Art of the 20th Century

A Revolution in the Arts


Art Styles in 20th century Art Map







Pablo Picasso

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 Art of Youth 



Picasso's decision to abandon his academic training was a decisive crisis in his youth. The upheaval of having to leave everything behind produced an immediate and visible result: he fell ill. In spring 1898 in Madrid he came down with scarlet fever, and was quarantined for forty days. We cannot say whether his psychological state was responsible for the illness, but his bad health hardened Picasso's resolve. He was scarcely recovered but he turned his back on Madrid. After spending a brief while in Barcelona, he went to Horta de Ebro with his friend Manuel Pallares. He stayed for almost nine months in Pallares's home village in the deserted hills of Catalonia, till February 1899. The two friends would go on long walks together, and painted and drew.

Picasso then returned to Barcelona and embarked on his independent career in art. The Catalan metropolis was his base till his definitive final move to France in 1904. They were restless years, and Picasso spent a number of longer periods in Paris as well as making a further five-month attempt to settle in Madrid in 1901. And of course they were unsettled years of crisis for Spain, too. In 1898, through its colony Cuba, Spain became involved in a war with the USA. Defeat spelt the end of what remained of Spain's colonial empire and claims to be a world power.

It was a turning point, and brought profound political, social and cultural insecurity with it. People were torn between loyalty to a great past and new affiliation with Europe. Their ideas ran the entire gamut from liberal republicanism to anarchism. Castile and Andalusia lost their dominance, while the industrial north came into its own.


In such a period, the seventeen-year-old Picasso had considerable capital, albeit not of a financial kind. He was confident, talented and young. He had contacts. And he had unlimited energy. His father's encouragement had married a natural talent that took demands easily in its stride, and the inevitable upshot was independence of character. It was helpful that his father indirectly cut the umbilical cord by renting a studio for his son during his studies in Barcelona. More importantly, the father's strategies had already gained Picasso a certain professional recognition.



The Embrace



In 1896 "First Communion" was exhibited in Barcelona. This was the third arts and crafts exhibition to be held there (after 1891 and 1894), a major event intended to showcase contemporary Catalan culture. Some thirteen hundred works were on show, by important artists of every aesthetic persuasion. The press response was also a major one. To be exhibited in that show was a triumph for a fifteen-year-old, even if his father's contacts had helped; to be praised in a leading newspaper, even if he won no prizes, was even better.

A year later he painted the grand "Science and Charity". Anecdotal realism was a popular variety of historical painting at the time. Picasso's picture had thematic links with various other paintings that had been successfully exhibited, some of them in the Barcelona show. Again his father's prompting and influence were decisive. Picasso submitted the work to the Madrid General Art Exhibition, and it was taken by a jury that included the painter Antonio Munoz Degrain, a friend and colleague of his father's to whom the youth had already given a portrait study." "Science and Charity" received an honourable mention at the exhibition, and subsequently a gold medal in Malaga.



The Brutal Embrace



So Picasso was known to those who followed contemporary art when he set out on his own way. And Barcelona was a good place for it, a progressive city compared with traditionalist, academic Madrid. Spanish art nouveau was based in Barcelona, in the form of a group of artists known as the modernists, and in Barcelona too were their successors and antagonists, the post-modernists. An architect of global importance, Antoni Gaudi, was changing the face of the city. The current aesthetic concerns of Europe were hotly debated, and adapted to local needs. Barcelona was the centre for avant-garde Spanish art, and at the nearby seaside resort of Sitges the Festa Modernista was held, an art nouveau event to which special trains were run.

In June 1897 the Barcelona cafe "Els Quatre Gats" (The Four Cats) opened its doors. It was an artists' cafe and hosted changing exhibitions in the spirit of "Le Chat Noir", the "Ambassadeur" or "Le Mirliton" in Paris. True, "Els Quatre Gats" survived only till 1903; but in its short life it was the hub of Catalonian artistic life. Leading "Modernistas" helped establish it: the painter Ramon Casas (who won an award at the exhibition of 1896), painter and writer Santiago Rusinol, and the journalist Miguel Utrillo. And leading post-modernists were among its clientele, including Isidre Nonell, Joaquim Mir and Ricardo Canals.



The Embrace in the Street



It cannot have been too difficult for Picasso to join these circles, since they would have heard his name; and belonging to them was a good start for his career. In the art world as in any other, talent and energy need personal contacts to help them on their way.

And it was contacts that helped decide Picasso for Paris. Though he was impressed by what he had heard about Munich, it was to Paris that he made his move. Munich art was seen in Barcelona, and indeed at the 1896 exhibition painters and sculptors from Munich constituted the largest foreign contingent. But Paris was closer in various senses. It had an established Catalan community, including a number of artists temporarily living and working in the city. So Picasso did not have to conquer the great metropolis single-handed.


