PABLO PICASSO: The Modern Art Virtuoso

Picasso at his house in Cannes, 1960 - photo by The Times

Picasso’s Early Years

Picasso’s full name is quite a mouthful: Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santisima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. More commonly known as Pablo Picasso, he was born on October 25, 1881, in Andalusia, Spain. He was the eldest child of Don Jose Ruiz y Blasco and Maria Picasso y Lopez. Picasso’s father was also an artist and greatly influenced his son’s work. At the age of seven, Picasso began learning how to draw and do oil paintings under the tutelage of his father.

Picasso in 1908 – photo by Wikipedia

When he was 13, Picasso attended the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona. Afterwards, he attended the Real Academia de Vellas Artes de San Francisco in Madrid. The academy was the top art school in Spain at the time. However, he did not stay there long as he did not find formal instruction to his liking. Instead, he spent the rest of his time in Madrid going to art exhibits at the Prado and studying the works of other artists such as Francisco Goya, Diego Velaquez and El Greco.

The year 1900 was the first time he ever went to Paris, which was then the hub of the European art scene. Picasso lived with the poet and journalist Max Jacob, who took the young artist into his care. Picasso’s first foray to Paris was not as successful as he had hoped. In fact, he and Jacob were living in poverty. They even had to burn Picasso’s paintings for warmth.

Discouraged by his Parisian experience, Picasso went back to Spain and lived in Madrid for the first part of 1901. There, he illustrated articles and drew cartoons for a literary magazine with his friend, Francisco Asis Soler. The magazine was called “Young Art”.

The Blue Period: 1901-1904

The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso – photo by

From 1901 to 1904, Picasso had a seeming obsession with the colour blue. Most of his work during the so-called “Blue Period” featured this colour, with others serving as minimal accents. The art he created at this time were sombre and subdued, not just in hue but in subject. The Blue Period pieces often depicted poverty, solitude, blindness and female nudes. Many art historians attribute this to depression, as Picasso was affected by the suicide of a friend.

Although Blue Period paintings did not appeal to the market at the time, they are now some of the most sought after in Picasso’s repertoire. These include The Old Guitarist and Portrait of Suzanne Bloch, which was stolen from a museum but has since been recovered.

The Rose Period: 1904-1906

Acrobate et jeune arlequin, 1905, Pablo Picasso – photo by Artribune

By 1904, Picasso was coming out of his Blue Period. His paintings started to have shades of pink, evoking a warmer, less melancholy tone. 1904 was also the year he met Fernande Olivier, a bohemian artist who became Picasso’s mistress and the subject of several of his paintings. It is said that his relationship with Olivier and his further exposure to French painting was the reason for the change in his art. The subject of his artwork also changed during the Rose Period, which would last until 1906. Aside from Olivier, he often featured harlequin clowns and other circus performers in his paintings, including Acrobate et Jeune Arlequin.

African Art and Primitivism Period (1907-1909)

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso – photo by

As early as Picasso’s Rose Period, elements of primitivism started to appear in his paintings. This interest in African and tribal styles dominated Picasso’s art from 1907 to 1909. He was inspired by the angular African art in an exhibit, as well as an African mask owned by Henri Matisse. During this period, Egyptian and Iberian elements were also present in Picasso’s work, lending them an exotic look to European eyes. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is one of the most distinctive pieces of this period, and it is also considered an example of the Proto-Cubism style that soon followed.

Cubism (1909-1919)

Three Musicians by Pablo Picasso – photo by

Picasso collaborated with another painter, Georges Braque, to start a new art movement: analytic cubism. Paintings made in this style usually have a muted, earth-tone palette and used distinct shapes that highlight the parts of an object. Examples of this style are Still Life with a Bottle of Rum and Woman with Mustard Pot.

Within the decade, Picasso’s worked evolved from analytic cubism to synthetic cubism. This style is akin to creating a collage on canvas using fragments of newspaper or wallpaper. He further refined this style into crystal cubism, characterised by geometric shapes and everyday objects as subjects. Examples of the latter Cubist style include The Table in front of the Window and Three Musicians.

Neoclassicism and Surrealism

Sleeping Peasants, 1919 by Pablo Picasso – photo by

1919 signalled a radical shift in Picasso’s style of painting. This was probably brought on by his first visit to Italy and the end of the First World War. In contrast to his cubist works, his paintings post 1919 were more structured and reminiscent of the style of Raphael and Ingres.

This neoclassic style did not last long. By the mid-1920s, the French Surrealist Movement was gaining steam and Picasso was soon caught up in it. He returned to a primitivism-inspired style dominated by the Surrealist approach. Examples of Picasso’s work during this period are Seated Nude Drying her Foot and Sleeping Peasants.

The Great Depression

Picasso’s Depression-era paintings were heavy on symbolism using real animals and make-believe ones like minotaurs. At this time, Picasso created his famous anti-war work during this decade. Guernica depicts the attack on the city of that name during the Spanish Civil War. With its masterful use of symbolism, visual impact, and macabre subject, Guernica became one of Picasso’s most acclaimed paintings. New York’s Museum of Modern Art organised an exhibit of Picasso’s major works in 1939-1940. This exhibit polarised art critics, but it introduced Picasso’s masterpieces to a wider audience.

Guernica by Picasso – photo by Wikipedia

World War II and Afterwards

For the whole duration of the Second World War, Picasso would stay in Paris, even when it was under German occupation. He continued to create art while enduring harassment from the Gestapo. While in occupied France, Picasso also started to write poetry and theatrical plays. Picasso also tried his hand at sculpting, and his sculptures are now exhibited in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He also donated one to the city of Chicago.

Personal Life

Picasso married twice and had numerous mistresses and partners who often served as his muses and models. His initial relationship with Fernande Olivier was turbulent, and they separated for good in 1912. After his relationship with Olivier ended, he was involved with several women.

Nu assis s’essuyant le pied (Seated Nude Drying her Foot), 1921, Pablo Picasso – photo by Wikipedia

In 1918, he met and married his first wife, Olga Khoklova. Khoklova was a Russian ballet dancer. They had a son, Paulo, but the relationship also did not last. They separated three years later because of his affair with one of his models, Marie-Thérèse Walter. However, Picasso did not file for divorce to prevent Khoklova from getting half of his fortune. Khoklova passed away in 1955, while Walter bore Picasso’s eldest daughter, Maya. He also became involved with an artist-photographer named Dora Maar in the tail end of the 1930s.

He met Francoise Gilot, a fellow painter, during the Second World War and had two children with her: Paloma and Claude. They were together for a decade. Picasso remarried in 1961 to Jacqueline Roque, who was more than 40 years his junior. She became the model for numerous paintings, more than any other woman connected with the artist.

Final Years

As his final years approached, Picasso became a dervish of creativity. He took elements from his previous styles and repurposed them into stunning pieces. He also made more colourful paintings and delved into copper etchings. Picasso even dabbled in films. He passed in the south of France on April 8, 1973, due to a heart attack. He was 91 years old.


Pablo Picasso remains one of the most influential and prolific artists of the 20th century. In his lifetime, Picasso created more than 50,000 pieces of art in various mediums — not just paintings, but sculptures, ceramics, prints, and many more. His art is featured in the world’s top galleries and fetches millions at auction. Picasso had a genius for finding beauty in the most mundane objects, and his style continues to have an impact on the art scene until now.