Pablo Picasso Biography – Spanish Painter, Sculptor, Ceramicist, Printmaker, Cubism, Legacy

Pablo Picasso Biography
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Pablo Picasso Biography and Legacy

Pablo Picasso was a Spanish painter, sculptor, ceramicist, and printmaker, who is regarded as one of the most influential artists of all time.

Picasso helped co-found the Cubist movement and invented the concept of constructed sculpture. He is also credited for developing and exploring a wide variety of styles in the field of visual art.

Picasso, along with Henri Matisse, is considered a leader and pioneer of modern art.

Early Life

Pablo Picasso was born on 25th October 1881, in the city of Malaga, Andalusia, in the south of Spain.

He was the first child of Don Jose Ruiz y Blasco and Maria Picasso y Lopez. His father was an art professor at the School of Crafts for most of his life and also a curator of a local museum.

Ruiz was also a painter who specialized in painting naturalistic depictions of birds, especially pigeons.

From an early age, Picasso showed a keen interest and passion for drawing. When he was only seven years old, his father began training him in figure drawing and oil painting.

The young Picasso became so preoccupied and obsessed with art that it often interfered with his schoolwork.

Early Artistic Education

In 1895, Picasso’s 7-year-old sister, Conchita, died of diphtheria. After her death, the family moved to Barcelona, where Picasso’s father began teaching at the School of Fine Arts.

His father used his influence at the school and persuaded the officials at the academy to allow Picasso to take an entrance examination for the advanced class. The process, which ideally took almost a month for students to complete, was finished in a week by a 14-year-old Picasso. The jury was impressed and they admitted him.

But Picasso was not a disciplined student. His father even rented a small room for him close to their house to be used as his studio. His father would frequently check up on him there and critique his drawings, often leading to conflicts between the two.

In 1897, Picasso’s father and uncle decided to send him to the Real Academia de Bellas Antes de San Fernando in Madrid, which was Spain’s foremost art school. He was sixteen at the time.

Soon after enrolling at the school, he stopped attending classes as he disliked the formal instruction and rigidity of the academy.

During this time, Picasso began to admire the works of Domenikos Theotokopoulos, also known as El Greco (a reference to his Greek origin). El Greco was a painter, sculptor, and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. Several elements of El Greco’s paintings such as elongated limbs, arresting colors, and mystical visages frequently appear in Picasso’s later works.

Early Artworks

The artistic career of Pablo Picasso can be said to have begun much earlier than other artists. His career as an artist is generally considered to have begun in 1894 when he was only 13 years old.

The First Communion (1896) painting, which is a large composition depicting his sister Lola, shows the academic realism style which he had become quite good at, at such a young age.

The same year, Picasso painted the Portrait of Aunt Pepa, a dramatic portrait that Juan-Eduardo Cirlot had described as one of the greatest paintings in the whole history of Spanish painting.

In the late 1890s, Picasso’s realism began to show hints of symbolist influence, such as in a series of landscape paintings rendered in non-naturalistic violet and green tones.

During this period, Picasso was exposed to the works of Edvard Munch, Theophile Steinlen, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Toulouse-Lautrec. His admiration for them and for the old masters such as El Greco led him to develop a new personal version of modernism in his works.

Picasso’s progress as an artist in his early years can be traced in the collection of his early works held by the Museu Picasso in Barcelona.

Moving to Paris

In 1900, Pablo Picasso, aged 18, made his first visit to Paris.

There he met Max Jacob, a journalist and poet who became his first friend in Paris. Max helped Picasso to learn French and introduced him to French literature.

The two began sharing an apartment in Paris, living in severe poverty, cold, and desperation. Picasso worked all night and slept during the day, while Max did the opposite.

There were times when they were so cold and desperate that Picasso was forced to burn some of his old paintings in order to keep their apartment warm.

Time in Madrid

For the first five months of 1901, Pablo Picasso lived in Madrid.

There he and his anarchist friend Francisco de Asis Soler founded the magazine Arte Joven (Young Art). The first issue of the magazine was published on 31st March 1901 and they published a total of five issues.

