Art of the 20th Century

A Revolution in the Arts


Art Styles in 20th century Art Map







Pablo Picasso

by Carsten-Peter Warncke

The Image of the Artist  1881-1973
The Making of a Genius  1890-1898
The Art of Youth  1898-1901
The Blue Period  1901- 1904
The Rose Period  1904-1906
In the Laboratory of Art  1906-1907
Analytical Cubism  1907- 1912
Synthetic Cubism  1912-1915
The Camera and the Classicist  1916-1924
A Juggler with Form  1925-1936
War, Art and "Guernica"  1937
The Picasso Style  1937-1943
Politics and Art  1943-1953
The Presence of the Past  1954- 1963
The Case of "Las Meninas"  1957
The Old Savage  1963-1973
The Legend of the Artist



Pablo Picasso - Erotic Drawings 1968-1972
Pablo Picasso and his Women





The Making of a Genius



Hercules with His Club

One of the earliest surviving drawings by Picasso dates from November 1890. The artist recalled that "Hercules with His Club" was copied from a painting in the parental home."' It is an awkward piece of drawing, of course. The proportions are wrong, the limbs out of scale, the left thigh far thicker than the right, the left arm anatomically incorrect; and the lines are uncertain, the repeated breaking off and resuming sure signs of inexperience. And yet it is also a remarkable drawing. After all, it was done by a nine-year-old. Most drawings by children of that age have the hallmarks of children's indifference to figural fidelity. This is a child's drawing; but it is not childish. It is no wonder that Picasso's painter father recognised his son's talent at an early stage and encouraged the boy accordingly. At eleven, the young Picasso was going to art school at Corunna. In 1895, aged just fourteen, he was admitted to the Academy of Art in Barcelona. A mere year later a large canvas by the young artist, titled "First Communion" , was shown in a public exhibition.

There is no need to follow the customary line of seeing Picasso as a miraculous infant prodigy.

Still, the sheer wealth and quality of his youthful output are staggering. No other artist has left us so much evidence relating to this early period of life - and of course it is a crucial period. One of the most fascinating sights 20th-century art can offer us is the spectacle of the young Picasso making his steady early advance.

His family realised that he was exceptionally gifted, and preserved the youngster's efforts carefully if they were even only slightly distinctive. The paintings, drawings and sketches Picasso did as a boy remained in his sister's home at Barcelona till the artist donated them to the Museu Picasso there in 1970. The collection is impressive for its sheer size: 213 oil paintings done on canvas, cardboard or other surfaces; 681 drawings, pastels and watercolours on paper; 17 sketchbooks and albums; four books with drawings in the margins; one etching; and various other artefacts. Fourteen of the paintings on wood or canvas, and a full 504 of the sheets with drawings, have been used on both sides (often for studies); and the sketchbooks contain 826 pages of drawings.

The juvenilia that has survived from the years 1890 to 1904, from the boy Picasso's first attempts to the Blue Period, runs to over 2,200 works in various formats and using various techniques.


First Communion



The Altar Boy





Different though the works are, they have the same quality, whatever one looks at. An impressive example is the pencil sketch of two cavalrymen done around 1891 to 1893 by the ten- or twelve-year-old Picasso in a schoolbook. The horses and riders are done correctly, on the whole, and mistakes in detail do not detract from this. True, the horses' heads ought to be larger, and the officers' chests and arms could be improved; but the portrayal is not at all a child's, and the drawing shows signs of an increasing grasp of line. The boy's talent has noticeably amplified since "Hercules with His Club" and the way is clear to the art pupil's academic studies, done with full assurance. Those studies display the student's technical prowess and his command of methods deliberately deployed; the essential visual approach remains the same.

The young Picasso's gift was a striking one, clearly different from normal children's artistic efforts. The artist himself felt as much: "It is quite remarkable that I never did childish drawings. Never. Not even as a very small boy." What Picasso means is the kind of drawings children do unprompted, without any adult suggesting a subject; such drawings, free of influence, are nowadays considered the true sign of a child's creative impulses. The drawings the boy Picasso scribbled in his school books were doubtless the same kind of child's drawing; yet it is these that show us that he always drew like an adult.

But it would be wrong to take this as infallible proof of above-average maturity or even genius. A child's drawing derives its shape and imaginative form from a historical process, and bears witness to particular cultural influences.


