Pablo Picasso was one of the most famous artists of the 20th century. During his artistic career, which lasted more than 75 years, he created thousands of works, not only paintings but also sculptures, prints, and ceramics, using all kinds of materials. First famous for his pioneering role in Cubism, Picasso continued to develop his art with a pace and vitality comparable to the accelerated technological and cultural changes of the century whose art he dominated. Each change embodied a radical new idea, and it might be said that Picasso lived several artistic lifetimes.
Picasso was born on October 25, 1881, in Malaga, Spain, the son of an artist, Jose Ruiz, and Maria Picasso. Rather than adopt the common name Ruiz, the young Picasso preferred to use the rarer name of his mother, although his official name was much longer, incorporating homages to other family members and saints. An artistic prodigy, legend has it that his first words were “piz, piz”, in an attempt to say “lápiz”, the Spanish word for pencil.
At the age of 14 he completed the one-month qualifying examination of the Academy of Fine Arts in Barcelona in just one day, despite his being younger than the official age requirement. From there he went to the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, returning in 1900 to Barcelona, where he frequented the city's famous cabaret of intellectuals and artists, Els Quatre Gats. It was in Barcelona that he moved away from the traditional classical methods in which he’d been trained, towards a more experimental and innovative approach. He later recounted his successes: "when I was a child, my mother said to me, 'If you become a soldier, you'll be a general. If you become a monk you'll end up as the pope,' instead I became a painter and wound up as Picasso."
Picasso left Spain altogether soon after the turn of the century, this time to Paris, beginning what is known as his Blue Period, where his paintings were almost exclusively in blue to represent his profound depression over the death of a close friend, Carlos Casagemas. It was only his love affair with model Fernande Olivier that he was able to overcome this dark chapter of his life.As previously mentioned, it is Cubism for which Picasso is most renowned. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, depicting five naked prostitutes, began this new period. Put simply, this new artistic concept attempted to challenge the norms of copying nature exactly onto the canvas by reducing and fracturing objects in order to underline the two dimensionality of the canvas. Many of Picasso’s most famous paintings originate from this epoch.
After a brief fling with Classicalism during the First World War, Picasso adopted a new style of artistry from 1927 known as Surrealism, the natural successor to Cubism. It was in this period that he created his most famous work: Guernica, a powerful image articulating the realities of war and its consequences. His inspiration was the bombing of the civilian target of Guernica, Spain, by the Nazi Luftwaffe. During World War II, Picasso lived in Paris, where he turned his energy to the art of ceramics. From 1947 to 1950, he pursued new methods of lithography. He became more outwardly political during this time, too; he joined the Communist Party, and his closer political ties meant he became less involved in his art. Pablo Picasso died on April 8, 1973, in Mougins, France, at the age of 91. During his life he married twice, and fathered four children.