Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain in 1881. The son of a professional artist, he held his first exhibition at the age of thirteen. The following year, in 1895, he passed the entrance exam to the Barcelona School of Fine Arts, where he was permitted to skip most classes due to his precocious development. A prolific and tireless innovator of art forms, Pablo Picasso impacted the course of art in the 20th century with unparalleled magnitude. Contributing significantly to a number of artistic movements, among them Surrealism, Neoclassicism and Expressionism, Picasso, along with Georges Braque, is best known for pioneering Cubism – an attempt to reconcile three-dimensional space within the two-dimensional plane. He once famously asked, ‘Are we to paint what’s on the face, what’s inside the face, or what’s behind it?’
Having demonstrated extraordinary artistic talent in his early years, painting in a naturalistic manner through his childhood and adolescence, in 1900 Picasso began to depart from realism. Leaving Barcelona for Paris, he and his friend Casagemas opened a studio in Montmartre and laid the foundations for an avant-garde artistic community which came to include other leading artists, among them George Braques and Joan Miro and Henri Matisse. Matisse’s work in the ‘Fausvist’ mode motivated Picasso to explore more radical styles. Visiting the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris in 1907, Picasso observed African sculpture for the first time. In this same year he met Georges Braques, with whom he founded the Cubist movement. In 1907 Picasso produced his first Cubist painting – Les Demoiselles D’Avignon. By 1912, the style had evolved from ‘analytic’ to ‘synthetic’ – characterised by the use of collage and mixed media. In 1917 Picasso left Paris for Rome to work with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. There he began a relationship with the dancer Olga Khokhlova who would become his first wife in 1918 and mother to his first son.
In the early 1920s, Picasso paintings became more refined and monumental in style, marking the beginning of his neoclassical period. By the mid-1920s however, his work was beginning to absorb the influences of Surrealism. The first issue of the Surrealist magazine Minotaure was not actually published until 1933, but was Picasso who designed the cover. 1936, with the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, Picasso was appointed the honorary director of the Prado. On the 26th April 1937, German planes began to bombard the Basque town of Guernica. Almost immediately Picasso began sketches for the painting which would be hung in the Spanish Pavilion at the World Fair, Paris later that year. Guernica is now almost universally regarded as one of the most powerful political paintings in history and one of Picasso’s greatest works. ‘Painting is not made to decorate apartments’, he said, ‘It’s an offensive weapon against the enemy.’
When Paris was liberated in 1944, Picasso joined the Communist Party. During the late 1940s he returned to Southern France to visit his friend Matisse and in 1950 he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. By the mid-1950s, however, he had retreated from public life, buying a large villa overlooking the Bay of Cannes. His work during this latter period is defined by a return to classical subjects and academic style. Picasso died in 1973 and is buried on the grounds of his estate near Mougins. His sizable oeuvre includes over 20,000 paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, theatre sets, and costume designs. The ubiquity of his influence on contemporary art and culture is absolute.