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Pablo Picasso: Redefining Modernist Art From Realism to Cubism

Why is Pablo Picasso one of the most famous artists in the world, and a household name for modern art? He is best known as one of the founders of Cubism, a movement that became so famous that from 1910 to 1920, when it was just beginning, spin-off movements stemmed from it like Futurism, Dada, and Constructivism! Picasso is also credited with inventing the constructed sculpture, co-inventing the collage art style, and redefining the world of plastic arts. Learn about his legacy with this image-packed summary showcasing Picasso's many famous art styles.

Not a reader? No worries! Learn all about Picasso's art and life with our easy-to-follow YouTube video:

Picasso’s Early Life

Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain in 1881. His full name is Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, which followed traditional Andalusian customs that honored his past relatives and saints. 

Picasso's mother
Pablo Picasso, The artist's mother, 1896.

His father worked as a painter and art professor and was impressed with his son's work from a young age. His mother claims that one of his first words was asking for a pencil, and once Picasso was 13 years old his father reportedly vowed to give up painting believing his son had surpassed him. 

Picasso’s Education and Interest in Art

Pablo Picasso Landscape
Pablo Picasso, House in the Field, 1893

When Picasso's seven-year-old sister passed away, his family moved to Barcelona where he was admitted into an advanced arts program at the age of 13. At 16, Picasso was admitted to the Royal Academy of San Fernando, the best art school in Madrid. However, he didn’t like the school’s focus on traditional and classical art, so he dropped out soon after. While realism was very ingrained into his early artwork, once introduced to Symbolist influences, his work began to take on its own modernist approach.

Picasso’s Move From Spain to France: Where he Developed his Practice

In the early 1900s, Picasso moved between France and Spain before settling in Paris in 1904. There, he lived with the poet Max Jacob while learning French. They lived as starving artists for a short while, even burning their own artwork for heat! Picasso's adult working life was spent in Paris and was defined by thematic art periods.

The Artistic Periods of Pablo Picasso

Blue Period (1901-1904)

Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist, 1903-04

Picasso's Blue Period took place from 1901-1904. His work was influenced by poverty and its effects on the society around him. All his works during this period were in monochromatic blues and blue greens. One of his most popular pieces from this period is The Old Guitarist which shows his sympathy for and personal connection to poverty.

Rose Period (1904-1906)

Pablo Picasso, Family of Acrobats with Monkey, 1905

Picasso's Rose Period took place from 1904-1906. In this period, he began to overcome his depression and found some success. This period utilized pinks, oranges, and a larger colour palette in general. His work frequently featured circus performers and clowns, which continued throughout his career. During this period he started a relationship with an artist named Fernande Olivier who appeared in several of his paintings during this period – this relationship may have also been an influence for his artistic shift. 

African Influence Period (1907-1909)

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907

Picasso first became influenced by African art during this period from 1907 to 1909, though he continued to draw from it for the remainder of his career. Picasso pulled away from the traditional French influences, as African art, mostly in the form of sculpture, was brought to France during the expansion of the French empire. He began to experiment with the African style of depicting the human figure, and painting styles derived from the works of Paul Cezanne and Paul Gauguin. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is one of his most well-known works, though it was controversial among artists when it was made and still carries some controversy today.

Cubism Period (1909-1919)

Pablo Picasso, Girl With Mandolin, 1910

Picasso's Cubist Period lasted from 1909-1919, following directly after he painted Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. This style was created by Picasso and Georges Braque. It featured muted colors and was based on breaking objects down into basic shapes and using abstracted forms. With his geometric approach and techniques with color, Picasso changed art's direction with this movement alone, though it was clearly influenced by his prior period. 

Final Period (1919-1973)

Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937

From 1919 and onwards Picasso embraced and combined all the styles he'd learned throughout his life. Some of his most famous works, the most notable being Guernica, were created during this period of time. Guernica is a strong anti-war painting made after the bombing of the city Guernica in northern Spain. 

Picasso’s Legacy 

Pablo Picasso, Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O), 1955

Picasso passed away at the age of 91 in 1973. Throughout his career he created over 20,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, and other items such as costumes and theater sets. Though a controversial figure in the arts, he was undoubtedly one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, becoming one of the most well known names of modern art by the age of 50. His painting Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O) ranks as the tenth most expensive painting to ever sell, reaching $179.4 million at Christie’s auction.

Picasso’s art practice explored many styles, from realism to abstract cubism. His rejection of realism and traditional styles guided him in his pursuit of discovering new styles and experimenting with abstraction. Despite initially living in poverty, Picasso was able to experience fame and success during his life, and that is attributed to his drastic style change that shook the art world. 

Teacher Resources

Are you a teacher looking for classroom content on Pablo Picasso? Check out our art history learning bundle!

Dive deep into Picasso's genius with our comprehensive resources including an educational video, interactive slideshow with speaker notes, worksheets, an artist poster, and a bonus teacher resource guide.

Embracing modern teaching dynamics, our resource packs seamlessly adapt to both physical and digital classrooms, offering customizable content suitable for elementary, middle, and high school levels.

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