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Picasso: Influential Modern Artist of the 20th Century Essay Sample

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Picasso: Influential Modern Artist of the 20th Century Essay Sample

Art is an expression; and expression, for our own ends, is the putting forth of purpose, feeling, or thought into a sensuous medium, where they can be experienced again by the one who created it and to others who view its magnificence. This paper intends to explore the works of renowned Spanish painter Pablo Picasso. To understand his works is to understand his life history which may be the basis for his expressions in art.

Pablo Picasso was a Spanish-born painter and sculptor. He was born Pablo Ruiz Blasco[1],[2] in Malaga, Spain and studied art with his father who was an art teacher.[3]  He later adopted his mother’s more distinguished maiden name, Picasso, as his own.[4] Though Spanish by birth, he lived most of his life in France.

Picasso was an originator of an art movement called Cubism and a contributor to many other artistic movements. His abstract paintings made him one of the most controversial and influential artists of the 20th century. He experimented in so many ways that he developed collage as an artistic technique aside from assemblage in sculpture – possibly making him the leading innovator in 20th century art.

Most of Picasso’s numerous sculptures were largely unknown until 1966, when they were included in the Paris retrospective exhibition honoring his 85th birthday. The themes and forms of his sculptures were closely related to those of his paintings.

Picasso settled in Paris in 1904. In 1917, while designing ballet sets for Diaghilev in Rome, Picasso met the ballerina Olga Kaklova. They were married and Picasso lived in Paris until after the Second World War when Picasso decided to settle in Southern France. There he turned his attention to ceramics and graphic arts. After the death of Kaklova, he married Jacqueline Roque in 1961.[5]

During his long career, Picasso painted and sculpted in many styles. His works often reflected his many love affairs. His feelings as influenced also by what was happening around him were sometimes inspirations for his artworks.

His expressions in art were divided into phases or artistic periods.

His so called formative period from 1893 – 1900 covers the time he spent with his father and his formal studies in art at the Academy of Fine Arts in La Coruña, Spain, where his father taught.[6] During this period, his early drawings included Study of a Torso, After a Plaster Cast (1894-1895, Musée Picasso, Paris, France)[7], a portrait of his mother, Maria Picasso Lopez and that of an altar boy in 1896, and a few other portraits from 1895 – 1896 as shown below:[8]

Artist’s mother, 1896
Altar Boy, 1896
Science and Charity, 1896

A notable artwork of Picasso during his early period as an artist was Le Moulin de la Galette. Picasso was still living in Barcelona when “the 1900 World’s Fair drew him to Paris for the first time. During the course of his two-month stay he immersed himself in art galleries as well as the bohemian cafés, night-clubs, and dance halls of Montmartre. Le Moulin de la Galette, his first Parisian painting, reflects his fascination with the lusty decadence and gaudy glamour of the famous dance hall, where bourgeois patrons and prostitutes rubbed shoulders.”[9] Picasso was 19 years old when he painted Le Moulin de la Galette, his first Parisian painting. Critiques evaluated that during this time, Picasso had yet to develop a unique style, but Le Moulin de la Galette was “nonetheless a startling production for an artist who had just turned 19.”[10]

Le Moulin de la Galette, Autumn 1900. Oil on canvas.

The Blue Period from 1901 to 1903 illustrated his first truly original works. Picasso was trained to paint by his father from a very young age. The young Picasso absorbed his father’s influence as well as that of the traditions of Spanish art. By his early 20s, he moved to Paris. Prior to this, his paintings mostly involved use of earth-toned colors but his move to Paris “quickly changed his earth-toned colors to a palette which was more emotionally expressive. His first truly original works were those of his Blue period. The young artist was facing some difficult times after the death of his closest friend, and was also experiencing financial troubles during his first years in Paris.[11] His paintings of this time were created in predominantly blue tones, and the images were of emaciated people who look like they were down on their luck. Despite this, the paintings achieve a sense of mystery, and these are some of his most poetic images.”[12]

In The Old Guitarist (1903, Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois), Picasso emphasized the guitarist’s poverty and position as a social outcast, which he reinforced by surrounding the figure with a black outline, as if to cut him off from his environment. The guitarist is compressed within the canvas (no room is left in the painting for the guitarist to raise his lowered head), suggesting his helplessness: The guitarist is trapped within the frame just as he is trapped by his poverty. Although Picasso underscored the squalor of his figures during this period, neither their clothing nor their environment conveys a specific time or place. This lack of specificity suggests that Picasso intended to make a general statement about human alienation rather than a particular statement about the lower class in Paris.[13]

