Pablo Ruiz Picasso (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973) was a Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist and theatre designer who spent most of his adult life in France. Regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, he is known for co-founding the Cubist movement, the invention of constructed sculpture, the co-invention of collage, and for the wide variety of styles that he helped develop and explore. Among his most famous works are the proto-Cubist Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), and Guernica (1937), a dramatic portrayal of the bombing of Guernica by German and Italian airforces during the Spanish Civil War.
Picasso demonstrated extraordinary artistic talent in his early years, painting in a naturalistic manner through his childhood and adolescence. During the first decade of the 20th century, his style changed as he experimented with different theories, techniques, and ideas. After 1906, the Fauvist work of the slightly older artist Henri Matisse motivated Picasso to explore more radical styles, beginning a fruitful rivalry between the two artists, who subsequently were often paired by critics as the leaders of modern art.
Picasso’s work is often categorized into periods. While the names of many of his later periods are debated, the most commonly accepted periods in his work are the Blue Period (1901–1904), the Rose Period (1904–1906), the African-influenced Period (1907–1909), Analytic Cubism (1909–1912), and Synthetic Cubism (1912–1919), also referred to as the Crystal period. Much of Picasso’s work of the late 1910s and early 1920s is in a neoclassical style, and his work in the mid-1920s often has characteristics of Surrealism. His later work often combines elements of his earlier styles.
Exceptionally prolific throughout the course of his long life, Picasso achieved universal renown and immense fortune for his revolutionary artistic accomplishments, and became one of the best-known figures in 20th-century art.
Picasso was baptized Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, a series of names honouring various saints and relatives. Ruiz y Picasso were included for his father and mother, respectively, as per Spanish tradition. Born in the city of Málaga in the Andalusian region of Spain, he was the first child of Don José Ruiz y Blasco (1838–1913) and María Picasso y López. Though baptized a Catholic, Picasso would later become an atheist.
The surname “Picasso” comes from Liguria, a coastal region of north-western Italy; its capital is Genoa. There was a painter from the area named Matteo Picasso (1794–1879), born in Recco (Genoa), of late neoclassical style portraiture, though investigations have not definitively determined his kinship with the branch of ancestors related to Pablo Picasso. The direct branch from Sori, Liguria (Genoa), can be traced back to Tommaso Picasso (1728–1813). His son Giovanni Battista, married to Isabella Musante, was Pablo’s great-great-grandfather. Of this marriage was born Tommaso (Sori, 1787–Málaga, 1851). Pablo’s maternal great-grandfather, Tommaso Picasso moved to Spain around 1807.
Picasso’s family was of middle-class background. His father was a painter who specialized in naturalistic depictions of birds and other game. For most of his life, Ruiz was a professor of art at the School of Crafts and a curator of a local museum. Ruiz’s ancestors were minor aristocrats.
Picasso showed a passion and a skill for drawing from an early age. According to his mother, his first words were “piz, piz”, a shortening of lápiz, the Spanish word for “pencil”. From the age of seven, Picasso received formal artistic training from his father in figure drawing and oil painting. Ruiz was a traditional academic artist and instructor, who believed that proper training required disciplined copying of the masters, and drawing the human body from plaster casts and live models. His son became preoccupied with art to the detriment of his classwork.
The family moved to A Coruña in 1891, where his father became a professor at the School of Fine Arts. They stayed almost four years. On one occasion, the father found his son painting over his unfinished sketch of a pigeon. Observing the precision of his son’s technique, an apocryphal story relates, Ruiz felt that the thirteen-year-old Picasso had surpassed him, and vowed to give up painting, though paintings by him exist from later years.
In 1895, Picasso was traumatized when his seven-year-old sister, Conchita, died of diphtheria. After her death, the family moved to Barcelona, where Ruiz took a position at its School of Fine Arts. Picasso thrived in the city, regarding it in times of sadness or nostalgia as his true home. Ruiz persuaded the officials at the academy to allow his son to take an entrance exam for the advanced class. This process often took students a month, but Picasso completed it in a week, and the jury admitted him, at just 13. As a student, Picasso lacked discipline but made friendships that would affect him in later life. His father rented a small room for him close to home so he could work alone, yet he checked up on him numerous times a day, judging his drawings. The two argued frequently.
Picasso’s father and uncle decided to send the young artist to Madrid’s Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, the country’s foremost art school. At age 16, Picasso set off for the first time on his own, but he disliked formal instruction and stopped attending classes soon after enrollment. Madrid held many other attractions. The Prado housed paintings by Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya, and Francisco Zurbarán. Picasso especially admired the works of El Greco; elements such as his elongated limbs, arresting colours, and mystical visages are echoed in Picasso’s later work.
Throughout his life Picasso maintained several mistresses in addition to his wife or primary partner. Picasso was married twice and had four children by three women:
- Paulo (4 February 1921 – 5 June 1975, Paul Joseph Picasso) – with Olga Khokhlova
- Maya (born 5 September 1935, Maria de la Concepcion Picasso) – with Marie-Thérèse Walter
- Claude (born 15 May 1947, Claude Pierre Pablo Picasso) – with Françoise Gilot
- Paloma (born 19 April 1949, Anne Paloma Picasso) – with Françoise Gilot
Photographer and painter Dora Maar was also a constant companion and lover of Picasso. The two were closest in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and it was Maar who documented the painting of Guernica.
The women in Picasso’s life played an important role in the emotional and erotic aspects of his creative expression, and the tumultuous nature of these relationships has been considered vital to his artistic process. Many of these women functioned as muses for him, and their inclusion in his extensive oeuvre granted them a place in art history. A largely recurring motif in his body of work is the female form. The variations in his relationships informed and collided with his progression of style throughout his career. For example, portraits created of his first wife, Olga, were rendered in a naturalistic style during his Neoclassical period. His relationship with Marie-Thérèse Walter inspired many of his surrealist pieces, as well as what is referred to as his “Year of Wonders.” An early lover, Fernande Olivier, may have inspired the switch from his “Blue Period to his “Rose Period.”
Picasso has been commonly characterised as a womaniser and a misogynist, being quoted as having said to one of his mistresses, François Gilot, “Women are machines for suffering.” He later told her, “For me there are only two kinds of women: goddesses and doormats.” In her memoir, Picasso, My Grandfather, Marina Picasso writes of his treatment of women, “He submitted them to his animal sexuality, tamed them, bewitched them, ingested them, and crushed them onto his canvas. After he had spent many nights extracting their essence, once they were bled dry, he would dispose of them.”
Of the several important women in his life, two, Marie-Thèrése Walter, a mistress, and Jacqueline Roque, his second wife, committed suicide. Others, notably his first wife Olga Khokhlova, and his mistress Dora Maar, succumbed to nervous breakdowns. His son, Paulo, developed a fatal alcoholism due to depression. His grandson, Pablito, also committed suicide when he was barred by Jacqueline Roque from attending the artist’s funeral.