While Soler solicited articles, Picasso illustrated the journal by mostly making grim cartoons depicting and sympathizing with the state of the poor.

It was around this time that Picasso began signing his work with his maternal surname ‘Picasso’.

Picasso’s Blue Period

The Blue Period of Pablo Picasso began in 1901, either in Madrid or in Paris, in the second half of the year.

Picasso’s Blue Period was influenced by the suicide of his friend Carles Casagemas, a Catalan painter and poet. The period lasted until 1904 and was characterized by somber paintings rendered in shades of blue and blue-green.

Many paintings of gaunt mothers with children were painted by him during this time. He also painted several portraits of his deceased friend Casagemas.

Some of his famous works during this period include the gloomy allegorical painting La Vie (1903) and The Old Guitarist (1903). Several other paintings during this period portray the same sad, gloomy, and somber mood.

While the Blue Period lasted, Picasso kept on shuttling between Barcelona and Paris.

The Rose Period

Immediately following the end of the Blue Period in 1904, began the Rose Period of Pablo Picasso.

The Rose Period was characterized by a lighter tone and style, using a lot of pink and orange colors, and often featuring circus people, harlequins, and acrobats as subjects.

It was during this period that Picasso met Fernande Olivier, a French artist and model who soon became his mistress and muse.

Fernande frequently modeled for Picasso, appearing in over 60 portraits of his during this period. Most of these paintings were influenced by his warm relationship with her.

Some of his famous paintings during this period were The Family of Saltimbanques (1905), Boy with a Pipe (1905), Acrobat and Young Harlequin (1905), and Boy Leading a Horse (1905-06).

Picasso’s Patrons

By 1905, Pablo Picasso had a close relationship with American art collectors Gertrude and Leo Stein. The Steins quickly became his patrons and he became one of their favorite artists.

Gertrude’s older brother Michael and his wife Sarah also began collecting his works. Gertrude acquired many drawings and paintings of Picasso and displayed them at her house in Paris, where people would frequently come to admire Picasso’s work.

It was at Gertrude’s salon that Picasso met Henri Matisse in 1905 at one of the gatherings. The two pioneering artists would go on to become lifelong friends and rivals.

Later on, Gertrude introduced Picasso to American art collectors Claribel and Etta Cone, who also began collecting the works of Picasso and Matisse.

In 1907, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, a German art collector and one of the most notable French art dealers of the 20th century opened up a gallery in Paris, which Picasso joined.

Kahnweiler became one of the first champions of Picasso and Georges Braque, promoting the cubism that the two artists jointly developed.

Influence of African Art

In 1907, Pablo Picasso, aged 25, created his breakthrough painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (also known as The Young Ladies of Avignon).

The painting portrays five nude female prostitutes in a brothel, each of them depicted in a disconcerting and confrontational manner, slightly menacing with angular and disjointed body shapes.

Picasso painted the composition in a style inspired by Iberian sculpture and repainted the faces of two of the prostitutes after being influenced by the African masks he saw in the ethnographic museum at Palais du Trocadero.

Picasso later remarked that the ethnic primitivism evoked in these masks moved him to liberate an original artistic style of compelling, savage force.

With this painting, Picasso made a radical departure from traditional European painting by abandoning perspective in favor of a flat, two-dimensional picture plane.

The painting is an important work in the early development of both cubism and modern art. It was revolutionary but highly controversial, leading to widespread disagreement and anger even among his closest friends and associates.

Other paintings of his from this period include Nude with Raised Arms (1907) and Three Women (1908).

Cubist Period

Cubism is an early 20thcentury avant-garde art movement that revolutionized European painting and sculpture. In Cubism, objects are analyzed, broken up, and reassembled in an abstract form. Instead of depicting them from a single viewpoint, the objects are depicted from multiple viewpoints in order to give them greater context.

The Cubist Period of Pablo Picasso can be roughly divided into two phases – Analytic Cubism (1909-1912) and Synthetic Cubism (1912-1919).

Analytical Cubism was a style of painting developed by Picasso and George Braque, using monochrome brownish and neutral colors. It was a short but radical and influential art movement that lasted between 1910 to 1912 in France.

