso - now one of the most recognizable landmarks in downtown Chicago - and produced brilliant variations on the works of other masters, including Goya, Poussin, Manet, Courbet Delacroix and Velázquez. He died in 1973.

Picasso's paintings hang in the best art museums and modern galleries around the world, while three of his pictures have sold for more than $50 million - Boy with a Pipe, ($104 million, 2004); Dora Maar with Cat ($95.2 million, 2006); Femme aux Bras Croises, ($55 million, 2000).

As well as providing some of the most influential paintings of the twentieth century, Picasso's inventive gifts led him to work in many other fields including drawing, sculpture, lithography, linocutting, ballet-decor and ceramics.


Picasso - A Review of His Life and Art

Picasso is widely regarded as one of the best artists of all time and certainly the most important artist of the Modernist epoch. Despite this, much of his achievement remains controversial. The many authors who have written about him characteristically seek to discard one or another aspect of his enormous oeuvre, to concentrate upon some central core, which, however, seems fated to remain undefinable. The same thing can be said of Picasso's biography, which is full of shifting perspectives.

Though closely associated with Catalan culture in his youth, Picasso was not born in Catalonia but in Malaga, in 1881, and lived in that city until he was ten. The name Picasso came from his mother, not his father - Don Jose Ruiz Blasco - an academic painter of mediocre gifts and a professional teacher of art. After leaving Malaga the family spent four years in Coruna, until Don Jose was appointed Professor at the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona, culturally the liveliest city in Spain.

Picasso's artistic talents were already developing at prodigious speed - he seems never to have been a 'child artist' - and he rapidly achieved a mastery of the approved academic style of the day. Since his father was already a professional painter, he met with no discouragement in following an artistic career: one story has it that the father was so impressed by his son's talent that he ceremoniously resigned palette and brushes to him. Picasso studied at the Academy in Barcelona, and also, briefly, at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, but neither institution had much to teach him. In Barcelona, as a young man, he formed part of a circle of fin de siecle artists and intellectuals who gathered at a tavern called Els Quatre Gats (The Four Cats, in Catalan). Picasso's work at this time was influenced by French painters of urban life such as Steinlen and Toulouse-Lautrec.

In 1900 Picasso paid his first visit to Paris, in the company of Carlos Casamegas, another young painter from the same group in Barcelona. Casamegas's suicide (due to his impotence and unrequited love) supplied much of the inspiration for the paintings of Picasso's Blue Period, which was his declaration of artistic independence. In the opening years of the century he went back and forth between Paris, Madrid and Barcelona. In 1901, he was given a one-man show by the astute art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939), which brought him the friendship of the poet Max Jacob (until then his Parisian circle had consisted almost entirely of emigre Spaniards). Jacob introduced him to other writers, notably Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918). Finally, in 1904, Picasso settled in Paris in the dilapidated studio building known as the Bateau-Lavoir because of its fancied resemblance to the boats then used for doing laundry on the Seine, and soon became the centre of a circle of avant-garde artists and poets. He found a mistress, Fernande Olivier, who later wrote a book of memoirs recording this era, and he gained the friendship of the American writer and collector, Gertrude Stein. Fernande provided a description of Picasso's appearance at this time:

Small, black, thick-set, restless, disquieting, with eyes dark, profound, piercing, strange, almost starring. Awkward gestures, the hands of a woman, poorly dressed, badly groomed. A thick lock of hair, black and shining, slashed across his intelligent and obstinate forehead.


The Blue Period evolved into the less doleful but still melancholy Rose Period, and this gave way to a series of Saltimbanques - delicate paintings of circus performers and itinerant entertainers, with an echo of the academic Symbolist Puvis de Chavannes. In 1906 Picasso abandoned these, to paint some pictures marked by a heavy primitivism. These led, in the following months, to an extraordinary creative explosion. In 1906-7 Picasso produced what is still perhaps his best-known painting, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. This ferocious group of female nudes was jokingly christened by the poet Andre Salmon for its pretended likeness to the inmates of a particularly low-class brothel in Barcelona. It shocked the few people who saw it in Picasso's studio: Braque, for instance, said that Picasso wanted people to exchange a normal diet for one of tow and flax (although soon afterwards he himself painted a similar picture of a single nude).