Perhaps no artist depicted the plight of the underclasses with greater poignancy than Picasso.[14] This was because he focused almost exclusively on the disenfranchised during his Blue Period. The Blue Period in Picasso’s art is so called for its melancholy palette of predominantly blue tones and its gloomy themes.[15] Living in relative poverty as a young, unknown artist during his early years in Paris, Picasso no doubt empathized with the laborers and beggars around him and often portrayed them with great sensitivity and pathos.[16] But his blue period only lasted a few years for in 1904 his style shifted and inaugurating the rose period which is sometimes referred to as the circus period. This succeeding period was quickly supplanted with brighter colors when the artist’s life circumstances improved.[17] Collectors started to buy his works, so he was less financially worried. Also, he is believed to have fallen in love at this time. Historians call this his Rose period because of the pinks and reds that started to appear in his works at this time. For some reason, the lives of carnival people were one of the subjects that were common in his paintings during this time.[18]

His next works in painting and sculpture were influenced by African and primitive Iberian but in 1907, a landmark in modern art was said to have been born as Picasso introduced Cubism as a movement. Les Demoiselles de Avignon was Picasso’s earliest work which broke dramatically from his figurative and poetic works of the first part of his life.[19]  Picasso painted in relation to the prostitution district of Paris during that time. “The women’s facial features disintegrate into primitive masks, and their bodies are so hard-edged that it looks as if it would cut you if you touched them. At this time, Picasso was increasingly influenced by the raw expressive power of African and Oceanic tribal arts. The women are simultaneously seductive and horrifying. It would take a while before this work would become acceptable to even the most progressive members of artistic circles. But this was the painting that changed everything for Picasso.”[20],[21]

For many scholars, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon – with its fragmented planes, flattened figures, and borrowings from African masks – marks the beginning of the new visual language, known as cubism.[22]

Cubism, which developed in the crucial years from 1908 to 1917,[23] is widely regarded as the most innovative and influential artistic style of the 20th century.[24] The Cubist style of painting was developed by Picasso along with Georges Braque whom he met in 1907 in Paris.[25]

Scholars generally divide the cubist innovations of Picasso and French painter Georges Braque into two stages. In the first stage called analytical cubism, the artists fragmented three-dimensional shapes into multiple geometric planes. In the second stage which was called synthetic cubism, the artists reversed the process, putting abstract planes together to represent human figures, still lifes, and other recognizable shapes.[26] One of the primary goals of cubism was to depart from the traditional understanding of perspective and spatial cues. Their early experiments with the style uses extremely bright colors, hard edged forms, and flattened space.[27]

 After 1909, Picasso and Braque began “Analytical Cubism”. In this period, the bright colors were removed from their compositions, “favoring monochromatic earth tones so that they could focus primarily on the structure.”[28] The paintings of this period look as if they have deconstructed objects and rearranged them on the canvas. Their goal was to depict different viewpoints simultaneously.[29]

Traditionally, an object is always viewed from one specific viewpoint and at one specific moment in time. But Picasso and Braque felt that this was too limiting, and desired to represent an object as if they are viewing it from several angles or at different moments in time. Innovative as this was, the danger was that many of the works of this period are completely incomprehensible to the viewer, as they start to lose all sense of form.[30],[31]

Braque and Picasso brought Analytic Cubism almost to the point of complete abstraction. Among such works is Picasso’s Accordionist, a baffling composition that one of its former owners mistook for a landscape because of the inscription “Céret” on the reverse.[32] At its height, Analytical Cubism reached levels of expression that threatened to pass beyond the comprehension of the viewer. Staring into the abyss of abstraction, Picasso and Braque began to develop Synthetic Cubism.

