Pablo Picasso: The Protean Form Unleashed

By Stern, Fred | The World and I, May 2010 | Go to article overview

Pablo Picasso: The Protean Form Unleashed


Stern, Fred, The World and I


Ask an art collector, historian or critic to name the 20th Century's most compelling, most versatile creator of the visual arts. Chances are, they'll tell you, "Pablo Picasso."

Greatly influential, and always surprising with abrupt and novel changes of style, the Spanish artist kept his admirers on their toes. Just when they would arrive at a firm evaluation of his oeuvre, Picasso would change styles again, creating new conceptualizations of painting, printmaking, sculpture and ceramics.

Here's how Picasso described himself: "Many artists look at things in one particular way, the same technique ... year after year, sometimes for a whole lifetime ... I always thrash about rather wildly. I am a bit of a tramp. You can see me at this moment, but I have already changed. I am already somewhere else. I can never be tied down, and that is why I have no style."

And within each of the styles and media in which he worked, his output was prolific. Yet, although works by Picasso abound, they have lost little of their monetary value--their prices at auctions and through private sales, are typically sky-high. His reputation remains equally high.

Perhaps it is because of the abundance of his work and its generous presence in the collections of American museums, along with the public's ongoing fascination with his art and his personal life, museums around the country are mounting or have recently mounted exhibitions devoted to the master. For example, the Philadelphia Museum of Art had a blockbuster Picasso exhibit earlier this year. Even tiny Williamstown, Massachusetts had a special exhibition of Picasso art which is part of its magnificent collection at the Singer Museum.

In New York City alone, three major museums are doing Picasso shows. The Metropolitan Museum from now until the end of July 2010 offers not only an overview of Picasso's achievements over his more than 50 year career, but a timeline for layman and experts to follow. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has a show of the Picasso drawings and prints in its collection. And the Guggenheim Museum features its own treasure trove of Picasso and the "School of Paris" featuring many of his contemporaries, all luminaries in the French art scene. They include Jacques Villon, Fernand Leger and Picasso's fellow Spaniard Joan Miro.

The Picasso Evolution

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) came by his talents naturally. His father was an art teacher and painter in Malaga, a city in Spain's Andalusian region. As such he instinctively recognized his son's amazing talent. Legend has it that the young man's father stopped painting and drawing from the time he realized how far his work and talent paled beside that of his son. Shortly thereafter the family moved to Barcelona (1895) where young Pablo's talent could best be nurtured. Soon however, his father, believing that Pablo was ready to go to art school, looked to Madrid and one of Spain's best schools Madrid's Royal Academy of San Fernando where he gained his son's acceptance. And so in 1897, Pablo Picasso at age 16 became that school's youngest student. But school was not for him and he cut classes.

Months later Picasso returned to Barcelona. There he had his first ever exhibition at "Els Quatre Gats" (The Four Cats), a meeting place and bar favored by the city's numerous artists. Picasso's early association with this group of young artists and their encouragement of his developing artistic powers helped him greatly. In many ways these friends led to his network of associations in Paris and elsewhere, formed throughout his life, that helped immeasurably in advancing his art.

At Els Quatre Gats, records indicate that Picasso showed portraits of his artist friends--probably he was too poor to hire professional models--and a painting entitled "The Dying Woman." This sad theme, probably inspired by the death of his sister Conchita who died of diphtheria at the age of seven and brought tragedy into his young life, was also to reoccur often during his long career. …

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