Pablo Picasso: The Early Years

By McCully, Marilyn | USA TODAY, July 1997 | Go to article overview

Pablo Picasso: The Early Years


McCully, Marilyn, USA TODAY


On OCT. 25, 1881, Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Crispin Crispiniano Santisma Trinidad was born to Jose Ruiz Blasco and Maria Picasso Lopez in Malaga, Spain. He was called Pablo Ruiz Picasso, but by 1901 he had dropped his father's surname in favor of his mother's. His choice probably was influenced by the fact that Picasso, a name of Italian origin, sounded more distinguished than the common Spanish name Ruiz.

As a child, Picasso attended elementary school in Malaga and, under his father's guidance, began to draw and make paper cutouts. His earliest known drawings depict pigeons, bullfights, and a full-length figure of Hercules.

In 1891, Picasso's father accepted a position as professor at the Instituto da Guarda in La Coruna. Picasso enrolled in the Instituto in 1892, studying drawing (generally from plaster casts) with his father and sculptor and painter Isidoro Brocos. The latter also instructed him on an informal basis in watercolor techniques.

Picasso's first dated oils -- mainly portraits of family and friends -- were painted in 1894-95. His father arranged for a model for "Girl with Bare Feet" as a Christmas present.

Picasso said later in life that he preferred the paintings he did under his father's supervision in La Coruna to the work he would do at art school in Barcelona. The artist kept several of the La Coruna canvases -- including "Portrait of Ramon Perez Costales," "Beggar in a Cap," "Girl with Bare Feet," and "Portrait of a Bearded Man" -- in his personal collection until his death in 1973.

During the summer of 1895, Picasso visited the Prado Museum in Madrid for the first time and made studies of a court dwarf and a jester after paintings by Diego Velazquez. Moving to Barcelona in September, Picasso easily passed the entrance exam for the art school (known as La Llotja, as it is situated in the old stock exchange). There he met Manuel Pallares, who remained a friend for life, and they shared a small studio.

Pallares later recalled: "[Picasso] was way ahead of the other students, who were all five or six years older. Although he paid no apparent attention to what the professors were saying, he instantly grasped what he was taught.... He was well aware of his superiority, but never showed it. He often seemed melancholy, as if he had just thought of something sad. . . . At 15, he neither looked nor acted like a boy his age. He was very mature."

In order to promote Picasso as an up-and-coming Malaga painter, his father arranged for him to work on a canvas in the studio of the established Andalusian artist Jose Ramon Garnelo. The subject undoubtedly was dictated by the father; first communions and altar boys were typical of the "School of Malaga." Picasso's "First Communion" was exhibited at the 1896 Exposicion de Bellas Artes y Industrias Artisticas in Barcelona. The critic Miquel i Badia wrote that the painting represented "the work of a novice in which one perceives sensibility in the principal figures, Certain areas are painted with strength."

Picasso's father also used Andalusian connections to win his 15-year-old son a commission to copy two altarpieces by Bartolome Murillo for a convent in Barcelona. Picasso later said, "The idea bored me, so I copied them up to a point, then rearranged things according to my own ideas. Considering my age, I must admit feeling very satisfied."

In the autumn, Picasso resumed his studies at La Llotja. Although the courses offered him little more than he had encountered in La Coruna, he thrived on the academic insistence on the practice of drawing. In the evenings, he began to frequent the gathering places of young artists and writers. The lively atmosphere of the Catalan capital gave Picasso his first taste of contemporary, international artistic currents.

"Science and Charity," the large allegorical painting for which his father served as the model for the doctor, was exhibited and won an honorable mention at the Exposicion General de Bellas Artes in Madrid. …

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