“Variation does not mean evolution,” Pablo Picasso said in 1923.1 “If an artist varies his mode of expression this only means that he has changed his manner of thinking, and in changing, it may be for the better or it may be for the worse.”2 With these words, Picasso shed light on two central principles of his artistic production over nearly 80 years: his openness to a diverse range of styles, subject matters, and mediums, and his resistance to the notion that change in art necessarily corresponds to improvement or progress. Take, for example, his eclectic approaches to rendering the human head. Works as different as the painting Woman with Pears (1909), the papier collé Head of a Man with a Hat (1912), the pastel Woman with a Flowered Hat (1921), the sculpture Head of a Woman (1932), and the ceramic tile Head of a Faun (1956) exemplify some of the multiple creative strategies that Picasso adopted, discarded, and returned to. Even though during his life Picasso’s work was heralded as representative of specific artistic movements, such as Cubism, Classicism, and Surrealism, the artist actively resisted categories and challenged notions of linear development.

Picasso’s eclecticism goes hand in hand with his ability to combine multiple sources. Although he trained in the academic tradition at the school known as La Llotja, in Barcelona, from the age of 13, he did not limit himself to the naturalistic forms and canonical subjects conventionally taught to art students at the time. Instead, after moving to Paris, where he would spend most of his life, in 1904, Picasso took inspiration from objects as diverse as archeological remnants from the Ancient Mediterranean world, the material culture of colonized people from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas gathered in European museums, Western art historical traditions, elements of French cabaret, and everyday artisanal or mass-produced goods. He studied these objects and condensed their features into his works, engaging in a process of appropriation even as he hardly ever copied specific artifacts.

Picasso also liberally drew on the innovations of his peers, sometimes engaging in productive collaborations like the one with Georges Braque, whose cubist experiments became so intertwined with his own that the two artists stopped signing their respective paintings. At other times he provoked accusations of plagiarism from fellow artists like Diego Rivera, who denounced the theft of a particular way of rendering foliage. In these ways, Picasso created representations that are both derivative and, at the same time, completely new.

Consider the 1906 painting Two Nudes, which depicts two massive, undressed women facing each other in front of a large curtain. Here, Picasso combined the art historical subject of the female nude with echoes of the sturdy shapes that he admired in archaic Greek and Iberian sculptures. The fact that the women appear as mirror images of each other evokes the subject of reflection explored by Renaissance artists, while the presence of the curtain engages with themes of draping and unveiling that have preoccupied Western artists since Classical antiquity. Picasso’s assimilation of these models simultaneously revives them and gives them new life, situating his painting within a long lineage of artistic precedents.

Picasso often approached his production in the same way, transforming his own past works at will. Fifty years after its creation, Two Nudes reemerged in the form of Women before the Sea (1956), in which Picasso repurposed the terra cotta tones, geometric volumes, and mirroring theme of the 1906 painting, altering the figures’ scale and posture. Throughout his career, Picasso embraced this potential for continuous regeneration and mutability. “To me there is no past or present in art,” he claimed.3 “If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all. The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was.”4

Francesca Ferrari, 2020–21 Mellon-Marron Research Consortium Fellow, Department of Painting and Sculpture, 2021


  1. “Picasso Speaks: A Statement by the Artist,” The Arts no. 5 (May 1923), 315-26; reprinted as “Statement by Picasso: 1923” in Picasso: Forty Years of His Art, ed. Alfred Barr Jr. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1939), 11.

  2. ibid.

  3. ibid.

  4. ibid.

Wikipedia entry
Introduction
Pablo Ruiz Picasso (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973) was a Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist and theatre designer who spent most of his adult life in France. Regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, he is known for co-founding the Cubist movement, the invention of constructed sculpture, the co-invention of collage, and for the wide variety of styles that he helped develop and explore. Among his most famous works are the proto-Cubist Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), and Guernica (1937), a dramatic portrayal of the bombing of Guernica by German and Italian air forces during the Spanish Civil War. Picasso demonstrated extraordinary artistic talent in his early years, painting in a naturalistic manner through his childhood and adolescence. During the first decade of the 20th century, his style changed as he experimented with different theories, techniques, and ideas. After 1906, the Fauvist work of the slightly older artist Henri Matisse motivated Picasso to explore more radical styles, beginning a fruitful rivalry between the two artists, who subsequently were often paired by critics as the leaders of modern art.Picasso's work is often categorized into periods. While the names of many of his later periods are debated, the most commonly accepted periods in his work are the Blue Period (1901–1904), the Rose Period (1904–1906), the African-influenced Period (1907–1909), Analytic Cubism (1909–1912), and Synthetic Cubism (1912–1919), also referred to as the Crystal period. Much of Picasso's work of the late 1910s and early 1920s is in a neoclassical style, and his work in the mid-1920s often has characteristics of Surrealism. His later work often combines elements of his earlier styles. Exceptionally prolific throughout the course of his long life, Picasso achieved universal renown and immense fortune for his revolutionary artistic accomplishments, and became one of the best-known figures in 20th-century art.
Wikidata
Q5593
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Introduction
Long-lived and very influential Spanish artist, active in France. He dominated 20th-century European art. With Georges Braque, he is credited with inventing Cubism.
Nationalities
Spanish, French
Gender
Male
Roles
Artist, Manufacturer, Ceramicist, Museum Director, Drypointist, Designer, Writer, Assemblage Artist, Etcher, Linocutter, Theatrical Painter, Lithographer, Muralist, Collagist, Poet, Decorative Artist, Genre Artist, Graphic Artist, Illustrator, Painter, Pastelist, Pastellist, Photographer, Sculptor
Names
Pablo Picasso, Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Crispín Crispiniano de la Santissima Trinidad Ruiz Blasco Picasso, Pablo Ruiz Picasso, Pablo Ruiz y Picasso, Pablo Ruiz, Pablo Ruys Picasso, Pablo Ruys, Pablo Ruiz Y Picasso, Pablo Ruiz y Picassdo, Picasso, p. picasso
Ulan
500009666
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License

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