Of course any child who draws is entering into a fundamental act of expression. But the nature of that expression is conditioned. It is only recently that such drawings have come to be valued in their own right, and so very few independently created drawings by children survive from earlier times." And most of those that do betray the educational influence of adults. Just as children were once dressed and brought up as little adults, so too adults' visual preconceptions were once instilled into them. Children's drawings dating from pre-20th century times generally look like less successful adults' drawings. That is to say, they are not fundamentally different from those the young Picasso did. In the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, for instance, there is the diary of a 17th-century doctor by the name of Jean Heroard, which contains drawings by an eight-year-old boy. Some of them are on the same subjects as Picasso's schoolbook sketches. And the lad's touch is as sure as Picasso's. But this lad did not come from an artistic family; indeed, in later life he was better known as King Louis XIII."

In a sense, this is typical of children's drawings, in historical terms: painting and drawing had not been part of the European educational curriculum since antiquity, and until the 18th century only two kinds of children were normally given any training in art - those who were meant to become professional artists, and those who were of aristocratic or well-to-do family. There was no such thing as universal drawing tuition.

 Children were taught the professional rules of the craft. Nor did the introduction of drawing classes in schools change this. Even the great Swiss educational reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, the most progressive of his

age, was concerned to make children adopt the adult method of pictorial representation as early and as completely as possible. Most educational systems in Europe and North America followed this example in the 19th century. It was not until the end of that century that children's own innate approach to drawing came to be valued and even encouraged; and not till our own day that it properly came into its own."

The drawings done by the young Picasso are not those of a prodigy, then. But this is not to detract from his genius. Quite the contrary. Picasso the artist was moulded by the educational and academic ideas that then prevailed, as we can clearly see from his juvenilia: the education he was given was the making of a genius.

Picasso started school in Malaga in 1886, aged five. None of his drawings of that time survive. But we have a reliable witness to what they were like: Picasso himself. In conversation with Roland Penrose, he recalled drawing spirals at school in those days." This suggests that art instruction at that Malaga primary school was designed along lines laid down by Pestalozzi, developed by Friedrich Frobel, and subsequently adapted by teachers throughout the world. In essence the method was the same one everywhere. Linear drawing was the invariable point of departure: children were encouraged to think and create in geometrical terms. Then they were taught to abstract forms from the world about them. And only then did they move on to the representation of actual things. In this scheme of things, drawing straight or curved lines (such as spirals) was the first, basic step. The children copied lines and linear figures slavishly. Then they had to develop their own motifs by highlighting or omitting lines in what was shown them. Finally they practised free-hand drawing of geometrical figures such as circles, ovals or spirals. It was a way of making even tiny children see schematically. The irregularity and shakiness of children's representation was educated out of them.






Children (such as Picasso) who underwent this process were no longer able to draw in a truly childish way even if they wanted to.'" In any case, children require something to follow, something they can grasp. Picasso's early drawings copied models; both the cavalrymen in the schoolbook and his numerous attempts to draw bullfights were versions done after the bright, colourful world of folksy prints and broadsheets.

One of the ten-year-old Picasso's sheets is of special interest. It is a sheet he used twice, to draw a bullfight and to draw pigeons . Plainly the task of depicting Spain's national sport was beyond him, even when he was copying a model. The bearing and movements of the protagonists, and the spatial realization of the overall scene, is most unsatisfactory. But the pigeons are another matter entirely; they are far more convincing. In drawing them, the boy's approach was a geometrical one, using linked ovals for the neck, crop and rump and then adding the other parts of the birds' bodies. His father's work prompted the boy to make these drawings, but did not provide a model. What lies behind the frequent boyhood drawings of birds, and in particular pigeons, is drawing instruction at school, with its method of interposing geometrical schemata between the natural form and its representation. Birds were a popular subject because they could easily be seen in geometrical terms and were thus easy to draw.






Doves and Rabbits






Bullfight and Doves



Other standard exercises included the perfecting of a leaf outline." And so it was that children in the 19th century learnt to perceive a repertoire of stock shapes in all things, and to reduce individual forms to variations on geometrical themes. The drawbacks of this method are plain: individual characteristics are subordinated to unbending principles of representation. But we must not overlook a salient advantage. Anyone who had been schooled in this way, and (of course) had an amount of native talent, had the lifelong ability to register and reproduce objects and motifs quickly and precisely. Picasso benefitted from the training of his boyhood till he was an old man. It was that training that gave him his astounding assurance in his craft. His debt to his school training is clearly visible in a drawing of boats in which a handful of lines rapidly establish the subject, in accordance with the principle he had learnt of calligraphic construction.