One of the ingredients in Les Demoiselles was the late work of Cezanne. Another was the art of black Africa. For the moment it was Africa which triumphed, and Picasso moved into what has been called his Negro period (epoque negre). This was followed by another, and decisive, shift: the evolution of Analytical Cubism, which Picasso created in collaboration with Braque. Cubism was different from the previous styles Picasso had used because it had an intricate formal grammar, a way of coding appearances which became a new language for a whole generation of abstract painters. For a long time it was these followers who were the public representatives of Cubism, as Picasso and Braque were reluctant to exhibit their work in the big Paris Salons where new stylistic experiments generally made their debut.

Picasso nevertheless built a powerful reputation amongst the small circle of people who mattered - dealers, collectors and art critics - and by 1909 was doing well enough to move into a new and more comfortable studio in the boulevard de Clichy. In 1911, the American fine art photographer and modern art dealer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) gave Picasso a one-man show at his "291" gallery on Fifth Avenue, New York. It was the Spaniard's first solo show in America. In 1912 he left Fernande Olivier for a new mistress, Eva (Marcelle Humbert). She is the only one of Picasso's companions who did not inspire a series of portraits, though her name, or the phrase 'Ma Jolie' which refers to her, can be found inscribed on a number of Cubist paintings.

In August 1914, Picasso's link with Braque was severed when war broke out. Picasso, as a Spanish citizen, was not required to serve, and he remained in a grey and dispiriting Paris. In the autumn of 1915 Eva died, and a little later Picasso moved out to Montrouge in the suburbs. Fortunately, the vivacious Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev rescued him from his depression by inviting him to Rome at Cocteau's suggestion, to collaborate on the new ballet, Parade. Once he had arrived Picasso associated closely with Diaghilev's company, which formed a small world of its own, and soon fell in love with a member of the corps de ballet, Olga Kokhlova, the daughter of a Russian general. In 1917 he accompanied the ballet to Spain; and in 1918 he and Olga returned to Paris, while the rest of the Ballets Russes went on to South America. In July they married. Olga had conventional bourgeois tastes, and they took a smart apartment in the Rue de la Boetie. For a while Picasso sampled fashionable life in Paris and on the Riviera. In 1921 his first child, a son named Paulo, was born.


Picasso was now in the midst of a new stylistic phase, the Neoclassical Period, a reversion to the antique world which had fascinated Poussin and Ingres. It shocked some of his former friends in the avant-garde, who attributed it to his association, through Olga, with the fashionable world. But he was also keeping a shrewd eye on the antics of Dada artists, and then on the Dadaism's successor, Surrealism. The kind of life Olga liked soon began to pall, and so did her obsessive jealousy. In the late 1920s Picasso's work became increasingly savage and misogynistic, and the mood did not change until he fulfilled Olga's worst fears and found a new mistress, a placid seventeen-year-old girl called Marie-Therese Walter, whom he met in 1932. Her calm beauty made her the inspiration for a number of paintings, and also for a series of large sculptured heads. The latter were made in a new studio at the 17th-century Norman Chateau of Boisgeloup - Picasso was now wealthy enough to begin the process of accumulating property which continued for the rest of his life.

In 1935 he obtained an official separation from Olga, who nevertheless continued to haunt him when she could; and in 1936, soon after Marie-Therese had borne him a daughter, Maia, he found another companion, a Yugoslav photographer named Dora Maar. A more intelligent woman and a far more complex personality than Marie-Therese, she gradually displaced the latter in Picasso's affections. He still possessed his apartment in the rue de la Boetie, but it now seemed cluttered and inadequate, and it was Dora who found him vast new studios in an ancient building in the Rue des Grands Augustins.

During the early 1930s Picasso renewed his ties with Spain. He visited his family in Barcelona in 1933, and made a longer visit in 1934. In 1936, the year the Civil War broke out, a group of young admirers organized an exhibition for him in Barcelona - the first he had had in Spain for a quarter of a century. During the war his sympathies were vehemently with the Republicans, and the Republican Government was well aware of his value to them. They stressed the link by giving him the Honorary Directorship of the Prado Museum. Picasso reciprocated by painting the huge canvas Guernica, which was shown in the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1937 and afterwards sent on tour. The composition is a bitter and effective condemnation of the bombing of the Basque capital by Franco's German allies.

