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Picasso, Pablo (1881–1973)

Spanish-born painter and sculptor, credited (with Georges Braque) for having cocreated Cubism, and one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. Pablo Picasso was born Pablo Ruiz in Málaga, Spain, on 25 October 1881. He showed artistic genius at a very young age and began signing his works "Pablo Picasso" in his late teens (Picasso was his mother's maiden name). From his father, José Ruiz Blasco, who was an artist himself, Picasso learned the essential elements of his trade. He attended several prominent art schools in his youth but never earned a degree. When he was barely twenty years old, he ventured to France and fell in love with Paris, which was arguably the artistic center of the world. He would become a virtual permanent resident of France, although he never became a French citizen. Art historians have categorized Picasso's works by placing them into several different categories. The Blue Period (1901–1904) featured dark and gloomy blue-tinted works that often depicted various street people such as acrobats, prostitutes, beggars, and harlequins. The Rose Period (1905–1908) was more uplifting than the previous one and utilized soft reds, pinks, and orange-colored paintings. Picasso's brief African Period (1909–1910) was so named because he used African objets d'art as his focus. The most famous painting in this genre is Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (The Young Ladies from Avignon). From 1909 to 1912 Picasso, along with his close collaborator Braque, pioneered Cubism, which essentially deconstructed objects, broke them down into their component shapes, and then reconstructed them. The results were often unforgettable if not controversial. Picasso evolved Cubism over the years to include a more synthetic Cubism that employed collage, lending it legitimacy among serious artists for the first time. As he moved into sculpture, he utilized Cubism to endow his works with an almost other-worldly dimension. He has often been said to have flirted with surrealism, although the artist flatly denied any connection to the movement made famous by Salvador Dalí.

Picasso's personal life was punctuated by torrid love affairs, marriage, separation, extramarital affairs, and at least one illegitimate child. He was a self-avowed pacifist and rather apolitical, except for his joining the Communist Party in the early 1940s. This he did mainly to show his displeasure with the quasi-fascist government in power in his native Spain. He refused to fight in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). However, perhaps his most famous painting, Guernica, was a visual protest of the barbaric bombing of a Basque village (Guernica) by fascist allies of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in 1938. During World War II, Picasso stayed on the political sidelines and again did not take up arms. He made France his home, spending much of his time in the south of France, and continued to produce both sculpture and paintings, although his work now tended to be less politicized than it had been in the 1930s and 1940s.

Picasso did become involved in the postwar peace movement and took strong exception to U.S. involvement in Korea and the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. For the remainder of his life, he continued to confound and astound his critics. Although some attempted to categorize him as a modernist, Picasso's work usually defied such categorization. And Picasso himself dismissed such labeling. Without doubt, he was one of the most famous and celebrated artists of the twentieth century and influenced countless other artists. Picasso died in Mougins, France, on 8 April 1973.

Paul G. Pierpaoli Jr.

Further Reading
O'Brian, Patrick. Pablo Ruiz Picasso: A Biography. London, Collins, 1989.

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