Pablo: behind the scenes
Picasso needs no introduction. Whenever we see a painting with a distorted image of a person made of something that looks like geometric figures, one doesn’t have to be an expert on cubism to know it’s the Spanish painter who’s behind it. Few people seem to know, however, that Picasso didn’t paint like that right away. His early work, that’s a completely different story.
Pablo Picasso sketched and painted from an early age. Landscapes, genre scenes, bullfights, portraits and anatomical studies – these paintings don’t quite herald cubism, though they certainly prove how versatile an artist Picasso was. Expressive brush strokes and focus on the role of light show the influence of impressionism in his landscapes. Juicy, punchy compositions are a nod to fauvism where bold colors guide the eye. Looking at Picasso’s 1896 self-portrait, there’s a sense of realism combined with the psychological outline of the character. In short, Picasso wasn’t slave to one trend, but instead, drew inspiration from various sources.
This early works of his dates back to 1900. But before he turned to primitive art and cubism, which he is most famous for, he would create dozens of different paintings that many of us wouldn’t attribute to him due to the lack of geometrized shapes. These years are divided into two periods which are collectively referred to as: blue and pink, respectively.
The blue period was characterized by a cool hue strong on blue tones, with a rather sad and melancholic outcome. This was Picasso dealing with difficult subjects, where his paintings spoke of death, illness and alienation; he portrayed prostitutes and the homeless, himself suffering from bouts of depression. His works ceased to sell since in the process, which only aggravated his poor health.
There was a turning point in his life and career when he moved to Montmartre and started mingling with the Paris bohemia. There, he met artist Fernande Olivier, who became his mistress, and Gertrude Stein, a renowned art collector who willingly exhibited his art. At that time, Picasso’s paintings were suddenly bright and serene with a lot of pink, portraying, among others, artists, clowns, circus performers, with occasional subtle nudes here and there.
Many people from outside the artistic milieu, when looking at cubist or abstract works of art, often laugh and say that only those without talent paint this way, because they can’t otherwise. But when we follow Picasso’s artistic path, it becomes clear that he could paint realistically, and rather well too, but it simply wasn’t enough for him at a certain point in life. He turned to primitive art, then became interested in cubism, neoclassicism and surrealism, discovering along the way completely new means of artistic expression.
transl. Jakub Majchrzak