During the late 1930s, Picasso continued visiting the Mediterranean every summer, and when war broke out in 1939 he was staying at Antibes with Dora Maar and his devoted secretary and court-jester, Jaime Sabartes. He went to Paris and put his affairs in order, then retired to Royan on the coast near Bordeaux and remained there until October 1940, when he returned to Paris and remained there for the rest of the war. The apartment in the Rue de la Boetie was definitely abandoned, and he went to live in the cavernous spaces of the Rue des Grands Augustins, which he turned into a private world. He kept himself apart from the German occupants, but does not to have been much troubled by them, both because he was not French and because his art was not their taste. The subject-matter of the paintings he produced, such as the series of still-lifes with a skull and a candle, echoes the all-prevailing gloom of those years.


With the Liberation, Picasso suddenly found he had become one of the sights of Paris, the symbol of a new epoch of freedom. To some extent he accepted the role of public figure. In particular he joined the Communist Party, and for the next few years was a regular attender of various Peace Congresses held in Paris, Rome, Warsaw and Sheffield. The Party made good use of this eminent recruit - his drawing of a dove became one of its emblems. He painted a number of ambitious political works which can be thought of as successors to Guernica, though they failed to win the same universal acceptance. They include The Charnel House of 1944-5, a commemoration of the concentration camps, and the Massacre in Korea (1951).

After the war Picasso went to live on the Riviera. Dora Maar had been displaced by Francoise Gilot, whom he had met just after the Liberation. She was celebrated in a new group of portraits, often as a 'femme fleur'. During their period together Picasso lived in Vallauris - he became interested in the local ceramics industry, and revived the industry by collaborating with the local artisans.

In 1955, after separating from Francoise, he moved again, this time to La Californie, a pompous turn-of-the-century villa overlooking Cannes. His new companion, Jacqueline Roque, was eventually to become his wife in 1961. La Californie has been the subject of many descriptions, which celebrate the pell-mell accumulation of objects with which Picasso filled its rooms. He remained there until the development of the Riviera coastline began to encroach upon the property and spoil its view. He then transferred himself to the vast seventeenth-century Chateau de Vauvenargues near Aix, which he bought in 1958 and moved into fully in 1961. Finding that this had the opposite defect of being too isolated, he returned to the coast, purchasing an old Provencal manor house called Notre-de-Dame-de-Vie, overlooking Mougins.

Picasso enjoyed an extraordinarily vigorous and creative old age, but in 1965 he was forced to undergo a prostate operation and after this there was always a note of desperation in the ceaseless production of his work. More and more it became a sardonic commentary on the inevitable process of physical degeneration. Though his prestige remained immense, he had started to lose touch with the avant-garde art world and the respect of the ruling junta of theoreticians and critics. His last major exhibition in his own lifetime was held at the Palais des Papes in Avignon in 1970. It consisted of a vast mass of new work, headlong and brutal in style, which alarmed the public and alienated the reviewers. It is only more recently that these works have come to be seen as precursors of the Neo-Expressionism which has dominated the art of the first half of the 1980s. A series of no less than 347 prints executed in the space of seven months in 1968 was better received, though their content was often harsh: they jeered at the illusions of youth and were equally fierce in their condemnation of the impotence of old age. Their undisguised eroticism delighted some and offended others, but Picasso had gone a long way beyond caring what anybody thought of him. He died in 1973, and his departure brought a whole epoch to a close.

Paintings, drawings, sculpture and ceramics by Picasso can be seen in the best museums of modern art around the world.

For another great Catalan artist, see: Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) the Art Nouveau architect.

Source: We gratefully acknowledge the use of material in the above article from Edward Lucie-Smith's outstanding book "Lives of the Great Twentieth Century Artists".


• For more biographies of great artists, see: Famous Painters (1800-now).
• For more about 20th century Spanish painting, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.

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