Artist Spotlight: Pablo Picasso at the MOMA

Pablo Picasso was born in Spain in 1881. Yes you read that right, Spain. Now you may be wondering, why would we at The French Language Salon want to write about an artist that wasn’t French? In the early 1900s, Paris was known as the art capital of Europe – where a young Picasso made his home, and some of the most influential modern art of the 20th Century.

Picasso’s father was a painter who specialized in objects seen in nature, and earned a living as an art professor. Picasso showed both an interest and a talent for art from a very early age, even his first word was pencil! Because of the natural gift he seemed to possess, Picasso’s father began to train him at the age of 7. Eventually, pressuring the school officials at Barcelona’s School of Fine Arts, where he was teaching, to allow Picasso to take the entrance exam. This process took most students an entire month; however, the 13-year-old Picasso completed it within a week – earning him his acceptance to the academy. By the time he was 16, Picasso’s father sent him to Madrid to attend the country’s most esteemed art school, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. Picasso, not one for formal instruction, dropped out not long after starting and chose to spend his time studying the works at the Museo del Prado instead.

Although it wasn’t until Picasso moved to Paris in 1900 that his work began to truly evolve. Picasso went through a series of artistic periods in the early 1900s, as he was living between Paris and Barcelona. Influenced by the suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas, he entered the Blue Period, where all of his work was pained in hues of blues and greens with very few warming colors. These paintings often featured images of poverty, and blindness. Immediately after, Picasso met a fellow bohemian artist Fernande Olivier and the two became lovers. This led to the Rose Period, which were happy and playful in nature – often featuring circus characters, harlequins, and sometimes Olivier herself.

In the years leading up to World War I, Picasso and friend Georges Braque developed a style of painting he named Cubism. In which he would often deconstruct regular objects, examine their various angles and shapes, and incorporate them within paintings of those objects. During the war, he took it one step further to Crystal Cubism where all of these angles and shapes were broken down even further to appear as if refracted like the inside of a diamond.

After the war, many artists including Picasso returned to neoclassicism with their works; often called “The Return to Order.” However, during the late 1920s and 1930s he began to embrace the influence of Surrealism in work that was seen to reflect the anxieties of the times leading to the German occupation of France. After the liberation, Picasso became an international celebrity from his art, and even appeared in a few films as himself. His final pieces were a mixture of the styles that influenced him throughout his life, producing a series of works not appreciated as the foothold of Neo-Expressionism until after his death in 1973.

Many of Picasso’s works are on display in New York City at the Museum of Modern Art, a few we’ve included links to below. If you’ve got a favorite piece by Picasso, tell us about it in the comments!

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907
Girl with Mandolin 1910
Pierrot 1918
Painter and Model 1928
Girl Before a Mirror 1932