Why Picasso?

Who is Pablo Picasso and why is he so important? Take a quick dive with Heather James into Picasso, his life, and his work. Get a closer look into Picasso’s impact on art and culture, answering some of the biggest questions people ask about the artist.

“For those who know how to read, I have painted my autobiography.” – Pablo Picasso

“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”, 1907, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York
“Guernica”, 1937, oil on canvas, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid
“Family of Saltimbanques”, 1905, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Who is Picasso?

  • A towering figure in 20th century art, Pablo Picasso is renowned for his unmistakable mastery and profound influence on the trajectory of modern art.
  • He was born in Málaga, Spain in 1881 and moved to France in 1904.
  • Picasso’s experimentation throughout his long career showed his commitment to pushing his creativity and the boundaries of art.
  • Some of Picasso’s most important works include Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (Museum of Modern Art, New York), Guernica (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid), and Family of Saltimbanques (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)
  • Picasso co-created Cubism, the most monumental event in the annals of modern art, reshaping the foundation of artistic expression and altering the course of art history forever.

 “Only one person has the right to criticize me, and that is Picasso!” – Henri Matisse

Pablo Picasso, “Self-Portrait”, 1906, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Punu peoples, “Mask (Mukudj)”, 19th-20th Century, wood, pigment, kaolin, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Pablo Picasso, “Woman in a Chemise in an Armchair”, late 1913-early 1914, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Paul Cézanne, “Banks of the Seine at Médan”, c. 1885/1890, oil on canvas, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

What is Cubism?

  • In 1907-1908, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque developed Cubism, a seismic shift in depicting and representing reality.
  • Picasso and Braque combined different views within one plane which created a more fragmentary and abstract image – hence the “cube” of Cubism.
  • Breaking down objects and investigating reality spurred on later developments of Modern art.
  • Building upon Paul Cézanne’s legacy of color planes and perspectives, and inspired by African tribal masks, Cubism evolved at Picasso’s whim, a groundbreaking fusion of past genius, other cultures, and a new vision.
  • The influence of African tribal masks has been one of many important conversations around Picasso. Why have Picasso’s paintings been considered art but tribal masks as artifacts? How did museums acquire those masks?

“After all, it is only the masters that matter; those who create new languages, new forms, new expressions, or who are capable of doing so. In this sense, Picasso is a master, for he has strength and the invention.” – George Braque

Pablo Picasso, “Portrait of a Woman after Cranach the Younger”, 1958, linocut on paper, Tate Collection, London
Pablo Picasso, “Woman with a Tambourine”, 1939 – published 1943, etching and aquatint, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Pablo Picasso, “Woman with Hat”, 1963, linoleum cut, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

How Did Picasso Transform Prints?

  • Even towards the end of his life, Picasso pushed himself. At the age of 77, he created his first linocuts.
  • Picasso, along with Hidalgo Arnera, created a “reduction method” of creating linocuts.
  • Where a separate linoleum was used for each separate color, Picasso and Arnera would cut and press successive steps on a singular block. This would allow for better registering of colors, i.e. reduce misalignments.
  • Previously seen as belonging to the realm of hobbyists and amateurs, the reductive technique had much to do with the significant reevaluation of the linocut as a serious medium.
  • Renowned for his engagement with various printmaking techniques throughout his career, Picasso is justifiably ranked among the greatest printmakers in all mediums.

“When I was a young man, I wanted to be Picasso. Fortunately, the dream did not come true, and I became Dalí instead.” – Salvador Dalí

Pablo Picasso, “Gros oiseau corrida”, 1953, earthenware vase, Es Baluard Museu d’Art Contemporani de Palma
Pablo Picasso, “Mussol”, 1961, ceramic, Museu Picasso, Barcelona
Pablo Picasso, Three Nudes on Dark Ground, 1948, earthenware vase, Museu Picasso, Barcelona

Did Picasso Make Those Ceramics?

  • Picasso constantly looked to challenge himself and ceramics helped Picasso connect to his Mediterranean heritage through the use of mythological figures and corridas (bullfighting scenes).
  • In 1946, he was impressed by the ceramics produced by Madoura in Vallauris, France which prompted him to collaborate with the owners, Suzanne and Georges Ramié.
  • Over 25 years, Picasso and Madoura produced over 600 works.
  • The unpredictability of ceramics through the firing process enchanted Picasso while the malleable medium offered Picasso a chance to fuse painting, sculpture, and drawing into a single, fluid act of creation.
  • Picasso intended ceramics to be a more accessible entry point to collect his works.

“Picasso — he’s alright. But he’s done too much. He’s done everything. I’ve had to fight against that.” – Jackson Pollock

Pablo Picasso, “Harlequin Musician”, 1924, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Pablo Picasso, “Nude Woman”, 1910, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Pablo Picasso, “Dora Maar in a Wicker Chair”, 1938, ink, charcoal, and pastel on paper, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Could My Kid Make That?

  • Picasso once famously said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
  • Despite the apparent simplicity of his art, this simplicity is the result of a masterful understanding of art fundamentals, honed through talent and years of rigorous study and practice.
  • Picasso could create art through simple lines which conceptualized three-dimensional shapes onto a two-dimensional surface, complicating the viewer’s relationship with visual and temporal perspective.
  • Picasso, especially through Cubism, combined different perspectives, breaking from centuries of art that prioritized optical illusion and a single perspective.
  • The artist would also utilize references and influences from Greek mythology to African tribal masks; he would even re-imagine Old Master works, again challenging our appreciation of the original work and collapsing the idea of time.

“It’s complicated and that’s okay… I think it’s very complex, because right now we can separate the art from the artist because [Picasso’s] not here. But would we hold him accountable if he was?” – Mickalene Thomas

“Gertrude Stein sitting on a sofa in her Paris studio, with a portrait of her by Pablo Picasso”, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-30616
Pablo Picasso, “Card Player”, 1913-1914, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Pablo Picasso, “The Dreamer”, 1932, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Pablo Picasso, “Two Catalonian Drinkers”, 1934, etching, National Gallery of Art

Why is Picasso Important?

  • Innovative Approach to Art: Picasso revolutionized the art world with his innovative techniques and approaches, breaking away from traditional forms and perspectives to something entirely new.
  • Co-founder of Cubism: Picasso co-founded the Cubist movement, which deconstructed objects into geometric shapes, presenting multiple viewpoints simultaneously and altering the course of visual arts.
  • Broke barriers of perception: Picasso’s contributions to art are not just inherent in the novelty of his techniques or the diversity of his themes, but in his enduring ability to challenge and transform how we perceive, understand, and value art. His legacy is a testament to the power of breaking barriers of perception, fostering a more inclusive, exploratory, and dynamic understanding of art’s possibilities.
  • His life & his muses: Picasso’s artistic achievements and personal life have become deeply entwined with how we interpret his work, adding complexity to contemporary perceptions of the artist.

“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” – Pablo Picasso

Reference Videos

“Watch Picasso Make a Masterpiece” from the Royal Academy
“Picasso linocuts acquired by the British Museum” from the Art Fund UK
“A Legacy in Clay: The Ceramics of Pablo Picasso in Return to Earth” from the Nasher Sculpture Center
“What is Cubism? Art Movements & Styles” from the National Galleries Scotland
“Pablo Picasso: Different perspectives on the cubist’s life and art” from CBS Sunday Morning

Available Works by Picasso

If you’d like to learn more about Heather James Art Advisory and our holistic approach to collecting and managing art, visit us at https://www.heatherjames.com/advisory/ or email us at [email protected].

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