Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is considered to be the greatest artist of the 20th century. In his prolific career, which spanned 78 years, he created more than 20,000 works of art including paintings, lithographs, etchings, and sculpture. In 1947, for example, he created 2,000 pieces of ceramics and in 1968, in a seven-month period, he returned to some of his earlier themes such as circuses, and bullfights to create 347 etchings. His work encompassed many styles — from realism to cubism and surrealism — making it impossible to categorize into a single movement. He and fellow painter Georges Braque are credited with creating the cubist style. Another of Picasso’s innovations was the creation of collage — he pasted pieces of paper and oilcloth to a canvas and painted on the surface in a 1912 work titled Still Life With Chair Caning. Although he is best known for his innovative, cubist work Picasso had an extraordinary drawing skill, rivaling the expertise of 19th century neoclassical artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.
Picasso was born in Mlaga, Spain on October 25, 1881, the son of an art teacher. Prior to 1898, he used his father’s name, “Ruiz,” and his mother’s maiden name, “Picasso,” to sign his paintings. After 1901, he signed his work simply with the name “Picasso.” A child prodigy, he painted his first picture at the age of ten; by 15 he was accepted at the Barcelona School of Fine Arts where he won a gold medal for his academic painting, Science & Charity, 1897.
Picasso’s major periods can be roughly divided into the following, although in his later years he returned to earlier themes.
After trips to Paris between 1900-1902, Picasso settled there in 1904 where he was influenced by Paul Gauguin and the group of symbolist painters called The Nabis. The influence of Edgar Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec is reflected in The Blue Room, 1901 — which was the start of his evolution towards his Blue Period. In this phase, the color blue dominated his work as did the theme of portraying human suffering and misery, in many cases also reflecting the style of El Greco in the use of elongated figures.
Picasso met Fernande Olivier shortly after moving to Paris, the first of many companions who would influence the style, theme, and mood of his work.. In this case, his happiness and joy was reflected in his changing palette — to reds and pinks. His favorite subjects in this period were circus themes as in Family of Saltimbanques, 1915, or portraits of his companions which at the time included poet Max Jacob, writer Guillaume Apollinaire, art dealers Ambroise Vollard and Daniel Henry Kahnweiler, and writer Gertrude Stein and her brother, Leo.