The name of Pablo Picasso is virtually synonymous with modern art. However you observe his career, there is truly no denying the fact that Picasso paintings changed the course of art history with his revolutionary innovations. The legendary Spaniard utterly transformed multiple mediums, making so many works that it’s hard to fully grasp his achievements. It is estimated that Picasso produced somewhere around 13,500 images and drawings, about 100,000 prints and engravings, 34,000 book illustrations and more than 300 sculptures during his life. This was enabled by the fascinating work ethic of the Spanish painter as Picasso created pieces literally non-stop from the year of 1900 to 1973 when he died. What’s even more impressive than those unbelievable numbers is the realization that everything Picasso authored was essentially innovative. Luckily we are not in a position to know this for a fact, but it’s completely logical to claim that a lot of art movements of the 20th century would not occur without the influence of Picasso paintings.
The Transformation of Picasso Paintings
As was a common situation with all avant-garde movements, the reason for an artist’s importance had very little to do with his technical skill. Instead, representatives of such movements were judged on their creativity and ability to think outside of the box – something Picasso was extremely good at. However, this should not lead to an inaccurate conclusion that Picasso was not capable of painting at a level as some of the greatest artists in history. As a matter of fact, Picasso’s skill was able to rival some of the biggest painters of the 19th century, such as Caspar David Friedrich and Théodore Géricault, when he was only thirteen years of age! By his fifteenth birthday, Picasso was capable of painting like any Italian great master. Because of such matchless talent, he was considered a child prodigy within the art circles and early Picasso paintings were treated as wonders by their contemporaries. Although this fascinating ability is an incredible accomplishment on its own, Picasso’s true value does not have anything to do with it. Actually, it was the exact moment when he realized that technical skill could not take him any further that effectively started Pablo Picasso’s role in art history.
Just How Crucial are Picasso Paintings?
It was an entire assembly of influences in his life, ranging from Paul Cézanne‘s images and Henri Rousseau‘s jungle depictions to archaic and tribal art, that ultimately shaped Picasso’s visual vocabulary after the year of 1906. Around that time, Pablo Picasso first started to lend his figures more weight and structure – a decision that set his work on the path towards Cubism. During this famous avant-garde movement which Picasso shaped and shared with a fellow painter Georges Braque, Picasso deconstructed the conventions of perspective that had dominated painting since the time of the Renaissance. Cubism broke the stranglehold of representational subject matter on art and set the tempo for other 20th-century artists, having far-reaching consequences for practically all of modern art. Since choosing the ten most fascinating Picasso paintings is an extremely challenging task, we dared not to rank them. Instead, we organized them chronologically, presenting them in a way that displays all of the artist’s emotions, passions, hatreds and fears in the exact order Picasso experienced them himself.
Editors’ Tip: Picasso: 200 Masterworks from 1898 to 1972
Besides offering an overlook of the most famous Picasso paintings, this book also brings to light some other, lesser known pieces. Since Pablo Picasso was an extremely prolific artist throughout his life, there are logically many rarely seen works that are held in private collections, tucked away from the public and all its curious eyes. Picasso: 200 Masterworks from 1898 to 1972 presents over 250 such pieces, which were all shown in an exhibition at Milan’s Palazzo Reale in the autumn of the year 2001. Since the exhibition did not tour, this book now offers the world a way to see these masterworks. They include oil pieces, aquatints, prints, sculptures and terracottas from every period of Pablo’s work, as well as textiles such as the ballet Russe costumes Picasso created for Diaghilev. The purpose of this book is to open up the Picasso’s work and personal legacy to a greater section of the public. It also features every woman portrait Pablo Picasso ever made.
Featured images: Portrait of Pablo Picasso – Image via Magnum photos; Portrait of Pablo Picasso next to his pet – Image via godubrovnik.com; Pablo Picasso wearing a hat and holding a revolver and holster provided by Gary Cooper, Cannes, 1958 – Image via imgur.com
The Old Guitarist, 1903-04
The Old Guitarist is an oil painting which Pablo created somewhere between the years of 1903 and 1904. This dark-themed painting portrays an old weak man hunched over his guitar and playing his instrument on the streets of Barcelona. It is said that Picasso painted this piece after his close friend Casagemas had decided to take his own life. This was also the time when he turned a sympathetic ear towards the downtrodden and those struck by poverty. Presenting us with visuals comparable to the gritty work of El Greco, The Old Guitaristis often highlighted as the crown of Picasso’s Blue period.
Featured Image: The Old Guitarist, 1903 – Image via alternativearts.ca
Harlequin with Glass, 1905
Harlequin with Glass was painted by Picasso in the year of 1905. It was during this time that the artist’s style underwent severe changes caused in part by personal reasons. Starting with this colorful piece, Pablo left the joyless world of the Blue Period behind him and turned his attention to a new kind of imagery. Additionally, Picasso introduced new colors that characterize Harlequin with Glass. The painter is no longer so pessimistic and for the first time in his career, Picasso is actually celebrating life. This is only one of several Picasso paintings in which the artist documented the life of the performers in circus and carnival which he frequently visited from time to time.
