Pablo Picasso Biography

Pablo Picasso worked as an artist for more than 80 years. During that time, he worked as a painter, a sculptor, a set designer, a graphic artist, a cartoonist and much more. He was instrumental in moving painting from realism to abstraction. He is widely credited with painting the first Cubist painting. Late in life, he became infamous for his ability to accurately depict a person or an object with a single line. Works of art by Picasso remain some of the most controversial, the most imitated, the most loved and the most hated objects in Western art. The Picasso biography is no less fascinating than the works the artist created.

Childhood and Youth

Pablo Picasso was born to Jose Ruiz Blasco and Maria Picasso Lopez in 1881 in Spain. Picasso's father was born into a wealthy family, and was a successful art teacher. Picasso grew up surrounded by drawing materials and began to sketch at age 8. He showed remarkable skill, and Picasso's father began to work with the child to teach him how to use geometry to give a drawing a backbone to build upon. This skill would prove essential later in Picasso's career, as it forms the foundation for Cubism. Picasso would study in art schools in Spain, under the direction of his father.

In 1897, Picasso entered the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. He was required to complete an entrance exam to gain admittance, and was given a month to complete his test. Picasso completed the test in a single day, showing his remarkable intelligence and skills were already in place, despite his youth. Picasso paintings from this period weren't progressing, despite his increased educational opportunities. Picasso felt his teachers couldn't answer his technical questions. He began to drift from formal education, and began to study art on his own in Barcelona. Here, he would be exposed to the modern architecture of Gaudi, and would connect with avant-garde artists at the café Els Quatre Gats. Picasso began exhibiting his drawings at the café, and producing illustrations for local magazines. Picasso's artistic career had begun, and he would no longer attend formal art schools. He was 18 years old.

Blue Period

Between 1900 and 1903, Picasso would alternate homes between Paris and Barcelona. Paintings by Picasso from this time period show the artist taking risks and expanding his technique as he was exposed to French art and culture. The color palette expanded from browns and blacks to blues and pastels. Picasso's Moulin de la Galette from 1900 shows the clear influence of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, with stretched lines and warm tones.

In 1901, Picasso's close friend, Carlos Casagemas, died in a suicide. This death had a tremendous impact on Picasso paintings. His work would help him explain the death. Paintings from this time period are predominantly blue in color, and contain elongated and stretched figures. This so-called Picasso Blue Period is remarkably somber and introspective, and contains many infamous Picasso paintings, including Old Guitarist. In 1903, Casagemas appears in the Picasso La Vie painting with a lover and mother figure, but his expression is slightly more hopeful and the painting is slightly less somber in tone. This is recognized as the last painting in Picasso's Blue Period.

Rose Period

In 1904, Pablo Picasso moved to Paris permanently. The paintings of Picasso during this period often contain harlequins and circus performers, executed in a red and pink color palette. These colors were likely more comfortable for Picasso; Pablo often enjoyed exploring his heritage, and these colors are traditionally used in Spanish paintings. They may have reminded him of the landscape of his native Spain, and provided some comfort as he continued to struggle with the death of his friend. In 1906, with Portrait of Gertrude Stein, Picasso began to experiment with mask-like forms. Planes are flattened and the face is broken into planes.


In 1906, Picasso began work on Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, a large-scale work containing multiple female nudes with mask-like faces and fractured forms. Faces are seen both from the front and from the side. The bodies are broken into individual panes of color that don't necessarily connect. This was the first Cubist painting, and even Picasso himself found it slightly shocking. He kept the painting rolled up for several years. Picasso continued to explore the theories behind the painting, however, and began to work with Georges Braque in collaboration, working to come up with a new way of representing reality. The artists began to create collages made of paint, clay, newspaper and other found objects. Picasso also began working in the theater at this time, designing sets and staging plays.

In 1937, Guernica by Picasso was painted. The Spanish government commissioned the painting for the Spanish pavilion at the 1937 World's Fair. It's unlikely that the government was prepared for Guernica by Picasso. This enormous painting demonstrates the horror of war perpetrated on the native people by the Fascists. This Picasso painting is violent and disturbing with gored horses, dead babies and screaming mothers executed in a Cubist technique, using a restrained color palette of blue and grey.

Decline and Death

Pablo Picasso continued to paint, sculpt, draw and sketch until his death. He reworked famous paintings by other artists, and revisited and reworked paintings of his own. He gave 800 to 900 Picasso paintings to the city of Barcelona for public display. The Picasso Museum in Barcelona remains open today, with many Pablo Picasso paintings on display.

Pablo Picasso died in 1973, while working on an exhibit of over 100 works for the Avignon Arts Festival in France. He left behind four children, multiple ex-wives and girlfriends and a remarkable output of works of art.