Pablo Picasso: The life story you may not know

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May 19, 2021
RALPH GATTI/AFP via Getty Images

Pablo Picasso: The life story you may not know

Pablo Picasso was an unrivaled titan of 20th-century art. He influenced and collaborated with such fellow creative geniuses as Henri Matisse and Georges Braque, and the works of his Blue Period and his Rose Period are familiar to even the most casual museum-goer.

In politics, Picasso took an unwavering stand against fascism in his homeland. After a visit in 1934, he vowed not to return to Spain so long as the dictator General Francisco Franco was alive, and he never went home again. In joining the French Communist Party, he declared: “I have always been an exile, now I am one no longer; until the time when Spain may finally receive me, the French Communist Party has opened its arms to me.”

His giant masterpiece “Guernica” makes a stronger case against war than many a written word or argument. Less well known is Picasso’s poetry, an art form in which he immersed himself before the Spanish Civil War broke out and so deeply affected him. He penned plays as well, and he created stage sets and wardrobe costumes for ballet productions in Paris.

With so many facets to Picasso’s enormous creativity and profound influence, Stacker compiled a list of events and facts from his life that you may not know, drawing from historical chronicles, museum archives, biographies, and articles in the media.

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1881: Born in Malaga, Spain

Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga, Spain, to María Picasso López and José Ruiz Blasco. His father was a painter by trade, making his living painting birds and game animals, as well as working as a fine arts teacher and a local museum curator. Picasso's younger sister Delores (called "Lola") was born in 1884; his youngest sister, Conchita, was born in 1888 and died in 1895 from diptheria. At the time of Conchita's illness, Picasso (14 at the time) swore he would never paint again if her life could be spared.

1892: Art studies begin

Picasso he began studying art at the Guarda School of Fine Arts in Coruña in 1892. Three years later, he and his family moved to Barcelona and the 13-year-old Picasso enrolled at the Llotja School of Fine Arts in Barcelona. Picasso's father taught at both schools.

1897: Visiting the Prado

In Madrid, Picasso began studying at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts but did not stay at the school for long. Instead, he frequented the world-famous Prado Museum, founded in 1819, which Picasso had first visited in 1895. The young artist was especially interested in works by Rembrandt, El Greco, and Francisco Goya that were housed there.

1898: A bout with scarlet fever

Picasso came down with scarlet fever in 1898. When he recovered, he moved back to Barcelona and broke away from his art school training—along with his family’s hopes that he would become an academic painter who worked in education.

1900: A first solo exhibit

Picasso had his first solo exhibit at the Quatre Gats, a cafe in Barcelona. The name, which means "The Four Cats" in English, was a reference to the popular Parisian club Le Chat Noir.

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1901: Signing art as Picasso

In a move to Madrid, Picasso co-founded a literary magazine called Arte Joven with his friend Francesc d’Assís Soler. Picasso was the art editor for the journal, which published five editions. The same year, he began moving away from signing his name Pablo Ruiz y Picasso and started using his mother’s surname of, simply, Picasso.

1901: Dawn of the Blue Period

1901 marked the beginning of Picasso’s Blue Period, which lasted about three years. He painted somber works, mostly in shades of blue, including “The Old Guitarist” in 1903, inmates at a women’s prison, blind beggars, and street people. The artist is believed to have been deeply saddened by the suicide of  his friend and fellow painter and poet Carlos Casagemas following a failed love affair.

1904: Meeting a companion in Paris

In Paris, Picasso met Fernande Olivier, who became his model and his companion for eight years. She wrote in a memoir that she had been seeking shelter from a rainstorm in a Montmartre building used by artists when the Spanish painter invited her into his studio.

1904: The Rose Period begins

Picasso began his so-called Rose Period when he was using an earthy palette of pink and rose in his paintings. His works grew less pensive than those of the Blue Period. Some of his oft-used subjects were clowns, harlequins, and traveling circus performers.

1906: The influence of Matisse

Picasso met Henri Matisse in Paris, the start of a long and complex comradery and rivalry. The elder and established Matisse and the brash and experimental Picasso influenced one another in areas such as the use of color and geometry. As a sign of their mutual respect, they collected one another’s works.

