Pablo Ruiz y Picasso, also known as Pablo
Picasso (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973), was a Spanish painter, sculptor,
printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet and playwright who spent most of his
adult life in France. As one of the greatest and most influential artists of the
20th century, he is known for co-founding the Cubist movement, the invention of
constructed sculpture, the co-invention of collage, and for the wide variety of
styles that he helped develop and explore. Among his most famous works are the
proto-Cubist Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), and Guernica (1937), a portrayal of
the Bombing of Guernica by the German and Italian airforces at the behest of the
Spanish nationalist government during the Spanish Civil War.
Picasso, Henri Matisse and Marcel Duchamp are regarded as the three artists who
most defined the revolutionary developments in the plastic arts in the opening
decades of the 20th century, responsible for significant developments in painting,
sculpture, printmaking and ceramics.
Picasso demonstrated extraordinary artistic talent in his early years, painting
in a naturalistic manner through his childhood and adolescence. During the first
decade of the 20th century, his style changed as he experimented with different
theories, techniques, and ideas. His work is often categorized into periods. While
the names of many of his later periods are debated, the most commonly accepted
periods in his work are the Blue Period (1901–1904), the Rose Period (1904–1906),
the African-influenced Period (1907–1909), Analytic Cubism (1909–1912), and
Synthetic Cubism (1912–1919), also referred to as the Crystal period.
Exceptionally prolific throughout the course of his long life, Picasso achieved
universal renown and immense fortune for his revolutionary artistic
accomplishments, and became one of the best-known figures in 20th-century
Style and technique
Picasso was exceptionally prolific throughout his long lifetime. The total
number of artworks he produced has been estimated at 50,000, comprising 1,885
paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics, roughly 12,000 drawings, many
thousands of prints, and numerous tapestries and rugs.
The medium in which Picasso made his most important contribution was painting.
In his paintings, Picasso used color as an expressive element, but relied on
drawing rather than subtleties of color to create form and space. He sometimes
added sand to his paint to vary its texture. A nanoprobe of Picasso's The Red
Armchair (1931) by physicists at Argonne National Laboratory in 2012 confirmed art
historians' belief that Picasso used common house paint in many of his paintings.
Much of his painting was done at night by artificial light.
Picasso's early sculptures were carved from wood or modeled in wax or clay, but
from 1909 to 1928 Picasso abandoned modeling and instead made sculptural
constructions using diverse materials. An example is Guitar (1912), a relief
construction made of sheet metal and wire that Jane Fluegel terms a
"three-dimensional planar counterpart of Cubist painting" that marks a
"revolutionary departure from the traditional approaches, modeling and
From the beginning of his career, Picasso displayed an interest in subject
matter of every kind, and demonstrated a great stylistic versatility that enabled
him to work in several styles at once. For example, his paintings of 1917 included
the pointillist Woman with a Mantilla, the Cubist Figure in an Armchair, and the
naturalistic Harlequin (all in the Museu Picasso, Barcelona). In 1919, he made a
number of drawings from postcards and photographs that reflect his interest in the
stylistic conventions and static character of posed photographs. In 1921 he
simultaneously painted several large neoclassical paintings and two versions of the
Cubist composition Three Musicians (Museum of Modern Art, New York; Philadelphia
Museum of Art). In an interview published in 1923, Picasso said, "The several
manners I have used in my art must not be considered as an evolution, or as steps
towards an unknown ideal of painting ... If the subjects I have wanted to express
have suggested different ways of expression I have never hesitated to adopt
Although his Cubist works approach abstraction, Picasso never relinquished the
objects of the real world as subject matter. Prominent in his Cubist paintings are
forms easily recognized as guitars, violins, and bottles. When Picasso depicted
complex narrative scenes it was usually in prints, drawings, and small-scale works;
Guernica (1937) is one of his few large narrative paintings.
Picasso painted mostly from imagination or memory. According to William Rubin,
Picasso "could only make great art from subjects that truly involved him ... Unlike
Matisse, Picasso had eschewed models virtually all his mature life, preferring to
paint individuals whose lives had both impinged on, and had real significance for,
his own." The art critic Arthur Danto said Picasso's work constitutes a "vast
pictorial autobiography" that provides some basis for the popular conception that
"Picasso invented a new style each time he fell in love with a new woman". The
autobiographical nature of Picasso's art is reinforced by his habit of dating his
works, often to the day. He explained: "I want to leave to posterity a
documentation that will be as complete as possible. That's why I put a date on
everything I do."
At the time of Picasso's death many of his paintings were in his possession, as
he had kept off the art market what he did not need to sell. In addition, Picasso
had a considerable collection of the work of other famous artists, some his
contemporaries, such as Henri Matisse, with whom he had exchanged works. Since
Picasso left no will, his death duties (estate tax) to the French state were paid
in the form of his works and others from his collection. These works form the core
of the immense and representative collection of the Musée Picasso in Paris. In
2003, relatives of Picasso inaugurated a museum dedicated to him in his birthplace,
Málaga, Spain, the Museo Picasso Málaga.
The Museu Picasso in Barcelona features many of his early works, created while
he was living in Spain, including many rarely seen works which reveal his firm
grounding in classical techniques. The museum also holds many precise and detailed
figure studies done in his youth under his father's tutelage, as well as the
extensive collection of Jaime Sabartés, his close friend and personal
Several paintings by Picasso rank among the most expensive paintings in the
world. Garçon à la pipe (Boy with a Pipe) sold for US$104 million at
Sotheby's on 4 May 2004, establishing a new price record. Dora Maar au
Chat sold for US$95.2 million at Sotheby's on 3 May 2006. On 4 May 2010,
Nude, Green Leaves and Bust was sold at Christie's for $106.5 million. The
1932 work, which depicts Picasso's mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter reclining
and as a bust, was in the personal collection of Los Angeles philanthropist Frances
Lasker Brody, who died in November 2009. On 11 May 2015 his painting Women of
Algiers (Les Femmes d'Alger) set the record for the highest price ever
paid for a painting when it sold for US$179.3 million at Christie's in New
As of 2004, Picasso remained the top-ranked artist (based on sales of his works
at auctions) according to the Art Market Trends report. More of his paintings have
been stolen than any other artist's; the Art Loss Register has 550 of his works
listed as missing.
The Picasso Administration functions as his official Estate. The US copyright
representative for the Picasso Administration is the Artists Rights Society.
In the 1996 movie Surviving Picasso, Picasso is portrayed by actor
Anthony Hopkins. Picasso is also a character in Steve Martin's 1993 play,
Picasso at the Lapin Agile.