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Pablo Picasso

( Originally Published 1955 )



Probably the most influential artist of the twentieth century; leader of the Cubist and other wings of modern French painting. One of the most talented and original creators of our times in painting, graphics, pottery, sculpture and almost every other medium, Picasso is a truly protean figure. Born in Malaga, Spain, the son of an art teacher, he made his first drawings at the age of ten. In 1895 the family moved to Barcelona, where Picasso soon had his own studio and at the age of sixteen his first exhibition. He made his first visit to Paris in 1900 and sold a few sketches to Berthe Weill. In 1901 he launched a review called Arte Joven (Young Art) and went on a second trip to Paris, where he studied Impressionism. This marks the beginning of his mystical Blue Period paintings with their intensity of mood and color, and their heavy-contoured, flat forms. Back in Spain, he was influenced by the Manneristic elongations and distortions of El Greco. He settled in Paris from 1904 to 1909, met Apollinaire the critic, became interested in circus folk and their romantic sadness, and in 1905 launched his Rose Period. At this time he began to sell to the rich Russian merchant Tschoukine.

In 1906 he met Matisse, was presented to Gertrude Stein and did a portrait of her showing the first influence of primitivistic sculpture-Picasso maintains it was Iberian rather than African Negro sculpture. He also began work on one of his first important compositions, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, and finished it in 1907. The African quality of this work is very strong; it helps set the canvas in motion and gives a strength and simplicity to forms so that they all vibrate in a narrow range between the picture line and the background. That year he also made a contract with Kahnweiler, the dealer, for all his work. In 1908, inclining toward primitivism , Picasso held his famous banquet for the Douanier Rousseau and fell under the formal influence of Cezanne. In 1909 he spent the summer in Spain at Horta del Ebro, moving from the sharply angled forms he had been doing under the stimulus of Cezanne's geometry to an even greater degree of simplification. Now he tried to give an impression of the form of an object somewhat as the earlier Impressionists had tried to render an impression of light falling on it. This period of Analytical Cubism began in 1909 and was practiced through 1911 in company with Braque. In 1912 they went into Synthetic Cubism, a somewhat more artificial and deliberate version of their earlier fragmentation of form and simultaneity (see) of vision of various aspects of that form. From then until 1923 Picasso practiced a variety of Cubism, although here and there one finds naturalistic bypaths, some with intense emotional and dreamy avertones, such as the 1917 sets for Diaghilev's production of the ballet Parade.

In 1920 Picasso turned to his next important phase, the so-called Classical Period. In this there are clear echoes of ancient Greece and Rome, but treated in an unstilted, completely individualistic fashion, with a unique feeling for the romantic projection of self into the past. Large nude figures, gigantic heads of various kinds, mark this development. There is a touch of Surrealist dream projection which soon gives us Picasso's actual Surrealist experiments (1925 to 1927), wherein tortured forms with twisted limbs create a fear-evoking atmosphere. In 1929 he began to do the primevally-shaped and suggestive Metamorphoses, which look as though they grow out of prehistoric soil (and seemingly anticipate the late work of Henry Moore). His 1931 illustrations for the Metamorphoses of Ovid, on the other hand, are the purest classicism and one of the great triumphs of book illustration in our day. With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Picasso took an active role in repudiation of German and Italian armed intervention. In 1937 he engraved Dreams and Lie of Franco and painted the famous Guernica, a Surrealist-Cubist projection of the horrors inflicted on this town by the fascist bombers.

By 1938 Picasso had moved in an Expressionist direction with his double-faced heads. He spent the World War II years in France unmolested by the occupation forces; afterward he announced his adherence to Communism but continued to paint in an abstract manner that was out of keeping with the orthodox Communist approach. Since 1945 he has done a good deal in the fields of ceramics and graphic arts as well as occasional pieces of sculpture of breath-taking grandeur. There is perhaps no style in modern art that Picasso has not tried, often more effectively than those who first developed it. But his works always bear his own personal stamp, the authority of a great and genuine creativeness and originality.



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