It is small wonder that his school training remained so emphatically with Picasso, since professional tuition followed the same principles. After his family had moved to Corunna when his father took up a new position, the boy first attended general secondary school but then in September 1892 moved to La Guarda art school (where his father was teaching) at the beginning of the new school year. By 1895 he had taken courses in ornamental drawing, figure, copying plaster objects, copying plaster figures, and copying and painting from Nature. It was a strict academic education according to the Madrid Royal College of Art's guidelines." This meant that he once again studied drawing and painting in terms of copying models. His study of an acanthus, done in his first year at La Guarda, is a good example of this. It is essentially a line drawing with little interior work, of a kind taught in school art classes."








Other basic representational tasks were set for the pupil. We still have a variable-profile study of the left eye which Picasso did at age twelve. The drawing was copied from a plaster figure, according to time-honoured custom. The method was well established in 19th-century academies and dated back to the 15th century. Printed originals were used for the drawing of organs, then of larger parts of the body, and finally of whole figures. Once the copying itself no longer posed a problem, the pupil moved on to copying from plaster models. This served a dual purpose: it developed the pupil's eye for a subject, and created the ability to produce three-dimensionally modelled plasticity by means of effective contouring and proper use of light and shadow. This dual purpose was achieved in as linear a manner as everything else in this system, progressing from basic geometrical figures to lightly-modelled line drawings to full three-dimensionality."

Another Picasso study of the same date showing the head of a bearded man in two stages of profile, one of them purely linear and the second lightly modelled, is thus not to be taken as proof of any unusual talent on his part where both realistic drawing and abstraction are concerned; rather, it demonstrates that he was copying from one of the many exercise sources. The educational drill was strictly followed in those days, and it was doubtless more of a soulless exercise than a fit encouragement of creative powers. Still, the constant repetition of the same task did provide the art student with an available repertoire of representational methods.

What was more, students were also taught the essentials of art history; the models they followed in their exercises were the masterpieces of ages past. So it was that in his early youth Picasso was familiar with the sculptures of antiquity. He had to copy them over and over, from figures on the frieze of the Parthenon to the Venus of Milo." His lifelong engagement with the art of antiquity was thus as firmly rooted in his early training as his assured technique and his idiosyncratic manner of approaching a subject. In the same way that a pianist has to practise constantly, so Picasso too, throughout his life, kept his eye and hand in top form. His sketchbooks and his many studies contained endlessly repeated versions of the same motif, all executed with just a few lines and often with a single, assured stroke.

The single-line drawing was in fact a widely-used teaching method. It brings home the specific form of a subject better than any other technique; only if the drawer has looked very closely and has internalized the essentials of the form he will be able to reproduce it with a single line. A motif set down in this way remains in the artist's memory, always available. And because the technique was so basic, it was of central importance to Picasso. His whole life long, he created new visual worlds by means of representational copying.

The schematic nature of the academic approach to the appropriation of reality played a similar part in his development. First the subject was envisaged in geometrical terms, then it was rendered in outline, and then it was three-dimensionally modelled. This process was to remain the heart of Picasso's artistic method. For him, drawing always came first, irrespective of whether he was working in oil, printed graphics, sculpture or ceramics. This is why the seemingly rudimentary, often childlike sketches account for such a large body of his output. But the preliminary sketches for "Guernica" or the great sculpture "Man with Sheep" only look childlike at a first, cursory inspection. In fact they are skilful drawings with the precise task of recording the formal principles of new ideas. Only when a notion had acquired contour and recognisable form in this way did Picasso proceed. He worked in ways of such austerely rational, quasi-scientific logic that in this respect he must surely stand alone in modern art. It is only because his tireless labours produced such a superabundance of work that the popular image of his creative methods is a different and unclear one.

It need cause no surprise that Picasso's training struck such deep roots and influenced him for so long. After all, it was an intensive schooling: he was exposed to it not only in extreme youth, but also repeatedly. The tuition he received at art college in Barcelona (1895 to 1897) was essentially the same again. We do well to remember that the treadmill effect of such repetition must have been a more significant factor than Picasso's tender years.




In point of fact, beginning to study at an early age was by no means so very unusual. Ary Scheffer, famed internationally as a painter in the early 19th century, began systematic training at the age of eleven; and the French academic painter Jean-Jacques Henner, now totally forgotten, began professional training at twelve. At Barcelona, the sculptor Damian Campeny began at fourteen, the earliest possible age there. When Picasso was allowed to sit his entrance exam in advance of the regulation date, in September 1895, his fourteenth birthday was still a month away. For a prospective student only a month off formal entitlement, sterner treatment would have been small-minded.

Picasso's oils of that period treated relatively few subjects over and over, in a fairly uniform style. There are a striking number of human heads, of every age and walk of life and of both sexes. These studies are done in broad, expansive pastose, using monochrome earthy browns or ochre yellows and sparing local colour to model the light and shadow on faces. Generous as Picasso's brushwork is, the contours remain precise, so that the overall impression tends to be one of draughtsmanlike clarity. We are reminded of great Spanish antecedents such as Diego Velazquez, Francisco de Zurbaran or Bartolome Esteban Murillo. Once again, however, the more immediate influence was of course Picasso's academic tuition.


