As the art world commemorates the 50th Anniversary of Pablo Picasso’s death in the global event, “The Picasso 1973-2023 Celebration,” join us on a brief history of the great artist’s prolific career and lasting legacy.
Recognition of Picasso’s Legacy:In the fall of 2022, Spanish Culture Minister Miquel Iceta stood in front of Pablo Picasso’s famous painting Guernica alongside French Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak as they announced a joint commission for a year of cultural events honoring the 50th anniversary of Picasso’s death. This is a bold and widespread initiative from both the Spanish and French governments with the goal to “revindicate the artistic legacy of Picasso and the relevance of his work,” said Iceta. “If there is one artist that defines the 20th century, who presents it in all its cruelty, violence, passion, excesses and contradictions, that artist is Pablo Picasso.” Join us as we reflect, honor and remember Picasso’s enduring legacy as one of art history’s preeminent revolutionaries.
Throughout 2023, 42 of the world’s most prestigious art institutions and museums, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Madrid’s Museo Nacional del Prado, Musée du Luxembourg in Paris and many more, will commemorate the anniversary of Picasso’s death with a variety of exhibitions— both celebrating his legacy and encouraging discussion about his famous indiscretions. Abdul Malak noted the many modern debates regarding Picasso’s legacy, specifically regarding his violent temperament, treatment of women and political ideologies. Instead of concealing these controversial aspects of the artists’ life, museums around the world will bring these ideas and debates to the forefront of artistic discussion.
Celebration of Picasso’s Art:
Part of Picasso’s allure is his multi-faceted and complex understanding of belonging. Picasso was born October 25, 1881, in Malaga Spain, but spent most of his life in France where he died on April 8, 1973. Not quite Spanish, not quite French, Picasso’s discovery of his own identity is reflected throughout his prolific oeuvre. Deeply personal but not quite autobiographical, Picasso's distinct “periods” of artistic growth offer a glimpse into his deeply complex internal life and creative evolution.
The Blue Period (1901-1904)
It is believed that the suicide of Picasso’s friend, Casagemas, spurred the first great stylistic period of the artist's career. Picasso's Blue Period lasted for three years when he lived intermittently between Paris and Spain. Named for the blue and grey color monochromatic palette that pervaded these works, Picasso's creations during this time utilize themes of poverty, seclusion and melancholy.
Lonely figures with El Greco-like features, such as his famed The Old Guitarist from 1903 (Art Institute of Chicago), are characteristic of this collection.
The Rose Period (1904-1906)
When Picasso moved to Montmartre, a neighborhood in Paris that had become the epicenter of artistic life in the city, the fog of his profound depression began to lift. Picasso's small circle of avant-garde friends, including the artists Georges Braque and Gertrude Stein, blossomed in the vibrant community of artists.
During this time, warmer colors began to move back into his works, perhaps inspired by the bohemian characters who lived and worked in Montmartre. Many of the artist’s paintings depicted entertainers such as harlequins and circus performers.
Cubism is undeniably a revolution in the modern arts, but it began as a private, esoteric art movement that Picasso and his colleague Georges Braque created almost solely for themselves and a small circle of intimates.
Braque described the time he spent with Picasso: "We lived in Montmartre, we saw each other every day, we talked. During those years, Picasso and I discussed things which nobody will ever discuss again, which nobody else would know how to discuss, which nobody else would know how to understand."
By early 1909, Braque and Picasso had successfully developed a cohesive, early Cubist style based on their aesthetic theories. Abandoning traditional perspective, they instead explored the multiple "facets" of an object as it exists in a flattened plane. Some of Picasso's cubist artwork used pasted paper fragments, introducing the first collages to the fine art world.
Encouraging Critical Discussion
Throughout his 80-year-long career, Picasso created works of art in a dizzying array of styles and media. Artists continue to emulate his works, while his prints and paintings remain some of the most coveted treasures on the art market. His Les Femmes d'Alger ("Version O") claims a place among the ten most expensive paintings in the world, having achieved $179.4 million at auction in 2015. But his legacy runs far deeper than the financial draw he continues to elicit. Many of the 2023 global exhibitions will facilitate discussion regarding the more controversial elements of Picasso’s personhood and career.
Picasso was a known communist and his staunch political views are undeniably reflected throughout his oeuvre. His most famous painting, Guernica, was created as an explicit anti-war and anti-Franco campaign. The distorted human and animalistic figures represent war as an inhuman, violent and mangled product of the human experience.
Although many artists, both before and after Picasso, regularly used nude women as subjects, Picasso’s nude figures drew controversy in his time. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Picasso depicted nude figures without a hint of romanticism and opted for explicitly violent and sexual representation. Beyond his depictions of women in art, Picasso was also a well-known figure in society, and his mistreatment of women in his personal life was not a secret.
The Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition, Celebration Picasso, is intentionally focused on Picasso's contemptuous relationship with women. Hannah Gadsby, one of the primary curators, openly said, “I hate Picasso. I know I should be more generous about him too,” she adds, “because he suffered a mental illness… the mental illness of misogyny.” The Brooklyn Museum exhibition is perhaps the most explicit condemnation of Picasso’s character, but many other upcoming shows offer similar opportunities for discourse. Fifty years after his death, Picasso’s work seems to grow as nuanced as the man himself.