Picasso, Pablo

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

Pablo Ruiz y Picasso—the most famous artist of the 20th century—was born on October 25, 1881, in Málaga, Spain. When Pablo was very young, his family moved to Barcelona. At an early age Picasso showed great talent. He especially liked to paint pictures of the city life around him. In 1896 he entered the School of Fine Arts, where his father was a professor.

Around the turn of the century, Paris was the world center of art and literature. Picasso visited the city in 1900 and fell under the spell of the artistic atmosphere. He returned a year later, and he settled on the Left Bank in 1904. He was very poor, but his studio became a meeting place for many artists, writers, and composers.

In Paris, Picasso still painted scenes of the day-to-day life of poor people in his neighborhood. He was also fascinated by circus life and painted a series of circus pictures. Early in the century his works were painted in varieties of gray-blues. The figures were long, thin, and sad. These paintings belong to what is called Picasso's blue period.

Like many other young artists in Paris at that time, Picasso was influenced by the work of Paul Cézanne. Cézanne had tried to show the geometric forms that he saw in nature. Picasso and his friend the painter Georges Braque attempted to portray the many different geometric planes of an object all at once. For example, they might paint a full face with one eye and with the nose in profile (a side view). This style became known as cubism because in the paintings objects were composed of geometric forms such as cubes and cones. Picasso and Braque were also among the first to make collages by pasting various scraps of materials onto flat surfaces.

In 1917, Picasso went to Rome to design scenery and costumes for the Russian Ballet's production of Parade. He married Olga Koklova, one of the ballerinas, and they had a son, Paulo. Picasso did not care for the social world in which he found himself. But Olga enjoyed it. He became unhappy, and the distorted, sad figures in his paintings of this period reflect his unhappiness.

Civil war broke out in Spain in 1936. The following year, the ancient city of Guernica was destroyed by bombs. Picasso was enraged at this inhuman act. All his bitterness was released in his brilliant mural Guernica. Picasso worked at such a furious pace that the mural was completed within a few weeks and was shown at the Paris Exhibition in 1937. The mural shows the terrified people of the town, their mouths open wide in screams. Images from bullfighting are used to symbolize the brutality of war. While some artists might have painted the scene in bloody reds and other vivid colors, Picasso painted Guernica entirely in black, white, and shades of gray.

During World War II, Picasso lived in Paris, which was at that time under Nazi occupation. Because the Nazis did not approve of modern art, Picasso had to hide his paintings in a secret vault in the Bank of France. His work during this period included a play, Desire Caught by the Tail (1941).

After the war Picasso moved to a huge house in the south of France. There he continued to experiment with painting as well as sculpture, printmaking, ceramics, and collage. In 1958 he painted a large mural for a United Nations building in Paris. His marriage to Jacqueline Roque, a Frenchwoman, took place in 1961. In 1962, he was awarded the Lenin peace prize.

Picasso's moods were known to change as often as his styles. He was thoughtful and distant at times, but he also displayed a fine sense of humor. His art was extremely valuable even in his own lifetime because of the great variety of his styles. He used elements from the work of Toulouse-Lautrec, the ancient Greeks, El Greco, and African sculptors. The large number of his fine works during any one period would have satisfied another artist. But Picasso never stopped experimenting. His great imagination and outstanding skill earned for him the name El Maestro ("the master") of modern art.

Picasso died at his home in southern France on April 8, 1973, at the age of 91.

Reviewed by Ariane Ruskin Batterberry
Author, The Pantheon Story of Art for Young People

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