Use of brush and paint followed preliminary training in drawing and priming. As with drawing, training proceeded in stages: first copying from existing designs, then from genuine objects, and finally the rendering of living models. In learning how to paint a face, students were also acquiring the basic principles of all painting from life: modelling of light effects, the establishment of a foundation tone using broad strokes, pale colours for the light areas and darker for the shade (with the hair constituting a distinct area in itself) - then a more specific distinction of light and dark through smaller brush strokes, working through to detailed toning. Every kind of painting, not only portraits but also (for example) landscapes, was done in accordance with this basic procedure. Picasso's paintings, whether interiors, studies of heads, or landscapes, followed it precisely. That is to say, he was not yet betraying the influence of any contemporary movements in art - even if remote similarities can at times be identified.

A rear view of a nude woman which he painted in 1895 is interesting in this connection. It is a copy of a work by the contemporary painter Arcadi Mas i Fontdevilla. The latter's painting also uses loose brushwork; but the brush strokes are not as patchy, schematic and indeed almost mosaic in effect as those in Picasso's Corunna head studies or the landscapes he painted on holiday at Malaga. These works exemplify the next stage in his academic training. Light and shadow, and colour tonality, were established in contrastively juxtaposed brush strokes that conveyed a mosaic impression. This method was systematic, and well-nigh guaranteed strong impact; a painter who followed it would produce works of persuasive effect. Finally, the tuition programme culminated in the step-by-step rendering in oil studies of a live nude model. Picasso did good work of this kind as a youngster, much like that of any other 19th-century painter who underwent this kind of academic training.

Female Nude


Academic Nude



A Quarry
Malaga, summer 1896





House in a Wheatfield



Head of a Boy



Bust of a Young Man



This training was rigorously formal and designed to drive out the spontaneity in an artist, and inevitably had considerable disadvantages. Autonomous values of colour, so important to new movements such as Impressionism, were played down. The expressive potential that is in the manner in which an artist applies the paint to the surface, important to great 17th-century artists and much later to Impressionists and Expressionists alike, was altogether out. Academic painting aimed to produce a final work in which the preliminaries were absorbed into a smooth overall finish.

But the disadvantages were worth putting up with for a signal advantage. Colour established form, confirming the contour established by the drawn line. This sense of colour stayed with Picasso till the end of his career: colour was intimately connected with form, and could be used to intensify or defamiliarize it. Still, Picasso's academic training alone could never have made him what he became, much as he owed it in later life.

A schoolbook in which the ten-year-old Picasso scribbled sketches has survived from 1891. On one of the sheets he drew a frontal view of a cat. The head is so outsize that at first we do not notice the few lines that indicate the body. Those lines are randomly placed and uncertain, while the head, somewhat clumsy though it may be, shows a clear attempt to render the animal precisely. If the study were one done from nature, this would be remarkable, since it would signify an inconsistency; and it would be all the more remarkable if we bear in mind that the cat would have had to be caught in motion, a task that even professional artists are not necessarily equal to. But in fact if we take a look at the drawings in Picasso's schoolbooks we find that most of them were copies of other work, mainly of folksy graphic art; so probably the cat too was copied from someone else's model drawing, not from nature.

In point of fact, art-college textbooks were full of schematic nature studies for copying purposes, many of them showing cats. They looked much like Picasso's hasty sketch, with the difference that the head and body, united in Picasso's drawing, were separate.



The Barefoot Girl



The inconsistency in his drawing resulted from an attempt to make a whole out of parts before he had the skill to do so. This is most instructive. It does not imply lack of ability; but it does point to a specific shortfall in his capacity at that stage. The boy will doubtless have known of these textbooks of model drawings through his father, who would have used them for teaching purposes himself. His father will have prompted the boy to copy the drawings in them. Having seen his son's gift at work, he will have offered guidance - of a subtle and effective kind. If we look through the young Picasso's sketches, we see that his studies from academic originals were invariably done earlier than we might expect, given the stage he was at in his own training. At school he was already copying college work; at college he copied the next year's material in advance. His father enrolled the boy in courses ahead of normal schedules - though he also encouraged a free artistic imagination in the lad. The young Picasso's work includes not only studies of an academic nature but also an abundance of very different material, mostly caricatures and other studies of the home milieu, of parents and siblings, relations, friends. Caricatures were fun to do; but the pleasure Picasso presumably took in them must have afforded a safety valve for any irritation at his strict training, too. They also tell us that he had a sure hand at registering form with a constructive, creative imagination. No wonder he remained fond of caricature throughout his life.