By inventing collage and by introducing elements from the real world in his canvases, Picasso avoided taking cubism to the level of complete abstraction and remained in the domain of tangible objects. Collage also initiated the synthetic phase of cubism. Whereas analytical cubism fragmented figures into geometric planes, synthetic cubism synthesized or combined near-abstract shapes to create representational forms, such as a human figure or still life.[33]

“After fragmenting representational form almost to the point of extinction in 1911, the following year Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque reintroduced more legible imagery, usually derived from the environment of studio or café. Without abandoning all devices of Analytic Cubism, they developed a new idiom, referred to as Synthetic Cubism, in which they built their compositions with broader, flatter, and chromatically more varied planes.”[34]

These elements used by Picasso in Synthetic Cubist paintings mimic their functions in the external world and therefore introduce a new level of reality into the picture.[35] For instance, the printed papers appear to be integrated into the pictorial space rather than lying flat on the surface. “A transparent plane outlined in chalk appears to penetrate the newspaper and the guitar seems to cast a shadow on it; the actual physical presence of the wallpaper is similarly contradicted by the addition of drawing. The treatment of other collaged papers multiplies meaning. In the case of the pipe or table leg, the cutout itself defines the contour of the object and is modeled accordingly with chalk. Penciled indications of other objects, such as the guitar or glass, ignore the shape of the pasted paper, which acts as both a support and a compositional element. The opacity of the collage materials is refuted and the transparency of the object depicted is upheld when Picasso discloses parts of the guitar behind the glass. On the other hand, a piece of Lacerba remains visible through the guitar, which in reality is opaque. Not only does each object have a multiple nature, but its relations in space to other objects are changeable and contradictory. The table assuredly occupies a space between the wall and the picture plane; its collaged corner overlaps a portion of wallpaper and its visible leg obscures part of a baseboard molding. Yet the depth of this space is indeterminate, as the tabletop has reared up so that it is parallel to the picture plane.”[36]

In 1912 Picasso instigated another important innovation: construction, or assemblage, in sculpture. In Guitar (1912, Museum of Modern Art), Picasso used a new additive process wherein he cut various shapes out of sheet metal and wire, and then reassembled those materials into a cubist construction. In other constructions, Picasso used wood, cardboard, string, and other everyday objects, not only inventing a new technique for sculpture but also expanding the definition of art by blurring the distinction between artistic and non-artistic materials.[37]

From World War I (1914-1918) onward, Picasso moved from style to style. During and after the war he worked on stage design and costume design and then after World War I, a strain of conservatism spread through a number of art forms.[38]  For Picasso the years 1920 to 1925 were marked by close attention to three-dimensional form and to classical themes. From 1925 to 1936 Picasso again worked in a number of styles and composed some paintings of tightly structured geometric shapes, limiting his color scheme to primary colors. In 1937 the Spanish government commissioned Picasso to create a mural for Spain’s pavilion at an international exposition in Paris.

Nazi bombers destroyed the Spanish Basque town of Guernica, mercilessly killing 1600 unprotected citizens. The Spanish general, Francisco Franco agreed to let the Nazis do this in exchange for military aid in the Spanish Civil War. Picasso’s reaction of horror to the brutal event stimulated his symbolic depiction of “Guernica“.[39] Here he returns to a monochromatic palette in an attempt to suggest the bleakness of the tragedy, in which 16 miles surrounding the entire city was annihilated. Picasso’s disturbing painting about the victims of this senseless act is his cry of protest.[40]

Guernica (1937) is considered his masterpiece.[41] The somber colors of black, white, and gray emphasize the horrors of war and the agonies man inflicts against man. Many of the paintings Picasso did during World War II contained skulls and were marked by grotesque distortions. Portraits of agonized women often had double faces. Most of his paintings and sculptures during these times depicted the sufferings of people.[42]

In the last two decades of his long career, Picasso produced more work than at any other time of his life. This late period tends to be overlooked and criticized for the pictorial shorthand he developed to preserve the spontaneity and expressive value of his work, this period of Picasso’s production is often neglected, but it contains some of the finest of Picasso’s paintings.[43],[44] However, as has been suggested, Picasso’s formal explorations—a brushstroke that is sometimes stenographic and abbreviated, or frequently thick and flowing—is a continuation of the artist’s lifelong challenge to stylistic convention, and evidence of his drive to convey vitality, liberation, and the desire to make fewer decisions as a defense against the fleeting nature of time: “I have less and less time and I have more and more to say.”[45]

Pablo Picasso was truly a prolific artist until in his late life. The innovations he started as well as the developments he made in various art movements paved the way towards the development of other art movements today. Because of his many innovations and contributions in modern art, he is widely considered to be the most influential artist of the 20th century.

