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In terms of fame and stylistic influence on Modern art in the 20th century, Pablo Picasso is in a league of his own. During a career spanning the best part of a century, Picasso produced around 50,000 artworks in a variety of media, ranging from painting to ceramics, and in a ground-breaking variety of styles.


Born in 1881 in the southern Spanish city of Málaga, Picasso was the first-born child of María Picasso y López and José Ruiz y Blasco, a teacher of art and drawing at the Escuella Provincial de Bellas Artes. Specialising in landscape and still life images, Ruiz y Basco was an academic artist who later became professor at Barcelona’s La Llotja art school, a prestigious establishment attended by the likes of Joan Miró.

From the tender age of 7, the young Picasso – whose first words were reportedly ‘piz piz’, in reference to the Spanish word for ‘pencil’ (‘lápiz’) – received formal artistic training from his father. At the age of 14, Picasso was accepted by La Lotja, where his father taught.  In 1897, Picasso moved to the Spanish capital, Madrid, to attend the Royal Academy of San Fernando. He was just 16.

First Paintings

Picasso had proved his ability to paint since as young as the age of 3. At the age of 8, the artist produced Le Petit Picador Jaune, a gestural depiction of a Spanish bullfight: a spectacle he had witnessed whilst attending Málaga’s La Malagueta bullring in 1889. Symbolic of Spanish identity and cultural heritage, the bullfight would become a recurring motif in Picasso’s œuvre, appearing in a number of key works such as the 1959 linocut print, Les Banderilles.

Picasso’s mother Maria was instrumental in his personal and artistic development. Another example of the artist’s early œuvre, produced when he was just 15, is the painting The Artist’s Mother (1896). Naturalist in style, the portrait contrasts with the abstract approach of much of the artist’s later output. Commenting on his formative years, Picasso later stated, ‘I never drew like a child. When I was 12, I drew like Raphael’.


In 1900, Picasso made his first visit to Paris – a city he would later call home. During the early 20th century, Picasso split his time between Paris and Barcelona, producing artworks which would become part of the artist’s famous ‘Blue Period’ (1901-1904). During this period, Picasso produced the iconic work, The Old Guitarist (1903).

During Picasso’s subsequent ‘Rose Period’ (1904-1905), the artist became a favourite of American art collectors, Gertrude and Leo Stein. Gertrude became Picasso’s patron and in 1905 introduced him to Henri Matisse, who would become a close friend and artistic rival.

By 1907, Picasso joined the gallery of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, one of the most prolific French collectors of the 20th century. With friend and collaborator Georges Braque, Picasso would develop Cubism, the impact of which can be likened to the Impressionist movement of the late 19th century.

Most Famous Works

Produced during Picasso’s so-called ‘Blue Period’, The Old Guitarist is an iconic and emotionally charged work that figures amongst some of Picasso’s most well-known pieces. Depicting a cross-legged, ghost-like figure, head downcast in apparent sorrow as they play the guitar, the sombre painting was created in 1903 as a response to the suicide of Picasso’s close friend, Catalan painter Carlos Casagemas. Its colour and composition is imbued with the misery of this early period in Picasso’s career, during which the artist was living in poverty in Paris, and burning his paintings in a vain attempt to stay warm.

The 1937 oil painting Guernica, another of Picasso’s most well-known works, depicts a similarly poignant subject matter: the bombing, on the 26th of April 1937, of a Basque town in northern Spain by the forces of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. One of the most horrifying episodes of the Spanish Civil War, the bombing razed the city to the ground. Picasso’s depiction of the atrocities was exhibited at the 1937 Paris International Exposition; later, Guernica toured internationally, with all funds generated contributing to the Spanish war relief.


African art figures amongst Picasso’s most profound yet scarcely acknowledged artistic influences. During the early 1900s, a nascent French avant-garde scene took great inspiration from artworks held at the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro – the first ethnographic museum in Paris. Like his contemporary Matisse, Picasso’s visits to this immense collection facilitated an engagement with West and Central African sculpture that birthed the artist’s definitive early Modernist style, and such well-known paintings as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907).

Together with Paul Cézanne’s ground-breaking experimentation with geometric forms and individual ‘planes’ of colour, objects of African cultural heritage were instrumental in the birth of Cubism: a major turning point in art history, of which Picasso is often credited as the foremost engineer.

Style & Technique

The variety and volume by which Picasso’s artistic output is characterised renders it difficult to limit his style and technique to any kind of singularity.

By the 1910s, however, Picasso had largely abandoned traditional representation in favour of a deconstructive and composite approach to perspective and likeness.

Characteristic of Cubism, this approach was often combined with another signature element of Picasso’s artistic practice: speed. As in the case of the 1932 painting Nude In A Red Armchair, Picasso often created artworks in just one day, applying paint directly to the canvas before reworking it with the end of his paintbrush.

Life & Times

Galvanised by the political turmoil of the Spanish Civil War, Picasso became an ardent pacifist and anti-fascist. A member of the communist party right up until his death in 1973, Picasso incorporated his political convictions into his artworks.

Although Guernica is perhaps the most well-known depiction of Picasso’s scathing and forthright opposition to war, the 1949 painting Dove (La Colombe) was re-worked by the artist to serve as the symbol for the 1949 Paris Peace Congress.

Last Paintings

In the last four years of his life and career, Picasso created more artworks than ever before, working up until just several hours before his death at the age of 91 in 1973. In 1972, he created one of his last well-known pieces, the dryly named Self Portrait Facing Death. In this image, Picasso stares unashamedly at the onlooker, his nervous expression gesturally inscribed into the page with a crayon.

On the Market

The sheer number of artworks created by Picasso during his lifetime have made him an almost constant feature of the international art market. In May 2015, a painting entitled Femmes d’Alger (Version O), from a larger series inspired by Eugène Delacroix’s painting of the same name, sold at auction for $179.4 million. Unlike many of his works, the internationally-famous painting Guernica has never been put up for sale; despite this, some speculative valuations place the painting at around the $200 million mark.