Pablo Picasso, Photo: Variety.com Pablo Picasso, Photo: Variety.com

A name that not only conjures up a signature look and a commercial brand, deeply anchored into the collective unconscious, but that is also synonymous with a century afflicted by two world wars and crossed by several major artistic movements.

To each of the latter, the visionary artist made his own contribution – when he didn’t squarely – let’s say cubically – initiate them! Picasso brought politics to art in unprecedented proportions, and his works – both during his lifetime and after his death – fetch sums the heights of which are rarely equalled.

Fillette à la corbeille fleurie”, painted in 1905. Photo: Christie’s. Fillette à la corbeille fleurie”, painted in 1905. Photo: Christie’s.

Estimated at 100 million dollars before its auction scheduled in May 2018, his Fillette à la corbeille fleurie is expected to set a new sales record, overtaking his Les Femmes d’Alger, which in 2015 became – even if only temporarily – the world’s most expensive painting, selling for 179.36 million dollars at Christie’s. And even if Leonardo da Vinci regained first place in 2017 with his Salvator mundi (450.3 million dollars), the posterity of Picasso, who died on 8 April 1973, is only at its outset.

"Les Femmes d’Alger”, painted in 1955. Photo: Christie’s. "Les Femmes d’Alger”, painted in 1955. Photo: Christie’s.

In blue and pink

When he sold Fillette to collectors Leo and Gertrude Stein in 1905, Pablo Picasso earned 150 francs. The painter, aged 24 years at the time, had only recently moved to Paris and lived at the Bateau-Lavoir, where his blue period was succeeded by his pink period. Already, he had won several prizes in Spain, his country of origin, where, keeping up with family tradition for his father was a painting teacher, he had studied different artistic disciplines, namely at the Fine Arts School in Barcelona, then in Llotja (design and applied arts), and finally at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, which he would leave before graduating.

"Femme assise”, 1902-03. Picasso’s blue period. Photo: The Detroit Museum of Art. "Femme assise”, 1902-03. Picasso’s blue period. Photo: The Detroit Museum of Art.

The death of his youngest sister, lost to diphtheria in 1895, profoundly affected him, as did the suicide of his friend, Catalan painter Carlos Casagemas six years later. The two tragic events would have a lasting influence on his painting at the dawn of the 20th century. Although he represented Spain at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1900, Picasso was still a penniless artist.

- [ ] ”Les deux frères” (The two brothers), painted in 1905-06, works as an example of Picasso’s pink period. Photo: Kunstmuseum Basel. ”Les deux frères” (The two brothers), painted in 1905-06, works as an example of Picasso’s pink period. Photo: Kunstmuseum Basel.
Meeting the Steins, who would become his regular patrons, along with gallerist Ambroise Vollard, would offer him greater financial independence and stimulate his creative force. His Demoiselles d’Avignon is one of the most representative paintings from this intermediary period punctuated by grief and also his discovery of the African arts – influences that, under Pablo’s brush, turned into the strokes that heralded cubism.

”Demoiselles d’Avignon ”, painted in 1907. Photo: pablopicasso.org ”Demoiselles d’Avignon ”, painted in 1907. Photo: pablopicasso.org

Cube power

Along with Georges Braque, from 1907 onwards, Picasso produced, at the Bateau-Lavoir, several paintings that reduced people and objects to simple two-dimensional geometric forms. Taking a step back from reality, the technique became a movement. Painters such as Gris, Picabia, Delaunay, Brancusi and Gleizes followed suit, and cubism’s leaders would make the artistic and intellectual headlines until the arrival of World War I.  Portraits, still lifes, sculptures, collages and eclectic assemblies demonstrated the fertility of Picasso’s inspiration during this intense “two-dimensional” period.

"Three Musicians”, painted in 1921. Photo: pablopicasso.org "Three Musicians”, painted in 1921. Photo: pablopicasso.org

During the Great War, in which Spain did not participate, the artist namely worked on creating backdrops and brochures for Russian ballets. Jean Cocteau notably introduced him to Serge Diaghilev with whom he became friends. In the dance universe, he also made the acquaintance of composer Igor Stravinsky and star dancer Olga Khokhlova, who would become his muse and first wife, and with whom he had a son, Paulo. Cocteau, Apollinaire and Max Jacobs acted as witnesses when the couple married in 1918. The influence of surrealist poets was visible in Picasso’s paintings, engravings and sculptures during the interwar period, and he actively took part in a number of surrealist exhibitions during the 1920s.

- [ ] ”Guernica”, painted in 1937. Photo: pablopicasso.org ”Guernica”, painted in 1937. Photo: pablopicasso.org
In the 1930s, the theme of the Minotaur and bull-fighting scenes cropped up in his work in force, whereas on an emotional level, he continued to collect muses (among them, Marie-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar). A retrospective was organised in Paris, and another in Switzerland, while the Spanish Civil War loomed on the horizon.

Do you want to learn more about Cubism? Read more here!

Commitment

Through Guernica, a powerfully symbolic monumental work, produced following the Condor Legion’s bombing of the Basque city, the worldly Picasso took on a more radical stance. He transformed his paintbrush into a political weapon, and the showing of the painting at the International Exposition in Paris in 1937 was a militant act carrying considerable clout on the eve of World War II.

Sympathising with the Communist Party, of the Louis Aragon variety, at the end of the 1940s, Pablo firmly chose his side: that of peace, with doves gracing his work, both pictorially and genetically, through the birth of his daughter Paloma (Spanish for “dove”), born in 1949 from his relationship with Françoise Gillot.

”Tête de femme "(Dora Maar), painted in 1941. Photo: Christie’s. ”Tête de femme "(Dora Maar), painted in 1941. Photo: Christie’s.

The 1950s would usher in his so-called Vallauris period, during which he discovered gemmail – a technique inspired by stained glass using glass fragments – and painted masterpieces including Les Ménines, a series of 58 paintings paying homage to Diego Velasquez. He would also marry Jacqueline Roque, his last wife and muse.

Picasso, at the peak of his art and glory, was exhibited in galleries and museums all over the world.

”Les Ménines”, painted in 1957. Photo: barcelonasecreta.com ”Les Ménines”, painted in 1957. Photo: barcelonasecreta.com

When he died on 8 April 1973, he had signed nearly 50,000 works (including paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, tapestries and engravings). His estate, left behind to his four children, would be estimated at 700 million euros in value (1.4 billion francs at the time).

But if we want to get closer to the truth, priceless is a far better description.

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