Works Cited

EyeconArt.Net. Cubism: Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.eyeconart.net/history/cubism.htm

Jan Avgikos. Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_126_4.html

Jan Avgikos. Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_126_15.html

Lucy Flint. Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_126_41.html

Nancy Spector. Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_126_30.html

Nancy Spector. Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_126_39.html

Pablo Picasso. MSN Encarta. Microsoft Corporation, 2006. Retrieved on February 20, 2007 from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761569324/Picasso.html

Pablo Picasso. MSN Encarta. Microsoft Corporation, 2006. Retrieved on February 20, 2007 from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761569324_2/Picasso.html

Pablo Picasso. MSN Encarta. Microsoft Corporation, 2006. Retrieved on February 20, 2007 from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761569324_3/Picasso.html

Pablo Picasso. New Standard Encyclopedia, Volume 13 p. 336 – 338

Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_bio_126.html

The Artchive. Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.artchive.com/artchive/P/picasso_analyticalcubism.html

The Artchive. Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.artchive.com/artchive/P/picasso_late.html

Tracey Bashkoff. Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_126_26.html

[1] Pablo Picasso. New Standard Encyclopedia, Volume 13 p.336

[2] Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_bio_126.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] Pablo Picasso. MSN Encarta. Microsoft Corporation, 2006. Retrieved on February 20, 2007 from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761569324/Picasso.html#s1

[5] Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_bio_126.html

[6] Pablo Picasso. MSN Encarta. Microsoft Corporation, 2006. Retrieved on February 20, 2007 from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761569324/Picasso.html#s1

[7] Ibid.

[8] EyeconArt.Net. Cubism: Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.eyeconart.net/history/cubism.htm

[9] Jan Avgikos. Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_126_15.html

[10] Ibid.

[11] EyeconArt.Net. Cubism: Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.eyeconart.net/history/cubism.htm

[12] Ibid.

[13] Pablo Picasso. MSN Encarta. Microsoft Corporation, 2006. Retrieved on February 20, 2007 from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761569324/Picasso.html#s1

[14] Nancy Spector. Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_126_30.html

[15] Nancy Spector. Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_126_30.html

[16] Nancy Spector. Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_126_39.html

[17] EyeconArt.Net. Cubism: Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.eyeconart.net/history/cubism.htm

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] EyeconArt.Net. Cubism: Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.eyeconart.net/history/cubism.htm

[21] Pablo Picasso. MSN Encarta. Microsoft Corporation, 2006. Retrieved on February 20, 2007 from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761569324_2/Picasso.html

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Jan Avgikos. Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_126_4.html

[25] Pablo Picasso. New Standard Encyclopedia, Volume 13 p.336

[26] Pablo Picasso. MSN Encarta. Microsoft Corporation, 2006. Retrieved on February 20, 2007 from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761569324_2/Picasso.html

[27] EyeconArt.Net. Cubism: Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.eyeconart.net/history/cubism.htm

[28] Ibid.

[29] The Artchive. Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.artchive.com/artchive/P/picasso_analyticalcubism.html

[30] EyeconArt.Net. Cubism: Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.eyeconart.net/history/cubism.htm

[31] The Artchive. Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.artchive.com/artchive/P/picasso_analyticalcubism.html

[32] Jan Avgikos. Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_126_4.html

[33] Pablo Picasso. MSN Encarta. Microsoft Corporation, 2006. Retrieved on February 20, 2007 from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761569324_2/Picasso.html

[34] Lucy Flint. Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_126_41.html

[35] Ibid.

[36] Lucy Flint. Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_126_41.html

[37] Pablo Picasso. MSN Encarta. Microsoft Corporation, 2006. Retrieved on February 20, 2007 from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761569324_3/Picasso.html

[38] Pablo Picasso. MSN Encarta. Microsoft Corporation, 2006. Retrieved on February 20, 2007 from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761569324_3/Picasso.html

[39] EyeconArt.Net. Cubism: Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.eyeconart.net/history/cubism.htm

[40] Ibid.

[41] Pablo Picasso. New Standard Encyclopedia, Volume 13 p.338

[42] Ibid.

[43] The Artchive. Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.artchive.com/artchive/P/picasso_late.html

[44] Tracey Bashkoff. Pablo Picasso. Guggenheim Museum Collection. Retrieved on February 21, 2007 from http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_126_26.html

[45] Ibid.

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