The two artists took apart objects and analyzed them in terms of their shapes.

Synthetic Cubism, on the other hand, was a further development of the cubist movement, in which cut paper fragments were pasted into compositions, marking the first use of collage in fine art.

During this period, Picasso began a series of paintings depicting geometric and minimalist Cubist objects, usually consisting of a guitar or a glass, or a pipe. These works had an occasional element of collage.

This phase lasted until around 1919, after which the surrealist movement gained momentum.

Some of Picasso’s famous paintings during this period include Girl with a Mandolin (1910), Woman Playing Guitar or Mandolin (1910-11), The Poet (1911), and Head (1913-14).

World War I Years

At the outbreak of the First World War, Pablo Picasso was living in Avignon.

Unlike his French colleagues Derain and Braque, who were mobilized for the war, Picasso was able to continue painting without any problem or interruption.

During the war years, Picasso’s paintings became somber as his life slowly changed. On achieving some degree of fame and fortune, he left Fernande Olivier for Eva Gouel.

But in 1915, Eva, aged only 30, died a premature death from an illness, leaving Picasso devastated for a short while. Shortly thereafter, Picasso began an affair with Gabrielle Lespinasse, who became his muse.

Upon Kahnweiler’s exile from France during the war, Picasso’s contract with his art gallery came to an end. His work was then taken on by Leonce Rosenberg, a French art collector regarded as one of the most influential French art dealers of the 20th century.

Rosenberg was a well-known supporter and promoter of cubist artists during and after the war.


Towards the end of World War I, Pablo Picasso began collaborating with Serge Diaghilev, a Russian ballet impresario and founder of the Ballets Russes. The Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company based in Paris.

In 1917, while designing the costumes and set for a ballet of the company in Paris, Picasso met Olga Khokhlova, a Russian ballerina with the Diaghilev troupe. And in July of the following year, the two married at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral at the Rue Daru.

Olga introduced Picasso to high society, formal dinner parties, and other aspects of rich aristocratic life in Paris. But even though Picasso participated in these social circles, his bohemian tendencies frequently clashed with Olga’s insistence on social propriety.

In 1921, the two had a son, Paulo. And from then on their relationship severely deteriorated.


In 1927, Pablo Picasso, aged 45, began an affair with the 17-year-old Marie-Therese Walter, while still living with Olga.

In 1935, Olga learned of his affair with Marie-Therese and that she was pregnant with his child. Olga immediately took Paulo and moved to the south of France.

Olga and Picasso never officially divorced. They stayed legally married until her death in 1955.

Around 1935, Picasso met and fell in love with Dora Maar, a French photographer, painter, and poet. The two began an affair, bringing an end to his relationship with Marie-Therese.


On 26th April 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, the aerial bombing of the Basque town of Guernica took place. The bombing of Guernica was carried out by the Nazi German Luftwaffe and the Fascist Italian Aviazione Legionaria (the Legionary Air Force), at the behest of Francisco Franco’s rebel Nationalist faction.

The bombings allowed Franco to capture Bilbao, sealing his victory in northern Spain. The attack attracted major controversy around the world as it involved the bombing of civilians.

In response to the bombings, Pablo Picasso created Guernica one of his best-known works, regarded by many as the most moving and powerful anti-war painting in history.

The grey, white, and black painting, 3.49 meters tall and 7.76 meters across, depicts the sufferings of humans and animals wrought by violence and chaos due to the bombings in Guernica.

The painting was exhibited at the 1937 Paris International Exposition, and then at other venues around the world. The touring exhibition was used to raise funds for Spanish war relief.

The painting immediately became famous and widely acclaimed around the world, thereby bringing even more attention to the Spanish Civil War.

Guernica now rests in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, Spain’s national museum of 20th-century art.

World War II Years

During the Second World War, when the Germans occupied France, Pablo Picasso chose to remain in Paris. But he was unable to exhibit his art and was even harassed by the Gestapo.

But Picasso continued to paint, creating works such as Still Life with the Guitar (1942) and The Charnel House (1944-48).

Around this time, Picasso also tried his hand at poetry, which was mostly erotic in nature.