Gypsy Outside "La Musciera"



He first visited Paris in autumn 1900, for the World Fair, where his painting "Last Moments" had been chosen for the show of Spanish art. Friends from "Els Quatre Gats" smoothed his way in Paris. He was able to use their studios when they were visiting Spain, and he was introduced to the industrialist and art dealer Pedro Manach, who afforded him a first secure foothold. Manach signed a contract with Picasso guaranteeing to take his pictures for two years and to pay 150 francs per month by way of fixed income. He also floated the idea of a first Paris Picasso exhibition at the Galerie Vollard in 1901.


The Montmartre Fair



To Picasso, this was no more than an entree into the art market. For the moment, Spain seemed the better territory for his ambitions. In early 1901 he went to Madrid and started an art magazine together with a young writer, Francesc de Asis Soler. It was meant as a platform for Spanish art nouveau and was tellingly titled " Arte Joven" (Young Art). Benet Soler Vidal, whose family put up the money for the project, was the editor, while Picasso was the art director. It was not a particularly successful magazine and folded after five issues; but it was eloquent of Picasso's views on art at that period. Contributions were squarely in line with the "Modernista" spirit, though they had a distinctly satirical and even nihilist flavour to them. Picasso did the majority of the illustrations. The magazine was modelled on the Barcelona modernist organ "Pel y Ploma" (Brush and Pen), the presiding artist of which was Ramon Casas. The aim was plainly to take contemporary art to Madrid, the conservative heart of Spain. When failure became inevitable, Picasso returned to Barcelona, and subsequently devoted his attention to Paris.


Montmartre Braserie: The Flower Vendor


At that time his work took its bearings from what the Spanish avant-garde approved. He put his academic leanings aside and adopted the new creative approaches of the period in the way he had learnt: by copying. The works shown in his first exhibition at "Els Quatre Gats", for instance, consisted mainly of portraits done after the example of Casas' famous pictures of prominent people. The people Picasso portrayed were not as well known, but he used the same approach, drawing them from the knees up against a colourful background, using a mixture of charcoal and watercolour.


The Barcelona Bullring



Stylistically, these works are strongly contoured with heavy outlines, and the facial features are highlighted with a few economical strokes. Picasso works in polarities. The overall shape is briskly established, but within it the face and body are differently treated. The long vertical lines or broad-area charcoal smudges are broken up with thick, obvious details. It is all done with great panache, but it is clearly simpler and even more schematic than pictures by Casas, where formal contrasts are far more subtly deployed. Picasso is out for rapid, foreground impact, and has reduced the structure of the models he is following to a principle, leaving the background a large bare space.

To reduce the given to a principle, and to define form in terms of linear contour and outline, were things that Picasso had learnt in his training; so the line-based art of art nouveau presented no problem to him. The menu he designed for "Els Quatre Gats"  in 1899 is a good example. Every shape is rendered in clear line. Figures and background details work in plain zones of monochrome colour, or else are offset from each other by minor, stylized details. The illustration shows the speed and assurance with which Picasso had adopted a "Modernista" approach. There would be no real point in suggesting a specific influence on such a work."'' Far too many of his works are much the same; Picasso was almost into serial production, and the tendency stayed with him later and repeatedly demonstrated the intensity with which he would pursue a subject or form. Themes such as an embrace or a kiss were to be repeated many times over, often varied only in some minor detail. He sketched poses and groupings over and over, deploying the results in various changing compositions.


Menu of "Els Quatre Gats"


Interior of "Els Quatre Gats"


The Divan



But Picasso at that time did not confine himself to the repertoire of art nouveau. He was omnivorous in his taste for new aesthetic trends. Some of his drawings and paintings show him reworking the formal idiom of El Greco. The Greek-born painter had evolved his own distinctive style of elongated proportions and powerful colours in the late 16th and early 17th century in Spain. From El Greco Picasso borrowed the expressive elongation and the restless brushwork. He had seen original El Grecos in the Prado, of course; but his interest was also very much a product of the period. For centuries El Greco had been forgotten, and it was not till the 19th century that avant-garde artists rediscovered him. Charles Baudelaire was an admirer, Eugene Delacroix and Edgar Degas collected his work - though as late as 1881 a director of the Prado felt able to dismiss El Greco's paintings as "absurd caricatures". It was not till the "Modernistas" that this Spanish attitude really changed; Utrillo, above all, was instrumental in the revival of El Greco's fortunes.


