Pablo Ruiz Y Picasso

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Picasso, Pablo Ruiz Y


Born Oct. 25, 1881, in Malaga, Spain; died Apr. 8, 1973, in Mougins, France. French artist of Spanish origin. Member of the Communist Party of France (1944).

Picasso received his earliest artistic training from his father, J. Ruiz. He subsequently attended schools of fine arts in La Coruña (1894-95), Barcelona (from 1895), and Madrid (1897-98). From 1904, Picasso lived almost exclusively in Paris. His first important works date from the early 1900’s. The paintings of his “blue period” (1901-04), executed in subdued almost monochromatic tones of blue and green, and those of his “rose period” (1905-06), whose color scheme is dominated by pinkish gold and pinkish gray tones, deal with the tragic loneliness of the dispossessed (the blind, beggars, and tramps) and with the romantic life of wandering artists of the circus world. They are full of an emotional, at times bitter, feeling about man’s lost or transient harmony with the universe (Old Beggar With the Boy, 1903; Girl on a Ball, 1905—both in the A. S. Pushkin Museum of Art, Moscow). Distinguished by subtle color, plastic form, and, nonetheless, controlled line, these works constitute a penetrating social and psychological study of man.

In 1907, Picasso broke with the universally accepted realistic tradition of painting. (He subsequently revived realistic devices and classical motifs, combining them paradoxically with the most extreme avant garde experimentation.) Picasso keenly but intuitively sensed the crisis of bourgeois society and its humanitarian culture and the new tragic conditions of life. He realized that there existed no social forces in the capitalist world and no values in modern art capable of countervailing the frightening reality. Picasso subjected this reality to pitiless dissection and distortion. His deliberate deformation of nature (Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, Museum of Modern Art, New York), his onesided interpretation of Cézanne, and his fascination with African sculpture led to his and G. Braque’s founding of cubism. By breaking an object down into its component geometric elements and by combining broken planes and piled up masses, Picasso denies the actual world existing outside us and rejects the representational. The artist, whose subjective whim takes the form of a geometric game of abstractions, destroys the natural form of objects. Some of Picasso’s works of the cubist period are not devoid of decorative elegance or emotional content (Woman With a Fan, 1909, Pushkin Museum), and undistorted objects appear in a number of them (Portrait of A. Vollard, 1910, Pushkin Museum). The cubist period included experiments in texture (Bottle of Aperitif, collage, 1913, Washington University, Saint Louis) and searches for pure decorativeness (The Three Musicians, 1921, Museum of Modern Art, New York).

After roughly 1920, Picasso’s work acquired neoclassical tendencies (neo-Ingreism), as is seen in such works as Three Women at the Spring (1921, Museum of Modern Art, New York), Mother and Child (1922, Museum of Art, Baltimore), the illustrations for Ovid’s Metamorphoses (etchings, 1931), and the series The Sculptor’s Studio (part of the Vollard Suite, etchings, 1933-34). Picasso’s neoclassical works are characterized by an idyllic fairy-tale mood and graceful linearity. Representations of the common man (The Fisherman, pencil, 1918; Sleeping Peasants, pen, 1919) are also marked by a realistic rendering of the human form.

In sharp contrast to these works are many of Picasso’s works of the 1920’s and 1930’s. His transition to surrealism is reflected in his unrestrained distortion of nature (The Dance, 1925, private collection) and his polemic aesthetization of the “ugly,” the “repulsive,” and, at times, the erotic (Woman Bather on the Beach, 1930, Museum of Modern Art, New York).

Both trends—the humanistic and the fantastic—are found in the Minotauromachy series (etchings, 1930’s), in which the minotaur symbolizes the age-old struggle between rationality and blind instinct. This work is a painfully sharp presentiment of the tragedy soon to engulf the world.

Beginning in the late 1930’s, Picasso’s works increasingly mirrored the events of the day. His reaction to the violence dominating bourgeois society, the trampling of human rights, and the pain and suffering of men was more often than not expressed metaphorically in the form of haunting grotesqueness, extreme distortion, and shocking forms (Weeping Woman, 1937, Penrose Collection, London; The Cat and the Bird, private collection, 1939). At this time, Picasso’s political beliefs were fully expressed. He became a leading member of the Popular Front in France and was active in the struggle of the Spanish people against fascism (1936-39). His art retained some subjective elements; however, it was not these elements but rather the extent to which they were overcome that resulted in Picasso’s execution of progressive works of wide social importance. He exposed the misanthropy of fascism in the series The Dream and Lie of Franco (aquatint, 1937). The mural Guernica (1937, Museum of Modern Art, New York), a wrathful protest against fascist terror, was the artist’s greatest achievement of the period.

During World War II, Picasso remained in occupied France and took part in the Resistance. After the war he immediately joined the fight for peace and democracy. Picasso’s advanced humanistic views were expressed in such works as the drawing The Dove of Peace (india ink, 1947), which became a symbol of the peace movement, and the murals Peace and War (1952, the Temple of Peace, Vallauris).

Beginning in the late 1940’s, Picasso’s work was especially diverse. He painted easel works evoking classical motifs yet parodying the paintings of the old masters (for example, Velasquez’ Las Meninas). He continued to reject realistic art. Picasso also worked as a sculptor (Man With a Sheep, bronze, 1944; a statue in Valauris), a ceramist (about 2,000 works), and a graphic artist (drawing, etching, line engraving, lithography). His wide range of graphic mediums was matched by the flexibility of his technique—a fine line, now flexible, now sharp, and a palette ranging from soft monochromes to sharp contrasting colors. During these years, Picasso continued to produce his characteristic serial works, such as the cycle of drawings and lithographs The Human Comedy (1953-54). He also found new, at times enigmatic, metaphors, as he continued to use his favorite themes—the circus; bullfighting; mythology; and the motifs of the artist and the model, asleep or in contemplation. Female portraiture occupies an important place in his legacy.

Picasso’s work had and still has a great influence on 20th-century art. It combines, in a contradictory way, advanced social aspirations and a perception of the crisis of modern bourgeois art. Picasso traveled a complicated path, but in critical historical moments, he knew his place—the place of a fighter for progressive ideals.

In 1950, Picasso was elected to the World Peace Council. He was awarded the International Peace Prize in 1950 and the International Lenin Prize for Strengthening Peace Between Nations in 1962.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.