Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.
Painter, draftsman, sculptor, printmaker, photographer, ceramicist, designer, playwright, and poet, Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881–1973) contributed peerless innovations to the visual culture of the twentieth century. He created several of the great masterpieces of modernism, including Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) and Guernica (1937), co-invented collage and Cubism, designed groundbreaking sets and costumes for the theater, coined the term “sur-realism,” and invented assembled sculpture (assemblage). Driven by boundless artistic energies and ambitions, he was the very personification of the avant-garde, and many of the movements of the last century could not help but develop in his orbit as artists worked consciously either to absorb his influence or rebel in his shadow.
Born in Málaga, Spain, on the Mediterranean coast, Picasso began painting and drawing under the tutelage of his father, José Ruiz Blasco, himself a painter and an art school instructor. Picasso proved to be a child prodigy, achieving a remarkable academic facility at a young age, and studied formally at art schools in La Coruña, Barcelona, and Madrid. He began to visit Paris in 1901, settling there permanently in 1904. Picasso was influenced by the Modernisme movement in Barcelona and by Post-Impressionism and the Fauves in Paris, yet developed variations distinctly his own.
Early in his career Picasso’s styles and subjects developed in tandem: the poverty in which he and his friends lived manifested in the Blue Period (1901–04); circus performers, harlequins, and the blush of love informed the Rose Period (1904–06). But for the remainder of his career, his essential subjects were perception itself, the mysteries of representation, and his own ability to create. A respect for indigenous African and Polynesian sculpture began to shape the way he depicted volume and mass in the proto-Cubist period that led to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. With Georges Braque, he incorporated the lessons of Paul Cézanne’s facture and perspective, jump-cut shifts in time from the cinema, and the uncanny improvisations of collage and assemblage to forge the most radical approach to depicting spatial relationships since the Renaissance: Analytic Cubism (1909–12) and Synthetic Cubism (1912–19). These experiments would form the foundation of an idiosyncratic idiom that would permeate his work across all mediums and changes in style for the next fifty years.
The 1920s saw further developments in Cubism; a reflection of his Mediterranean heritage in a muscular neoclassical style; fine, Ingre-esque portraits inspired by photography; and Surrealist, sexy, biomorphic mutations influenced as much by Ovid’s Metamorphoses as by Sigmund Freud. Though his work always remained recognizably his own, Picasso could switch tracks and move between styles in a way that might suggest the work of several painters rather than a singular polymath.
Picasso dedicated much of his effort in the early 1930s to sculpture and printmaking and curated his first career retrospective, an exhibition of 236 works presented at the Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, and the Kunsthalle Zürich in 1932. In 1935 he stopped painting and sculpting for nearly a year to dedicate his time to writing poetry. As the Spanish Civil War intensified, the Republican government named him director of the Museo del Prado in Madrid (albeit in absentia) and commissioned him to create a mural for the Spanish Pavilion of the Paris International Exposition of 1937. He took as his subject the recent destruction of the Basque town of Guernica by Nazi and Italian forces at the behest of the rival Spanish Nationalists, creating one of the most enduring antiwar icons in history. Though Guernica made him a political target of the Fascist regimes, he remained in Paris for the duration of World War II, surviving the Nazi occupation.
After the war Picasso moved to the south of France, where he would reside for the rest of his life. Classical, Mediterranean themes returned to his work. He was offered a municipal museum in Antibes to use as his studio and gifted the works created there to the town, inaugurating the first museum dedicated to his work (Musée Picasso, Antibes). He engaged with the ancient pottery traditions of the town of Vallauris to create ceramics and revived his sculptural practice, making assemblages from roadside refuse and innovative silhouettes of folded sheet-metal. He also created paintings, drawings, and prints, often in series, challenging the history of painting by confronting his heroes, the great masters of the past: Diego Velázquez, Rembrandt van Rijn, Francisco Goya, Eugène Delacroix, Édouard Manet, and Edgar Degas. By appropriating their compositions, improvising on their themes, and sometimes even incorporating these masters as characters in his own invented narratives, Picasso secured his place among them.
Picasso was widely exhibited during his lifetime and continues to be so posthumously. He died in Mougins, France, in 1973, leaving no will. He was married twice: first to Olga Khokhlova in 1917, and then to Jacqueline Roque in 1961. In addition, he had partners who served as important muses to his oeuvre: Fernande Olivier (1904–12), Marie-Thérèse Walter (1927–c. 1940), Dora Maar (1936–c. 1945), and Françoise Gilot (1943–53). He had five children: Paul (with Khokhlova), Maya (with Walter), Claude (with Gilot), Paloma (with Gilot), and a stepdaughter, Cathy (Roque’s daughter from a previous marriage). The settlement of Picasso’s estate in 1979 allowed for the establishment of the Musée national Picasso, Paris.