The Artist's Father


The Artist's Father


The Artist's Mother

The Artist's Mother



Free work (of the student's own choice) was also a part of academic training. Students were encouraged to do their own studies outside studio requirements, to develop an ability to solve unusual problems. They were expected to have a sketchbook with them at all times, to record striking motifs. Picasso's parents gave him his first album in early 1894, and that autumn gave him a second. They were the first of a great many sketchbooks which served Picasso as his most direct and personal tool. The importance of these sketchbooks has only become evident in recent years. Of course modern artists use sketchbooks; but to use them on Picasso's scale was more of a feature of art in older times. In this respect, again, Picasso was a creature of tradition.
Picasso's father was unremitting in moulding his son along his own lines. He wanted him to be the academic painter par excellence. He himself painted animal scenes and genre paintings, the kind of work traditionally considered of secondary value; and he wanted his son to paint figure and history paintings, which were then valued above all else. And so Picasso's freely chosen studies turn out to be mainly figure and portrait studies. And his father's oppressive influence shows again in the fact that he himself was his talented son's preferred subject.


Portrait of Aunt Pepa



This process culminated in two paintings the father prompted the son to do in 1896 and 1897, "First Communion" and "Science and Charity". Picasso's father sat for the doctor whose skill and knowledge will determine the patient's fate. And his father also influenced the reception of the pictures by using his contacts with newspaper critics." He was omnipresent in the young Picasso's life. The boy's whole education took place in schools and colleges where his father was on the staff.

Deliberately though Picasso's training was steered by his father, and intelligent though it was, it was also outdated. Elsewhere in Europe, this academic method had been superseded. Compared with other countries, the art scene in Spain when Picasso was a youngster was decidedly on the conservative side. From 1860 to 1890 the history paintings of Eduardo Rosales, Mariano Fortuny and Francisco Pradilla dominated Spanish art; their work was comparable with that of a Thomas Couture in France, a Gustaaf Wapper in Belgium, or a Carl Friedrich Lessing in Germany - all of them artists clinging to a training acquired in the first half of the century, and to views on art that had peaked in mid-century.


Science and Charity



So a crisis was inevitable in Picasso's life. In 1897, when his father sent the sixteen-year-old to the Royal Academy in Madrid, it was a great mistake. The legend-makers have tended to claim that Picasso attended none of his courses at all - but he did in fact go to those of Moreno Carbonero. Still, he was profoundly disappointed by studies at the Academy, and concentrated on copying the old masters in the Prado. In June 1898 he gave up his Madrid studies for good.

It was the first evidence of his unusual personality. He could not learn anything new or better in Madrid because the tuition methods were the same as in Corunna or Barcelona. He could see all the shortcomings clearly, his own as well as the Academy's. It was not as if he no longer needed guidance. His copy of Velazquez's portrait of King Philip IV of Spain, for instance, is a decidedly mediocre piece of work. His whole life long he had certain fundamental weaknesses, such as a tendency to apply his concentration one-sidedly. If a subject made a variety of demands on him, Picasso would prefer to tackle the one he thought important. His early academic studies were accomplished enough, but often they were sloppy in one way or another; later, he would still often make crucial mistakes. For instance, in his portraits he often positions the eyes wrongly, a typical result of an inadequate grasp of the overall relation of parts to the whole.

A letter he wrote to a friend on 3 November 1897 shows how much he craved good instruction in Madrid. In it he complains bitterly of the backwardness and incompetence of his teachers and says he would rather go to Paris or Munich, where the art tuition was the best in Europe. Munich would even be best, he said -although he was going to go to Paris - because in Munich people didn't bother with fashionable stuff such as pointillism! In other words, Picasso was longing for the kind of academic training a Franz von Stuck gave; but he was not interested in the methods and ideas that were currently considered avant-garde.


Portrait of Philip IV (after Velazquez)


Self-Portrait as an 18th-Century Gentleman



Head of a Man in the Style of El Greco


Though it may seem astonishing or paradoxical, the fact is that Picasso did not become Picasso under the influence of progressive ideas but because an old-fashioned milieu was imposing superannuated notions on him. He found it impossible to make do with routine and mediocrity. Fully aware that the decision to quit the Academy would seriously damage relations with his father, for whom Madrid still represented the gateway to desired success, Picasso made a radical break - despite the total uncertainty of his new future. Not yet seventeen, he set about achieving his independence in every respect. And from now on he went his own way.


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