Born in Spain in 1881, Picasso first learned to paint under the tutelage of his father, Jose Ruiz y Blasco, a professor of art known for his realistic depictions of birds. By 1894, when he was only thirteen, critics consider that Picasso’s adult career as a painter had begun. In 1896, at fourteen, Picasso painted two of his most well known works, The First Communion, depicting his sister, Lola, and Portrait of Aunt Pepa, which has been described as “one of the greatest in the whole history of Spanish painting.” Both paintings are on display at the Museum Picasso in Barcelona, along with an extensive collection of Picasso’s early work.
In 1901, Picasso had moved to Paris and embarked on his Blue Period, portraying somber subjects in strong shades of blue and green, depicting an overall negativity that is attributed to several factors, including a trip back to Spain and the suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas. Picasso painted several posthumous portraits of Casagemas, culminating in La Vie, currently displayed at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Other noted works from Picasso’s Blue Period include Evocation and The Blindman’s Meal.
Next Picasso embarked on his Rose Period, a direct turnaround from the Blue Period, featuring warm colors and happier subjects. The inspiration for this period is generally attributed to Picasso’s meeting Fernande Olivier, an artist’s model. While it is not considered one of his greatest works, the most expensive Picasso painting, Garçon a la pipe (Boy with a Pipe), comes from this era. It sold at auction for more than 104 million dollars, prompting critics to say the purchaser was buying the name Picasso, and not a specific painting.
In 1907 Picasso began a brief period influenced by African tribal art, beginning with the painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, which portrays two African figurines. The African influence in Picasso’s work led directly to his developing Cubism with Georges Braque.
Cubism started with the school described as Analytical Cubism, inspired by the work of Paul Cezanne, who was known for breaking subjects down into their component figures. Picasso and Braque took this further, symbolizing the duality of human binocular vision by portraying all sides of a shape on one plane, and then breaking it down into simple round shapes. Picasso’s painting Ma Jolie most exemplifies the first movement of Cubism.
By 1912, Cubism had evolved, thanks to the influx of a new group of artists, including Juan Gris. The end result of this evolution was Synthetic Cubism, first exemplified by Picasso’s Still Life with Chair-caning. Synthetic Cubism represented a bringing together of more disparate elements after dividing them as in Analytic Cubism. Picasso also pioneered the use of text in these paintings, as a way of flattening the space in the paintings, as well as the incorporation of other mediums, producing mixed media works during this period.
After World War One, Picasso began to expand his frame of reference, starting with classical works referred to as neoclassical paintings, which represented a return to order for Picasso. This was represented in the works of many European artists following the First World War. This led to Picasso’s experimenting with Surrealism, which led to his most famous work, Guernica, an inspired and moving composition depicting the German bombing of the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. Guernica is currently on display at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.
Picasso experimented with a series of different styles in the later part of his career, following World War Two. He became known for his portrayals of works by Grand Master painters, and his sculpture. He was commissioned to make a model for a huge 50-foot public sculpture in Chicago, known simply as the Chicago Picasso or just The Picasso. It stands on Daley Plaza in the Chicago Loop. The statue was erected in 1967, just a few years before Picasso’s death in France in 1973.