The Blue Dancer



But it was Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec who made the most powerful impression on the youthful Picasso. His posters and paintings, draughtsmanlike in manner, economical, precise, often on the verge of being caricatures, held a particular appeal for Picasso. Toulouse-Lautrec was well known in Barcelona, but it was not till he visited Paris that Picasso saw originals and even bought posters to hang in his own studio. As well as formal considerations , what interested him was the Frenchman's subject matter, the world of the cabaret and night club, the world of dancers and conviviality. Soon Picasso was producing his own pictures on these themes. In 1900, Picasso's interest in Toulouse-Lautrec peaked in his painting "Le Moulin de la Galette". Inside, there is a crowd; further on, beyond a diagonally cropped group of women seated at a table to the left, we see dancing couples as in a frieze. The subject and the treatment are reminiscent of a Toulouse-Lautrec done in 1889, which in turn was a reworking of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's 1876 painting of the merriment at the famous Moulin, transposing the colourful fun from the garden to the interior and to night. Picasso follows Toulouse-Lautrec, and intensifies the effect by using the gas lighting to establish an atmosphere of half-light, a uniform duskiness in which the figures appear as patches of colour against a dark background. Correspondingly, the style of brush-work is more summary, working in large blocks and pinpointing only a few characteristics of the people shown. The people have in fact been stripped of their individuality and are merely props to illustrate social amusement.


Le Moulin de la Galette



So Picasso was not merely imitating. He also tried to reconceive the originals he copied. Very soon he was trying to rework diverse influences in a single work. A good example painted on cardboard in 1901 is "Pierreuse". A young woman wearing a red top and a decorative hat is seated at a blue table, leaning on both elbows, her right arm crooked to clasp her left shoulder. Her attitude is one of protective barring and signals that she is withdrawn within herself. Dreamily she gazes away into an undefined and indistinct distance.

A sense of transported absence is conveyed not only by the woman's pose but also by Picasso's compositional subtlety. The woman is leaning across to the left side of the picture, establishing a falling diagonal and thus introducing a quality of movement into the work. But it is movement that is meticulously counterbalanced and neutralized by the composition as a whole. The use of spatial areas is richly ambivalent. Inclining across the table, the woman seems to be coming nearer to us, and with her hat cropped more than once by the picture edge it is as if she were on the point of stepping out towards us. At the same time, though, her position on the other side of the table emphasizes inaccessibility. It is a painting of mood, and the contrastive use of colour, with the dichotomy of flat areas and broken-up form, serve to underline its mood. While the face and body are strongly outlined and colourfully painted in monochrome, the background is an iridescent tapestry of colour dabs. It is a restless patchwork of yellow, red, blue and green, and the pastose painting disturbs our eye and establishes productive unclarities. Picasso was using techniques borrowed from the pointillists, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and the Nabis all in one, to make a style of his own.




The Dwarf



The same applies to his portrait of Pedro Manach. It is an uncompromising frontal view. Manach's right hand is on his hip, his left arm almost straight. The figure is a well-nigh pure study in outline, set against an ochre yellow and almost entirely undifferen-tiated background. Background and figure alike are done as large areas lacking finish, and the face too has been established with only a few lines and colours. It is a picture of contrasts, the yellow background offsetting the white and dark brown of the clothing; but the signal red of the tie, striking the sole aggressive note, has the effect of resolving polarities and bringing the whole work together. The influence of van Gogh's Provence work done late in life, and of the Pont-Aven school, is palpable.


Portrait of Pedro Manach


Portrait of Josep Cardona


The Closed Window

Of course contemporary critics were quick to notice Picasso's adoption of current avant-garde artistic styles. Reviewing the work shown in 1901 at the Galerie Vollard, Felicien Fagus wrote that Picasso had plainly been influenced by "Delacroix, Manet, Monet, van Gogh, Pissarro, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Forain, perhaps even Rops". The only thing wrong with this assessment is that it misses out an important name or two, such as that of Gauguin.

But the sheer number of influences on Picasso at that time need not only be seen in a negative light. It is normal for young artists to be influenced as they try to find their own style. And Picasso wasn't merely copying; he was quickly able to harmonize various influences into new wholes. If this had not been so, it would be hard to understand his early success on the art market. He had an excellent memory for formal qualities, one which stored them so deeply that they became part of his own way of thinking. He was imitating, yes - but he did so in order to find a style entirely his own.


1900 - 1901


La Corrida






Bullfighting Scene


La Corrida


Head of a Woman


Portrait of a Woman


The Plumed Hat


French Cancan


Woman Leaning on a Table. Three Female Profiles


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