One cannot deny or ignore the importance Pablo Picasso had for the development of art and what we today see as the most important and influential shifts in its history. It was Pablo Picasso sculpture which inspired the famous Vladimir Tatlin to coin a revolutionary art movement in Russia, his collages to inspire the term mixed media, and his collaboration with Georges Braque produced one of the most fruitful avant-garde movements of the early 20th-century. Known as the father of Cubism movement, this brilliant and often brutal man, created and dominated across an array of art disciplines and mediums. Most famous for his painting production, Picasso’s experimental mind quite possibly found the most freedom and playful expression in his sculptures. It is here that the famous painter lacked any formal training, which he started early on for painting and drawing, yet this did not stop him. Recognized as the inventor of the assemblage sculpture, this side of his production Picasso kept to himself until the late 1960’s when the public was made aware of his love for metal, wood, plaster, ceramics, and any everyday object which surrounded him in the occupied Paris during the war and which the painter cast in bronze. This playfulness followed Picasso until the end, and some of the most famous examples of his later developments in sculpture became most memorable pieces of present public sculpture. One such example is found in Chicago and is for sure a proud landmark of this city.
Playing and breaking the rules was what Picasso was all about and we now invite you into the story of his three-dimensional journey and some of its best examples in order to showcase how this creative mind overturned every rule and contributed to the understanding of the present term - modern sculpture.
At some of the crucial moments of his long lasting career, Picasso turned from two-dimensional experiments in order to explore the relationship between the space and the object and to use the gained knowledge to push the borders of the traditional understanding of what art is. His three-dimensional production was for some even seen as the starting point for the major ideas of the Cubism movement. The famous bronze head portrait of Fernande Olivier, simply titled Head of a Woman, with its suggestion of various perspectives, and strong volume of mass is seen as influential for the shift in Picasso’s approach to the painting and his major ideas about cubism style. Early on Picasso turned away from the traditional art of modeling favoring the idea of assemblage and construction. This is evident in his famous work Guitar, a three-dimensional object made out of strings, cardboard, and paper. Showcasing his interest for space and found materials, Picasso’s approach is seen as influential for the understanding of the history of junk art, and the combines of the famous American painter Robert Rauschenberg. In a similar way that Picasso approached the incorporation of everyday objects in his collages, his sculpture showcases the rule that anything goes and can be used and the breaking from the traditional materials and definition of the medium. The transformation of the everyday into art is of course at the base of the understanding of the Duchamp’s readymades yet in Picasso’s production we witness a greater respect for the resources, the found objects, and the playful game of associations. This is evident in the famous work Bull’s Head, where Picasso employed the bicycle seat and handles to form the piece. With the exception of cast bronze, that he seemed not to care so much for, Picasso didn’t find a material he could not control or use.
It was in the production of the famous painter Paul Cezanne that Picasso found the key to his creative achievement. Cezanne’s understanding of how to display the essential from nature and to implement it for the creation of a cohesive surface was what Picasso witnessed at the retrospective exhibition of this master at Salon d’Automne in 1906, and which impressed him the most. During the same time, another major influence appeared at this was the dominant interest in the primitive sculptures and the ritualistic objects of the African and Oceanic region. Draw to the tradition of the African sculpture, due to its sophisticated abstraction of form and instant recognition of the spiritual, Picasso was not the only creative that understood the magic and freedom this culture displayed. This found its way on the surface and stylization of figures in his famous painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. The faceted female bodies and masklike faces of the figures in this painting continued to interest the author who produced a large number of sketches and sculptures that played and researched the ideas of the primitive sculpture, rituals, and more importantly masks. Along the two mentioned influences, we cannot avoid the fact that Picasso’s sculptures go hand in hand with his production on canvas, and for many his sculptures are his painting’s jump into the third dimension. It is not surprising then that we witness the similar approach to geometrical investigation and the breaking up of the surfaces in his paintings and his sculpture works as well.
At one point Picasso described his sculpture as an ‘ unknown civilization’ and many see this ground, possibly not as prolific as his two-dimensional works, but for sure as more liberating, and playful. The autobiographical element of his creation found its way into his sculpture pieces as well, and his later pieces incorporated his son’s toys following his adopted method of using everyday objects from the beginning. At the end, the unrestful ego of the author still kept asking for more and with his sculpture demanded more of monumental scale. Many understood sculptures as companions in Picasso’s life and there is a great amount of photographs that display his lifestyle with the evidence of his love for this medium.
People don’t tend to think of Picasso as a sculptor, but he was an astounding one. He approached the medium with the self-taught freedom, breaking all the rules. His sculptures have been subject to a number of surveys and exhibitions. In 2015, Museum of Modern Art in New York organized a sweeping survey of his influential work in three dimensions entitled Picasso Sculpture. After the exhibition MoMA organized in 1967 entitled The Sculpture of Picasso, this was the first such museum exhibition in the United States in nearly half a century. Looking at the famous artist's sculptural oeuvre, we've assembled a list of the most famous Picasso sculptures!
Cast in bronze, the sculpture Baboon and Young from 1951 portrays a mother baboon holding its offspring. As an example of found art, the piece was created by modeling an assemblage of items with plaster. The baboon’s head is created with two toy cars borrowed from his son Claude and cup handles posing for ears, while the pottery jar is used to form its body and the shape of shoulders and an automobile spring to form its tail. Created in his villa near Vallarius, this piece is a fine example of Picasso’s power of metaphorical transformation. He created several figures of nurturing and caring out of his domestic items.