Featured Image: Harlequin with Glass, 1905 – Image via metmuseum.org
Boy with a Pipe, 1905
Boy with a Pipe was painted in 1905 when Picasso was 24 years of age. It was created during his famed Rose Period, soon after the painter settled in the legendary Montmartre section of Paris. This oil painting depicts a Parisian boy holding a pipe in his left hand and wearing a garland or wreath of flowers on his head. It is said that the preparations for the Boy with a Pipe was a prolonged process as Picasso placed the young man in all types of poses that involved standing, sitting or leaning against the wall. After much re-positioning of the model, Pablo Picasso finaly decided to go with the boy sitting down. Boy with a Pipe is a crucial milestone which set the stage for many future Picasso paintings.
Featured Image: Boy with a Pipe, 1905 – Image via wikimedia.org
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907
The famous Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was painted in 1907 and is one of the most exemplary models of art history’s greatest rule-breakers. This interior scene of a Barcelona brothel is responsible for introducing the new avant-garde concepts of Cubism and is the painting which completely breaks away from the traditional composition and representation of painting. In Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Picasso used distorted female bodies and geometric forms, developing the new visual vocabulary of Cubism. Picasso worked on this piece for over nine months. Raw and primitive, the painting’s style is derived from the African art Picasso saw in Paris’s Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro.
Featured Image: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 – Image via wikimedia.org
Girl with a Mandolin, 1910
As evidenced by the Girl with a Mandolin, the pictorial language of Picasso’s paintings had already become increasingly hard to decipher by the winter of 1910. This is one of the most interesting examples that history has in its arsenal in that regard as Pablo’s images were becoming more abstract but not entirely so. Picasso was steadily divesting his images of mere likeness, that is undeniable, but this was not the same as progressive elimination of the subject commonly found, for example, in Wassily Kandinsky‘s work. Despite the significant problems of analysis and interpretation which this picture presents, Girl with Mandolin is by no means totally devoid of realism.
Featured Image: Girl with a Mandolin, 1910 – Image via weebly.com
Man With a Pipe, 1915
The year 1915 was a somber one for Picasso. Whilst some of his fellow painters such as Braque were off fighting in the World War I, Picasso was viewed with suspicion by contemporary society as he was young and healthy yet did not go to fight and do his part. Definitely created under the emotional impact of such an uncomfortable situation, Man With a Pipe was painted in the year of 1915. The entire colorful composition is underlined by quiet humor and feeling of composure – aspects Picasso did not often have in his repertoire. The use of Pointillist-style dots herald Picasso’s return to color exploration, as well as his interest in the development of interior design processes.
Featured Image: Man With a Pipe, 1915 – Image via taggreen.com
Le Reve, 1932
Le Rêve is a 1932 oil painting which Pablo Picasso painted as a 50 years old man. In it, the artist portrayed his 22-year-old mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter. Although there is no way of confirming this as a fact, it is said to have been painted in only one afternoon. It is the crown piece of Picasso’s distorted depictions period and it is characterized by oversimplified outlines and contrast colors resembling early Fauvism. Le Reve, meaning The Dream in French, is often called out as one of most erotic Picasso paintings ever made – it is even said that the painter depicted his own manhood in the upturned face of Marie-Thérèse Walter.
Featured Image: Le Reve, 1932 – Image via artpaintingartist.org
Girl Before A Mirror, 1932
Painted during the March of 1932, Girl Before A Mirror presents us with an another image of Picasso’s French mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter. The entire piece serves as a definite instruction manual to Cubism – an artist takes an object, breaks it down into simpler parts and then recreates those elements on a canvas through depicting geometric shapes. The subject of Girl Before A Mirror is a meditation on female vanity and fear of aging. The colorful visuals are quickly subdued by the chilling depiction of a woman staring into the dark and distorted abyss of her future self, fearing the inevitable which is sure to come.
Featured Image: Girl Before A Mirror, 1932 – Image via thirddime.com
Probably the best example of how art is able to make strong political commentary, Guernica is a composition made in 1937 considered to be one of the most famous Picasso paintings ever. Thematically speaking, it focuses on the horrifying bombing practice Nazi forces employed during the occupation of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. With such goals in mind, Pablo depicted the tragedies of war and the way innocent civilians suffer. The style of Guernica is a unique combination of pastoral and epic. This eleven feet tall and twenty-five feet wide masterpiece is a loud and powerful indictment against war. Unfortunately, a terrible event came this painting’s way in 1974. Tony Shafrazi, an artist who later became a gallery dealer, mutilated the piece with spray paint. Luckily, MoMA was able to restore Guernica because Shafrazi had been at least prudent enough to use paint that could easily clean off. However, the event did leave a mark on the composition and Guernica was never quite the same again.
Featured Image: Guernica, 1937 – image via jkrweb.com
Dora Maar au Chat, 1941
Dora Maar au Chat is a painting which was made by Picasso in 1941. It features the Spaniard’s Croatian lover who is displayed sitting on a chair with a miniature cat perched on her shoulders. By his own admission, Picasso had a decade-long relationship with Dora Maar and over this period he painted her portraits many times, with most of the depictions being extremely antagonistic. However, Dora Maar au Chat from the year of 1941 is considered to be the least hostile painting of Dora Maar and also, one of the most expressive Picasso paintings he ever made. An extraordinary attention to details is what underlines the greatness of this masterpiece.