Glorious Picasso Portraits That Marked the Century

May 20, 2016

One of the most important art figures of the 20th century Pablo Picasso was the father of several movements that changed the art world forever. His free spirit and eccentric style made him a household name in the art world with legions of fans and followers around the globe. The originality of his work touched every major artist and art movement that followed and many consider him to be the father of modern art itself. The artist's modern approach to portraiture has maintained the image of a human face in the center of art world that was, at the time overwhelmed with abstraction. Throughout his seven decades-long career the artist found new, modern ways of painting people and some of the finest Picasso paintings depict those closest to him.

Early in his career Pablo Picasso produced numerous portraits of his family and himself. These works created in a realistic tradition were quickly replaced with a different art style and a different subject matter. Throughout his life, Picasso created numerous depictions of women, many of whom he was personally involved with. Most of Picasso's best portraits are of his two wives, numerous mistresses, and four children. An entrance of new women in the artist's life was usually followed by a series of new portraits depicting Picasso's new girl. In these paintings, the artist represents a fascinating range of techniques, personalities and approaches always looking for a perfect balance between portraying the superficial features and the inner mood and characteristics. Whether abstract, surreal, cubist, classical or expressionist, there's still something that connects all of his portraits and makes it obvious that they were made by the same artist. In this text, we present the evolution of Picasso's portraits trough 10 astonishingly diverse and equally recognizable pieces.

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  Editor's Pick: Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation

If you are craving for more Picasso portraits after this article, you can find them in this wonderfully illustrated publication. The hundreds of works reproduced in this book illustrate the multiple solutions Picasso invented to solve the "problem" of the modernist portrait. The first 100 years of modern art witnessed the popularization of photography and an increasing emphasis on abstraction in painting, which threatened the survival of portraiture as a genre. It continued to flourish, however, because modern painters-Picasso foremost among them-sought and found new ways to portray the human face.

Featured image : Pablo Picasso ; photo by Herbert List/Magnum photos

Self portrait, 1901

Like El Greco and Vincent Van Gogh before him, Pablo Picasso also enjoyed painting himself and has produced numerous self-portraits during his long and productive life. However, one of his best and most famous self-portraits was created quite early in his career. This 1901 painting of a 20-years-old Pablo Picasso is often considered the very beginning of his blue period. We see that the artist looks significantly older, cheerless and sunken, tormented by the Paris winter. Feelings of sadness and solitude emanate from the canvas evoked by the cold blue tones of the background and the deep purple of the coat.

Featured image : Pablo Picasso - Self Portrait, 1901

The Old Guitarist, 1903

The portrayal of an old guitarist was created just after the suicide of the painter and Picasso's best friend Casagemas, and it is considered to be one of the finest examples of the Spanish artist's blue period. During this time, Pablo Picasso was deeply affected by the problems of the poor and the marginalized groups in the society, which is not surprising considering that he was struggling to make ends meet himself. The image retains a distorted style with the guitarist bending forward with his legs crossed, reminiscent of the images made by the famous Spanish 16th-century artist El Greco. The painting was also inspired by the Symbolist movement literature that often contained blind characters with the power of inner vision. The old man in the image represents a temporal, almost ghostly figure, that holds on firmly to his guitar painfully aware of his poverty and misfortune.

Featured image : Pablo Picasso - The Old Guitarist, 1903

Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1905

Gertrude Stein was a writer, an art patron and one of the crucial figures in Picasso's early career. Gertrude and her brothers became Picasso’s principal patrons, regularly acquiring his artworks and exhibiting them in Gertrude’s informal Salon in Paris. This painting is multifaceted and depicts the model's striking and stable personality but also her strong and sturdy physical features. Allegedly, it wasn't easy for the artist to create a right balance between portraying her appearance and interpreting her character which is why the image has gone trough several substantial revisions during numerous sittings in the course of its creation.