Photo: Michael Sima/Rue des Archives/Granger
Extended through June 29, 2019
Picasso’s Women: Fernande to Jacqueline
A tribute to John Richardson
May 3–June 29, 2019
980 Madison Avenue, New York
Extended through February 24, 2018
Picasso and Maya
Father and Daughter | Curated by Diana Widmaier Picasso
October 19, 2017–February 24, 2018
Extended through February 24, 2018
By the Book
October 19, 2017–February 24, 2018
Picasso Pop-Up Shop
Books, Editions, Posters, Prints, Design
April 28–June 3, 2017
Davies Street, London
Picasso: Minotaurs and Matadors
Curated by Sir John Richardson
April 28–August 25, 2017
Grosvenor Hill, London
Extended through February 18, 2017
A Selection from the Collection of Maya Ruiz-Picasso
November 10, 2016–February 18, 2017
976 Madison Avenue, New York
May 20–June 15, 2015
Picasso & the Camera
Curated by John Richardson
October 28, 2014–January 3, 2015
West 21st Street, New York
Visions of the Self: Jenny Saville on Rembrandt
Jenny Saville reveals the process behind her new self-portrait, painted in response to Rembrandt’s masterpiece Self-Portrait with Two Circles.
Picasso in Italy: An Interview with Olivier Berggruen
Celebrating the one hundred-year anniversary of Picasso’s first trip to Italy, the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome is hosting the exhibition Picasso: Tra cubismo e classicismo 1915–1925, a grand presentation of two hundred works by the artist.
Diana Widmaier Picasso, curator of the exhibition Desire, reflects on the history of eroticism in art.
The story behind the sculpture that Diana Widmaier Picasso highlighted in Picasso’s Picassos: A Selection from the Collection of Maya Ruiz-Picasso.
Picasso and Dalí
Known influencers, but did they influence each other?
Art Basel 2019
June 13–16, 2019, booth C9
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Art Basel, presenting works by Georg Baselitz, Joe Bradley, Alexander Calder, Willem de Kooning, Urs Fischer, Ellen Gallagher, Alberto Giacometti, Katharina Grosse, Mark Grotjahn, Jeff Koons, Man Ray, Albert Oehlen, Pablo Picasso, Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra, Andy Warhol, Mary Weatherford, Tom Wesselmann, and Franz West, among others.
Jeff Koons, Sacred Heart (Magenta/Gold), 1994–2007 © Jeff Koons
Picasso Scholar and Art World Luminary
Wednesday, May 29, 2019, 6–8:30pm
The Players, New York
As a scholarly tribute to the late art historian and Picasso biographer John Richardson, art historian and curator Diana Widmaier Picasso; Pepe Karmel, associate professor at New York University; and Ross Finocchio, editorial assistant to Richardson, will each discuss the art world giant’s extraordinary life and myriad accomplishments. After the talks, Delphine Huisinga, Richardson’s researcher for volume 4 of his A Life of Picasso, and Michael Cary, director of research at Gagosian, will join the speakers for a conversation and question-and-answer session.
The event is organized by the International Foundation for Art Research. Richardson was a member of IFAR’s board of directors and art advisory council from 1981 until his passing in 2019. To attend the event, purchase tickets at www.ifar.org.
Picasso and John Richardson, Vauvenargues, France, 1959. Photo: Jacqueline Picasso, courtesy John Richardson Archive
Visions of the Self: Rembrandt and Now
In partnership with English Heritage
Thursday, April 25, 2019, 6pm
Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, London
Gagosian director and art historian Richard Calvocoressi will lead a tour of the exhibition Visions of the Self: Rembrandt and Now at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, London. Calvocoressi will take a look at postwar and contemporary masters of self-representation, anchoring the conversation to an important Rembrandt masterpiece included in the exhibition, Self-Portrait with Two Circles (c. 1665). The event has reached capacity. To join the wait list, contact email@example.com.
Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait with Two Circles, c. 1665, English Heritage, The Iveagh Bequest (Kenwood, London). Photo: Historic England Photo Library
Picasso and Antiquity
Line and Clay
Through October 20, 2019
Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens
Picasso and Antiquity: Line and Clay includes rare drawings, engravings, and pottery by Pablo Picasso, depicting marine creatures, animals, human figures, and mythological scenes.
Pablo Picasso, Colombe, 1954, Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid © Succession Picasso 2019. Photo: © FABA Marc Domage
De la Renaissance à nos jours
Through October 27, 2019
Fondation de l’Hermitage, Lausanne, Switzerland
The Fondation de l’Hermitage is exploring the use of the shadow in Western iconography. The exhibition features an entirely new selection of nearly 140 artworks, representing a diverse range of artistic forms, from painting to installation, sculpture, prints, drawings, cutouts, photography, and video. Work by Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol is included.
Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait, 1966 © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./2019 ProLitteris, Zurich
Crystals in Art
Ancient to Today
October 12, 2019–January 6, 2020
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas
Crystals in Art explores the connections between crystals and art throughout the world, spanning history and geography. The exhibition includes a selection of works and specimens from ancient Egypt up to the present day and addresses broader recurring themes in the history of crystals such as science and religion, art and medicine, aesthetic beauty and transformation, and more. Work by Chris Burden, Pablo Picasso, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol is included.
Chris Burden, 1/4 Carat Diamond 1/4 Carat Cubic Zirconium Magnified 25 Times, #3, 2007 © 2019 Chris Burden/Licensed by the Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Préhistoire, une énigme moderne
May 8–September 16, 2019
Centre Pompidou, Paris
This exhibition examines the link between prehistory and modern and contemporary art. It reveals that some of the most important artists of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have been haunted by the question, What is prehistory? Work by Alberto Giacometti, Yves Klein, Giuseppe Penone, and Pablo Picasso is included.
Yves Klein, Anthropométrie (ANT 84), 1960 © Succession Yves Klein/ADAGP, Paris 2019. Photo: Muriel Anssens/Ville de Nice