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1907: A painting evokes controversy

An African influence is evident in Picasso' works starting in 1907, the year he unveiled one of his most controversial pieces," Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Its representations of the female body, for which Picasso had made hundreds of sketches and studies over nine years, were criticized as a moral outrage by critics and colleagues alike.

1908-1914: The birth of Cubism

With fellow artist Georges Braque, Picasso created Cubism. Their representations often portrayed geometric, deconstructed, multiple, and repeated views of an object.

1911: Finding love with Eva Gouel

Picasso met and fell in love with Eva Gouel in 1911. That year, she posed for his famous painting "Woman With a Guitar." They remained together until she died in 1915 of tuberculosis.

1912: Moving to collage, Synthetic Cubism

Complementing Cubism, Picasso and Braque began making collages, gluing paper and other material such as sand onto canvas. This became known as Synthetic Cubism. An example from this time is Picasso’s 1914 “Absinthe Glass,” which incorporated cast bronze sculpture and painting, with a silver sugar strainer welded to it.

1916: A ballet and a ballerina

Poet Jean Cocteau collaborated with Serge Diaghilev, founder of Ballets Russes, and others to produce the ballet "Parade." Picasso created its sets and costumes. Among the dancers was Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, who married Picasso in 1918. They had a son named Paulo in 1921. They separated in 1935, but Picasso refused to agree to a divorce—and give her half his wealth—so they remained married until her death in 1955.

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1927: A relationship with the 'Girl Before a Mirror'

Picasso was 46 when he met Marie-Thérèse, who was 17 at the time. They had a daughter Maya in 1935 and remained together until 1936. She was the subject of his 1932 painting “Girl Before a Mirror.”

1928: Sculpting with metal, plaster, found objects

Starting in 1928, Picasso began sculpting with iron and sheet metal and built a sculpture studio in Normandy. He also began sculpting large plaster heads and making works using found objects.

1935: Switching to poetry

Picasso started writing poetry in 1935 and for about a year, he scarcely painted. His poems were published in the art journals Cahiers d’Art and La Gaceta de Arte. In 1941, he wrote a Surrealist play called "Desire Caught by the Tail."


1936: Civil war begins in Spain

When the Spanish Civil War began, Picasso sided with the Republicans, who named him honorary head of the Prado. The same year, he became involved with French surrealist photographer Dora Maar.

1937: With 'Guernica,' a condemnation of war

One of Picasso’s most profound and moving works is "Guernica," named for the Basque town bombed by the Fascists in 1937. The massive piece, more than 25 feet wide, came together in about three weeks. It depicts the gruesome tragedies of war: a wounded horse, a fallen soldier, weeping women, and a dead child.

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1939: Living in occupied France during WWII

When World War II broke out, Picasso opted to remain in Paris. His work was deemed degenerate by the occupying Nazis, and he did not show his art in public. He was harassed by the Nazi secret police but created several works, some using material smuggled to him by the French Resistance. In return, he assisted resistance fighters by offering them shelter.

1944: Life after the war

In Paris after World War II, Picasso began a relationship with a young art student named Francoise Gilot. They had two children, Claude in 1947 and Paloma in 1949. Paloma Picasso became an internationally acclaimed jewelry designer.

1944: Joining the French Communist Party

Picasso in 1944 announced he had joined the French Communist Party in L’Humanite, a French newspaper. “My membership of the Communist Party is the logical consequence of my whole life, of my whole work,” he wrote. “These years of terrible oppression have shown me that I must fight not only through my art, but with all of myself.”

1953: A young muse

Picasso met Jacqueline Roque, who worked at Madoura Pottery where he made ceramics, in 1953 when he was 72 and she was just 26. The two married in 1961. She became his muse, and he created around 400 portraits of her in their time together. The two were married for 11 years until his death.

1973: Death at age 91

Picasso died at 91 years of age on April 8, 1973, at his villa Notre Dame de Vie. The cause of death was attributed to pulmonary edema and heart failure. He is buried at Château de Vauvenargues, near Aix-en-Provence in France.

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