Mountainous Landscape, painted in 1896 in Málaga

Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born October 25, 1881, to José Ruiz Blasco and Maria Picasso y Lopez. The family at the time resided in Málaga, where José taught drawing at the local school of Fine Arts and Crafts. The first ten years of Pablo's life passed in Málaga. The family was far from rich, and when two more children were born, it was often difficult to make both ends meet.

When José was offered a better-paid job, he accepted it immediately, and the Picassos moved to the provincial capital of La Coruña, where they lived for the next four years. There, in 1892, Pablo joined the school of Fine Arts, but mostly his father taught him. By 1894 Pablo's works became so perfect for a boy his age that his father recognized Pablo's amazing talent, handed him his brush and palette and declared that he would never paint again.

In 1895 Don José got a professorship at La Lonja, the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona, and the family settled there. Pablo passed his entrance examination on an advanced course in classical art and still life at the same school.

Drawing by 9 year-old Picasso

"Unlike in music, there are no child prodigies in painting. What people regard as premature genius is the genius of childhood. It gradually disappears as they get older. It is possible for such a child to become a real painter one day, perhaps even a great painter. But he would have to start right from the beginning. As far as I'm concerned, I did not have that genius. My first drawings could never have been shown at an exhibition of children’s drawings. I lacked the clumsiness of a child, his naivety. I made academic drawings at the age of seven, the minute precision of which frightened me."

In Barcelona he frequented Els Quatre Gats (The Four Cats), the café where artists and intellectuals used to meet. He made friends, among others, with the young painter Carlos Casagemas, and the poet Sabartés, who would later be his secretary and lifelong friend. In Quatre Gats Picasso met the vivid representatives of Spanish modernism, such as Rusinol and Nonell. He was very enthusiastic about new directions in art, said farewell to classicism and started his enduring search and experiments. The relations with his parents strained, they could not understand and forgive him the betrayal of classicism.

Carlos Casagemas in 1899

In October 1900 Picasso and Casagemas left for Paris, the most significant artistic center at the time, and opened studio in Montmartre. Art dealer Pedro Manach offered Picasso his first contract: 150 francs per month in exchange for pictures. His first Parisian picture is Le Moulin de la Galette. In December he departed for Málaga and Madrid where he became co-editor of Arte Joven. But already in May 1901 he returned to Paris. This restless life with constant travels continued all his life, though later he would become more or less settled, though never finally settled.

In February of 1901 Picasso’s friend Carlos committed suicide: he shot himself in a Parisian café because a girl he loved had refused him. His death was a shock, Picasso returned to it again and again: Death of Casagemas, and the same in blue, The Burial of Casagemas. Caught with restlessness and loneliness, he constantly moved between Paris and Barcelona, depicting in blue isolation, unhappiness, despair, misery of physical weakness, old age, and poverty.

La Vie (1903)

Before he struck upon cubism, Picasso went through a prodigious number of styles - realism, caricature, the Blue Period, and the Rose Period. The Blue Period dates from 1901 to 1904 and is characterized by a predominantly blue palette and subjects focusing on outcasts, beggars, and prostitutes. This was when he also produced his first sculptures. The most poignant work of the style is La Vie (1903). The painting started as a self-portrait, but Picasso's features became those of his lost friend Casagemas. The Rose Period began around 1904 when Picasso's palette brightened, the paintings dominated by pinks and beiges, light blues, and roses. His subjects are circus people, harlequins, and clowns, all of whom seem to be mute and strangely inactive.

Picasso would create a host of cubist styles throughout his long career. After painting still-lifes that employed lettering, trompe l'oeil effects, colour, and textured paint surfaces, in 1912 Picasso produced Still-Life with Chair-Caning, which is an oval picture that is, in effect, a cafe table in perspective surrounded by a rope frame. Elements glued to the surface contrasting with painted versions of the same material provided a sort of sophisticated double take on the part of the observer.

Picasso in 1885

He produced fascinating theatrical sets and costumes for the Ballet Russe from 1914 on, turned, in the 1920s, to a rich classical style, creating some breathtaking line drawings, dabbled with Surrealism between 1925 and 1935, and returned to Classicism.

Picasso lived in Paris through the war, producing gloomy paintings in semi-abstract styles, many depicting skulls or flayed animals or a horrifying charnel house. He joined the Communist party after the war and painted two large paintings condemning the United States for its involvement in the Korean War. He turned enthusiastically to sculpture, pottery, and print-making, and, in his later years, preoccupied himself with a series of mistresses and girlfriends, changing his style to express his love for each one, and, finally, making superb evocations of the works of old masters like Diego Velazquez. Whatever Picasso had a hand in turned out to have an unquenchable spark of utter genius.