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
Michael Cary pays homage to the visionary dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884–1979).
Grace McCann Morley
Berit Potter pays homage to the ardent museum leader who transformed San Francisco’s relationship to modern art.
The New World of Charlotte Perriand
Inspired by a visit to the Fondation Louis Vuitton’s exhibition Charlotte Perriand: Inventing a New World, William Middleton explores the life of this modernist pioneer and her impact on the worlds of design, art, and architecture.
Picasso and Maya: An Interview with Diana Widmaier-Picasso
Diana Widmaier-Picasso curated a presentation at Gagosian, Paris, to celebrate the publication of Picasso and Maya: Father and Daughter at the end of 2019. This comprehensive reference publication explores the figure of Maya Ruiz-Picasso, Pablo Picasso’s beloved eldest daughter, throughout Picasso’s work and chronicles the loving relationship between the artist and his daughter. In this video, Widmaier-Picasso details her ongoing interest in the subject and reflects on the process of making the book.
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.
Claude Picasso and John Richardson
Picasso biographer Sir John Richardson sits down with Claude Picasso to discuss Claude’s photography, his enjoyment of vintage car racing, and the future of scholarship related to his father, Pablo Picasso.
Art and Food
Mary Ann Caws and Charles Stuckey discuss the presence of food and the dining table in the history of modern art.
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?
Visions of the Self
Rembrandt and Now
Tuesday, March 17, 2020, 6:30–8:30pm
Kenwood House, London
In the interest of public health, this event has been postponed until further notice.
Gagosian is pleased to host a drinks reception to celebrate the release of Visions of the Self: Rembrandt and Now, published on the occasion of the recent eponymous exhibition at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, London. Organized in partnership with English Heritage, the exhibition places Rembrandt’s masterpiece Self-Portrait with Two Circles (c. 1665) in dialogue with self-portraits by Francis Bacon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lucian Freud, and Pablo Picasso, as well as leading contemporary artists such as Georg Baselitz, Glenn Brown, Urs Fischer, Damien Hirst, Howard Hodgkin, Giuseppe Penone, Richard Prince, Jenny Saville, Cindy Sherman, and Rudolf Stingel, among others. The catalogue includes an introduction by Wendy Monkhouse, senior curator at English Heritage, and a text by art historian David Freedberg. To attend the free event, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is limited.
Visions of the Self: Rembrandt and Now (London: Gagosian, 2020)
January 30–February 2, 2020, booth B25
Gagosian is pleased to participate in artgenève 2020, with modern and contemporary works by Davide Balula, Georg Baselitz, Helen Frankenthaler, Simon Hantaï, Damien Hirst, Grant Levy-Lucero, Henri Matisse, Olivier Mosset, Giuseppe Penone, Pablo Picasso, David Reed, Sterling Ruby, Spencer Sweeney, and Tom Wesselmann, among others.
Helen Frankenthaler, Omen, 1980 © 2020 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Art Basel Miami Beach 2019
December 5–8, 2019, booth D7
Miami Beach Convention Center
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Art Basel Miami Beach 2019 with modern and contemporary artworks by Richard Avedon, Georg Baselitz, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Joe Bradley, Cecily Brown, John Chamberlain, John Currin, Edmund de Waal, Rachel Feinstein, Urs Fischer, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellen Gallagher, Theaster Gates, Katharina Grosse, Mark Grotjahn, Jennifer Guidi, Simon Hantaï, Damien Hirst, Alex Israel and Bret Easton Ellis, Ellsworth Kelly, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Peter Marino, Adam McEwen, Joan Mitchell, Takashi Murakami, Albert Oehlen, Steven Parrino, Pablo Picasso, Rudolf Polanszky, Richard Prince, Sterling Ruby, Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra, Rudolf Stingel, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Mary Weatherford, Tom Wesselmann, Jonas Wood, Christopher Wool, and Zao Wou-Ki, among others.
Tom Wesselmann, Sunset Nude with Wesselmann Still Life, 2004 © The Estate of Tom Wesselmann/Licensed by ARS/VAGA, New York
Riffs and Relations
African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition
Through January 3, 2021
Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
This exhibition presents works by African American artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries alongside works by European artists from the early twentieth century. The show aims to examine cross-cultural conversations and presents the divergent works that reflect these complex dialogues. Work by Ellen Gallagher and Pablo Picasso is included.
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 © 2020 Chris Burden/Licensed by the Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
De la Renaissance à nos jours
June 28–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
Picasso and Antiquity
Line and Clay
June 20–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