Relationship with Francoise Gilot

In 1944, Pablo Picasso, aged 63, began a relationship with Francoise Gilot, a young art student 40 years younger than him.

Picasso had grown tired of Dora Maar by then and he immediately moved in with Francoise. Even though they never married, they ended up living together for almost 10 years and had two children, Claude and Paloma.

Francoise was a great artist in her own right, but her artistic career was believed to be cut short due to her relationship with Picasso.

In her 1964 memoir, Life with Picasso, she describes his abusive behavior toward her and his numerous affairs which eventually led her to leave him, taking her children along with her.

Marriage to Jacqueline Roque

In 1953, Pablo Picasso, aged 72, met the 26-year-old Jacqueline Roque at the Madoura Pottery in Vallauris on the French Riviera, where Picasso made and painted ceramics.

A few months later, the two got into a relationship. Around 1954, Jacqueline’s image began appearing in Picasso’s paintings.

On 2nd March 1961, Picasso and Jacqueline got married in Vallauris.

Their marriage would last for 11 years, until his death. During that time, Picasso created over 400 portraits of her, more than any of the other women he had been with.

Final Years

In the 1950s, Picasso’s ever-evolving style changed once again. He began producing reinterpretations of the artworks of great masters such as Francisco Goya, Edouard Manet, Nicolas Poussin, Diego Velazquez, Ferdinand Delacroix, and jean Courbet.

Picasso had become an international celebrity by now. He was widely regarded as the greatest artist of the 20th century. Due to his fame, he was even offered a few film appearances and cameos.

In 1955, he helped make the film The Mystery of Picasso, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. The film showed Picasso in the act of creating paintings, most of which were destroyed so that they would only exist on film.

Picasso’s final works were a mixture of styles. His paintings became more colorful and expressive. From 1968 to 1971, he produced a great number of paintings and hundreds of copperplate etchings.

Even though in his 80s by now, Picasso continued to be prolific in his output, refusing to slow down.


On 8th April 1973, Pablo Picasso died in Mougins, France, from pulmonary edema and heart failure. He was 91 years old.

Picasso was interred at the Chateau of Vauvenargues near Aix-en-Provence, a property he occupied with Jacqueline between 1959 and 1962.

Due to Picasso’s strained relationship with his children Claude and Paloma, Jacqueline prevented them and Pablito (Picasso’s grandson) from attending the funeral.


Pablo Picasso, without a doubt, is one of the greatest and most prolific artists of all time. He is said to have created around 50,000 artworks in his lifetime, which is significantly more than any other artist of his era.

At the time of his death, there were more than 45,000 unsold works in his estate. These included around 2,000 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 3,000 ceramics, 7,000 drawings, 150 sketchbooks, thousands of prints, and several tapestries and rugs.

Perhaps no other artist had been as famous in their own lifetime as Picasso was. His influence was and continues to remain widely acknowledged among critics, admirers, and detractors alike.

It is safe to say that Picasso, having dominated modern European art for almost 25 years, is hands down the most influential artist of the 20th century.

Pablo Picasso was the first artist to receive a special honor exhibition at the Grand Gallery of the Louvre Museum in Paris, in celebration of his 90 years.

Since Picasso had left no will, his estate tax to the French state was paid in the form of all the artworks he had in his possession at the time of his death, which included works of other famous artists such as Henri Matisse, with whom he had exchanged works.

These artworks are now displayed in the Musee Picasso in Paris, an art gallery primarily dedicated to the work of Picasso.

In 2003, relatives of Picasso inaugurated the Museo Picasso Malaga, a museum in Malaga, where he was born.

Over the years, there have been several movies, plays, and TV shows based on Picasso. He also finds a mention in Ernest Hemingway‘s 1964 memoir A Moveable Feast.

As of 2015, Picasso was the top-ranked artist, based on sales of his works at auctions, according to the Art Market Trends report.

Picasso’s legacy still lives on. His giant shadow continues to loom large in the field of visual arts. And no one can deny the fact that his revolutionary artistic achievements truly make him one of the greatest artists to have ever lived.