The piece Untitled from 1967, also known as Chicago Picasso, is a monumental sculpture placed in Daley Plaza in Chicago. Weighting 162 short tons and 50 feet tall, this sculpture is a first Picasso major public artwork. Drawing on many Picasso’s experiments throughout his career, this piece shows a dislocation and distortion of the form and a basketwork structure with minimalist contours. It depicts the bust of a woman and it is believed that it was inspired by Sylvette David with whom Picasso had a platonic relationship. Commissioned by the architects of the Richard J. Daley Center in 1963, the construction cost was $351,959.17. Picasso was offered $100,000 for the piece, but he refused the money stating that the piece was a gift to the city.
The piece Woman in the Garden is a large, whitewashed, welded-metal sculpture. It was one of the last in a series of pieces submitted to a memorial committee in search of a graveside marker for the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. Picasso created several forms of submissions in collaboration with the sculptor Julio González. The piece was created by welding the piece of cast bronze. The woman depicted sits on a low pedestal, with her front consisting of an assemblage of assorted metal bits and bobs. Five waving pieces of curling metal are topping the piece. It is believed that a kidney-shaped plate in the middle is her womb. It was photographed by the infamous photographer Brassai in 1932 in Picasso’s garden at the Chateau de Boisgeloup.
The piece Maquette for Guitar from 1912 is one of the first pieces that redefined sculpture as something closer to architecture and an assembly of open, planar components. An assemblage or a three-dimensional collage, this piece is created from cardboard, paper, string, and wire folded, threaded and glued together. It was a first sculpture created from disparate parts and it resembled no sculpture ever seen before. Fluidly integrating mass and its surrounding void, this piece translates Picasso’s Cubist interests in multiple perspectives and geometric forms into a three-dimensional object continuing to blur the distinction between high art and culture. In 1914, Picasso recreated this sculpture in a more fixed and durable sheet metal form.
The piece Glass of Absinthe is distinctive by the use of an actual absinthe spoon that was used without any further alteration. In an age of allegorical sculptures, the rendering of a glass of alcohol was shocking for its banality. This specific inclusion of the spoon that was assigned a representational role, grew out of his collage works, but opened up a whole new category of found-object assemblage. Picasso cast six bronze copies from the wax original, each decorated in a unique way. Speaking about his desire to explore different modes of representation, he stated: “I was interested in the relation between the real spoon and the modeled glass. In the way they clashed with each other”.
The piece She-Goat is a massive life-size bronze assemblage of a wicker basket body, a palm leaf back, two ceramic flowerpots for the udder, and other elements. The majority of these objects were found in fields near Picasso’s Vallauris studio. After he formed the skeleton with them, he filled it with plaster. Deeply embedded in European art since Classical times, the goat motif is here depicted as pregnant and it represents a certain optimism following the war and developments in his personal life since his young mistress Francoise Gilot has recently given birth to their second child. The goat here represents fertility and renewal of life.
Five-and-a-half inches high, this beautiful and simple sculpture entitled Centaure has been cast in 18-carat gold. Part of a limited edition of ten, this piece has a goldsmith’s mark of Francois and Pierre Hugo. This piece was created after Picasso married his lover Jacqueline. Picasso was interested in mythology throughout his career and yet this is another depiction of the ancient Greek Homeric figure. Being reduced to two-dimensional linear relief and characterized by the simplicity of line, this piece perfectly captures the dynamics of this mythological animal. Referring to an ancient Greek fertility device, the centaur has one extra phallic leg.
The piece Bull’s Head is another one of Picasso’s found object works. It was created in 1942 from seat and handlebars of a bicycle. Described by Roland Penrose as Picasso’s most famous discovery and a simple yet “astonishingly complete” metamorphosis, this piece was exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1944 shocking the visitors and causing a demonstration. As Picasso explained himself, he found these rusty parts that joined in his head before he had a chance to think. The art critic Eric Gibson described the piece as a unique piece among Picasso’s sculptures for its honesty and transparency. The piece has a strong visual impact and almost mysterious, simple wonder.
Painted in shades of gray that resemble Picasso’s palette during and after the World War II, the piece Goat Skull and Bottle from 1951 was created from found materials cast in bronze. During this period, Picasso made several monochromatic pieces that evoke the atrocities of war. The candle and a skull serve as reminders of human’s mortality. Handlebars of a bicycle are used for goat’s horns, while large bolts are representing its eyes. The corrugated cardboard that is covering the head implies its hair. As in many Picasso’s sculptures, these found elements that form a whole are not fully giving up their original identities.
The piece The Pregnant Woman was created in 1950 in Vallarius. The figure’s breasts and distended womb are made out of potted jars and a vase. The pottery used is plainly visible and it possibly refers to Picasso’s own ceramic works. His lover Francois Gilot who lived with him between 1946 and 1953 believed that this piece signified a wish fulfillment when she refused to have a third child with him. She said that when he made this figure and she stated she didn’t like, he hacked her feet off.
Editors’ Tip: Picasso Sculpture
This book was published in conjunction with the first large-scale exhibition of Picasso’s three-dimensional works at MoMA. Beautifully illustrated it displays the rich production and one of the artist’s great loves kept private until the 1967 historic exhibition. Organized in a chronological order to the display the major stylistic shifts, the book reflects and comments upon the periods that Picasso devoted to sculpture allowing the reader greater insights into one of the most influential minds and characters of the 20th-century.
All images used for illustrative purposes only. Featured image in slider: Installation view – Pablo Picasso Sculptures, MoMA, 2015. Image via moma.org; Pablo Picasso - Guitar. Image via theartblog.org; Pablo Picasso - Untitled, public sculpture, Chicago. Image via loopchicago.com