Featured Image : Pablo Picasso - Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1905

Woman with Pears, 1909

Woman with Pears represents the portrait of Fernande Olivier Pablo Picasso's mistress who also inspired the artist's rose period. This painting, however, was done in a striking cubist fashion with the subject's face fragmented into geometrical forms and then reassembled to evoke the sense of a human figure. The pears painted in the background are portrayed as round objects and oppose the sharp geometrical elements in the painting.

Featured image : Pablo Picasso - Woman With Pears, 1909

Olga in an Armchair, 1917

Unlike many of his other pieces, the portrait of the artist's first wife, celebrated ballerina Olga Khokhlova, is created in a traditional realistic manner with the aim of exploring the relationship between beauty and art. Picasso painted his future wife while dolefully sitting on a chair and looking directly at the viewer. The bright yellow of the background, flower patterns on the chair and a semi-open fan, soften the dark dressed figure that occupies the center of the image.

Featured image : Olga in an Armchair, 1917

The Dream, 1932

This bright and colorful 1932 masterpiece was allegedly painted in one afternoon when the artist depicted his 24-year-old mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter during her sleep. The painting is created in a style that resembles Fauvism - with simple lines and contrasting colors that create the distorted depiction of his subject. Many critics have emphasized the overly erotic nature of the piece that, not only shows the exposed breast of the girl but also an image of an erected penis skillfully incorporated into the upper part of the model's head.

Featured image : Pablo Picasso - The Dream, 1932

The Weeping Woman, 1937

Photographer Dora Maar was one of the most famous and most inspiring Picasso's companions. She was the model for some of the artist's finest works including an artwork, entitled The Weeping Woman is often seen as a part of the series that began with the famous artwork Guernika. Though it depicts his muse, this particular image, in fact, has a broader meaning and it was mostly inspired by the horrors of Spanish civil war. In 1937, the artist's mother called him from Spain and said that the fumes from the bombing are making her eyes water. This phone call and the images of war that flooded the newspaper at that time inspired Pablo Picasso to create this piece. The artist hasn't depicted only the pain of a woman and a nation under Franco but also the universal image of suffering. Almost as if the artist wants us to recognize our own pain and the suffering of others in the expressive black eyes of the crying figure.

Featured image : Pablo Picasso - The Weeping Woman, 1937

Dora Maar au chat, 1941

Picasso created numerous portraits of his mistress but Dora Maar au Chat represents the most valued depiction of his "private muse". Once again the artist painted his lover on a chair but this image is quite different from the depiction of his first wife Olga. Dora Maar is painted as a ruler sitting on her throne with a cat climbing onto her shoulder that symbolizes her fierce nature. The dress portrayed in a vibrant colorful manner, wraps her slick body that can not be confined by the objects around her. The image was done in a cubist manner and the layered brushstrokes add to the sculptural quality to the large three-quarter length piece.

Featured image : Pablo Picasso - Dora Maar Au Chat, 1941

Portrait of Françoise,1946

Pablo Picasso met aspiring artist Françoise Gilot in 1943 and she has become the model for several dozens of his paintings and drawings. Perhaps the most lyrical image of them all, is this simple, yet striking portrait of his young muse. Her determination, passion, and untamed spirit are evoked both in her face and wild curly hair that's the most conspicuous detail of the artwork.

Featured image : Pablo Picasso - Portrait of Françoise, 1954, via

Jacqueline with Flowers, 1954

Jacqueline with Flowers marks the entrance of a new muse into Pablo Picasso's life. His second wife Jacqueline Roque possessed a type of Mediterranean beauty that the artist loved to paint since his early days. Her dark brown eyes, high cheekbones and elongated neck are recognizable features noticeable in many of the artist's later works. Jacqueline with Flowers represents the image of Pablo Picasso's wife in her favorite seating position, with feline features and an areal of mystery, resembling closely the mythical sphinx.

Featured images: Pablo Picasso - Jacqueline with Flowers, 1954 ; All images via unless otherwise credited

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