History trail: Picasso in France
With the Musée Picasso in Paris now reopened after a lavish renovation, Peter Stewart examines the life and work of one of the world’s most influential artists
The name Pablo Picasso immediately conjures up ideas of artistic greatness. A prolific artist, the Spanish-born figure co-founded the art movement known as cubism, and together with Henri Matisse and Marcel Duchamp, is celebrated as one of the most important figures in the artistic revolutionary periods of the early 20th century.
In 1900, Picasso left his native Spain aged just 19 for Paris to open his own studio. This was to be the start of a career spanning seven decades for a young man whose unparalleled artistic aptitude would eventually make the Malaga-born artist France’s adopted son.
However, in 1901 shortly after his arrival, the death of a dear friend greatly influenced the first of several main artistic periods that would dominate his paintings. From 1901 until 1904 the young artist painted scenes of poverty and anguish in depressing strokes of blue and green in what was the ‘Blue Period’, with notable works including ‘Blue Nude’, ‘La Vie’ and ‘The Old Guitarist.’
A defining point in Picasso’s artistic career came in 1907 with the unveiling of ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’, modelled partly on African artefacts. The painting was thus representative of his African-influenced period, and with its depiction of nude prostitutes through distorted geometric shapes, laid the foundation for a brand new artistic movement known as cubism.
Picasso co-founded the movement with French artist George Braques and together the pair dissected and reassembled many different kinds of shapes before painting them in a monochromatic mix of grey, brown and black. Early Cubist works by Picasso included ‘Three Women’ and ‘Bread and Fruit Dish on a Table’; however, by 1911 he had moved towards synthetic cubism, which consisted of producing extensive collages from many minute fragments.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Picasso was living in Avignon where his paintings had become incredibly sombre and symbolic of the Realism movement. Back in Paris in the 1920s, Picasso was infiltrating new social circles and in 1927 he became involved in Surrealism, which led him to produce his most famous painting, ‘Guernica’, depicting the devastating bombing of a Basque town.
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The revolutionary artist had garnered quite a reputation by the end of the 1930s but the German occupation of Paris in the Second World War prevented Picasso from exhibiting since his avant-garde style did not conform to the Nazi ideal.
In the years following the war, Picasso returned to producing large numbers of artwork, and was, by now, well-known for being a prolific womaniser. Following years of myriad infidelities, Picasso married his second wife Jacqueline Roque in 1961 whom he had met whilst working at the Madoura Pottery in Vallauris.
In Picasso’s final years, his work began to display signs of simplistic, childlike imagery. In 1972, using a pen and crayon he produced a painting depicting a half-human half-ape figure which he titled ‘Self Portrait facing Death’. Although seemingly simplistic, the subject’s mixed expressions of wisdom, loneliness and uncertainty are said to symbolise the end of the master of art’s incredible artistic trajectory.
Pablo Picasso died on 8 April 1973 [during a dinner party] at his home in Mougins, in the south of France, and was later buried at the Château de Vauvenargues, near Aix-en-Provence. Picasso produced up to 50,000 artworks in his lifetime and will forever be remembered for his truly unparalleled contribution to 20th century art.
THINGS TO SEE
1. Château Grimaldi, Antibes
Set in Picasso’s former home is an impressive museum dedicated to the life and work of the Spanish-born artist. The musée Picasso houses a large number of works donated by Picasso himself including the 1946 painting entitled ‘La Joie de Vivre’, which is said to be symbolic of his time spent in Antibes.
Tel: (Fr) 4 92 90 54 20
2. Musée de la Photographie, Mougins
Peruse iconographic photography by renowned French photographer André Villers at this quaint museum. Among the many interesting collections is a permanent Picasso exhibition which retraces the personal friendship which Villers shared with the great artist.
Tel: (Fr) 4 93 75 85 67
3. Musée Picasso, Paris
The newly re-opened museum in Paris’s Marais district boasts an outstanding collection of Picasso artworks. Spanning all of the key stages of Picasso’s artistic career, this is the only museum collection to display all of the artist’s works alongside records documenting his creative process.
Tel: (Fr) 1 85 56 00 36
4. Musée d’art moderne, Céret
Visitors will gain a fascinating insight here into the life of Picasso and other major 20th century artists and their relationship with this charming town in the Pyrénées-Orientales département. The museum boasts an extensive cubism collection as well as a series of  ceramic depicting Picasso’s interpretation of the corrida.
Tel: (Fr) 4 68 87 27 76