After visiting the excellent Paul Smith-curated Pablo Picasso exhibition at the Musée Picasso in Paris, I was inspired to choose ten paintings, writing a paragraph on each. As we all know, Picasso was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, and his work revolutionised the history of art. Choosing ten of his best paintings was difficult, as he produced so many masterpieces and was so prolific throughout his long career. Here are ten of Picasso’s most notable and essential works: – P C Robinson Artlyst Editor
1) Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907)
“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” is a painting created by Picasso in 1907. It is considered one of the most critical and revolutionary works of Modern Art of the 20th century. The painting depicts five women, inspired by African tribal masks and Iberian art, in a brothel. The figures are distorted and fragmented, with sharp angles and jagged lines. The painting broke away from traditional representation, perspective, and form concepts and was seen as a radical departure from traditional European art.
Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” is widely considered a precursor to Cubism’s development, a movement he co-founded with Georges Braque. The painting challenged traditional notions of beauty and representation and paved the way for a new era of modern art.
2) Guernica (1937)
“Guernica” is a large, black-and-white painting created by Picasso in 1937. The painting was a response to the bombing of Guernica in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, carried out by German and Italian forces.
The painting depicts the horrors of war and the suffering of innocent civilians. The figures in the painting are distorted and fragmented, with sharp angles and jagged lines. The painting is dominated by a large horse and bull, traditional symbols in Spanish culture. The horse and bull represent the victims of the bombing and the brutality of the attackers.
“Guernica” is considered a masterpiece of 20th-century art and one of Picasso’s most important works. It has become an enduring symbol of the anti-war movement and a powerful reminder of the devastating impact of war on innocent civilians. The painting is now housed in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, where it is one of the most popular exhibits.
3) The Women of Algiers (1954-1955)
“The Women of Algiers” is a series of 15 paintings and numerous sketches created by Pablo Picasso in 1954-1955. The paintings were inspired by the 19th-century French artist Eugene Delacroix’s painting “Women of Algiers in their Apartment.”
The series depicts a group of women in a harem or brothel setting with bold colours and abstract shapes. The figures are stylised and fragmented, with Cubist influences. The paintings are known for their vibrant colours, complex compositions, and connection to the tradition of Orientalist art.
In 2015, one of the paintings from the series, “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)”, sold for $179.4 million at auction, making it the most expensive painting ever sold at the time. The painting was part of a private collection owned by the former CEO of Christie’s auction house, and its sale broke numerous records for the art market.
4) Three Musicians (1921)
“Three Musicians” is a vibrant painting created by Pablo Picasso in 1921 at the end of his Synthetic Cubist period. The painting features three musicians, each playing a different instrument, and is set against a colourful backdrop of abstract shapes and patterns.
The figures in the painting are highly stylised and flattened, with geometric shapes used to create a sense of depth and space. The musicians are shown in a simplified and symbolic form, with the clarinet player on the left, the guitar player in the centre, and the singer on the right.
“Three Musicians” is known for its vibrant colours, intricate patterns, and playful composition. The painting is located at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, one of the most visited works in their collection.
The painting has been widely interpreted as a celebration of Paris’s bohemian lifestyle and artistic community in the 1920s. It is also seen as a tribute to the music and musicians that were essential to Picasso’s life and work.
5) Ma Jolie (1911-1912)
“Ma Jolie” is a Cubist painting created by Pablo Picasso in 1911-1912. The title of the painting means “my pretty girl” in French, and the painting depicts the artist’s girlfriend, Marcelle Humbert, also known as Eva Gouel.
The painting is considered one of the critical works of the Analytic Cubism movement, which sought to break down and analyse the visual world into its parts. “Ma Jolie” features a fragmented and geometric representation of Marcelle’s face and a guitar, with overlapping planes and abstract forms. The painting also incorporates letters and words, including the phrase “MA JOLIE” and the word “PARIS.”
“Ma Jolie” is notable for its innovative use of lettering and text, which became a significant element of Cubist art. The painting is now housed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, one of the most critical works in their collection.
6) The Old Guitarist (1903–1904)
“The Old Guitarist” is a painting created by Pablo Picasso in 1903-1904, during what is known as his “Blue Period.” The painting depicts an old, emaciated guitarist sitting hunched over with his instrument, a dark blue colour dominating the canvas.
The painting is known for its melancholic and sombre mood, reflecting the themes of poverty, suffering, and isolation common in Picasso’s Blue Period. The old guitarist’s bent posture and gaunt appearance suggest a life of hardship, and the use of the colour blue creates a sense of sadness and despair.
“The Old Guitarist” is considered one of Picasso’s most iconic works and a masterpiece of the Blue Period. It is displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago, where it is one of the most popular exhibits. The painting has inspired numerous artists and has been the subject of many studies and analyses.
7) Girl Before A Mirror (1932)
“Girl Before A Mirror” is a painting created by Pablo Picasso in 1932 during his Surrealist period. The painting depicts a young woman standing before a mirror and is known for its use of vibrant colours, distorted forms, and dreamlike imagery.
The woman in the painting is believed to be Picasso’s lover and muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter. She is shown in profile, with her reflection in the mirror revealing a distorted and more abstract version of herself. The woman’s features are fragmented and multiplied, with bold lines and bright colours used to create a sense of movement and depth.
The painting is often interpreted as a meditation on the passage of time, the nature of identity, and the relationship between inner and outer selves. The use of the mirror as a symbol of self-reflection and self-examination is a recurring theme in Picasso’s work.
“Girl Before A Mirror” is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, where it is one of the most famous works in their collection. The painting has inspired numerous artists and has been the subject of many studies and analyses.
8) Portrait of Gertrude Stein
“Portrait of Gertrude Stein” is a painting created by Pablo Picasso in 1905-1906, during his transition from his Blue Period to his Rose Period. The painting depicts Gertrude Stein, an American writer and art collector who was a key figure in the early 20th-century Parisian art scene.
The portrait shows Stein seated in a high-backed chair with a meditative expression on her face. Her features are stylised and simplified, with bold outlines and geometric shapes used to create a sense of form and structure.
“Portrait of Gertrude Stein” is known for its groundbreaking style, which was seen as a departure from traditional portraiture. Picasso’s use of a simplified and abstracted form was considered radical at the time and was seen as a challenge to conventional modes of representation.
The painting is now housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where it is one of the most important works in their collection. It has been the subject of numerous studies and analyses and is considered one of the most significant works of Picasso’s early career.
9) The Weeping Woman (1937)
“The Weeping Woman” is a painting created by Pablo Picasso in 1937 during his political and social activism period in response to the Spanish Civil War. The painting is part of a series of works by Picasso depicting the same subject, a woman in a state of distress.
The woman in the painting is considered Dora Maar, a photographer and artist who was a frequent model and muse for Picasso during the late 1930s. She is shown in profile, with tears streaming down her face, and her features are distorted and fragmented.
The painting is known for its use of bold colours and expressive brushstrokes, which convey a sense of raw emotion and psychological intensity. The fractured and fragmented style of the painting is also a hallmark of Picasso’s Cubist style.
“The Weeping Woman” is now housed at the Tate Modern in London, where it is one of the most important works in their collection. The painting has been the subject of numerous interpretations and analyses and is seen as a powerful expression of the human cost of war and political conflict.
10) Les Saltimbanques (1905)
“Les Saltimbanques” is a painting created by Pablo Picasso in 1905, during his Blue Period. The painting depicts a group of itinerant performers, or saltimbanques, who were a common sight in the streets and squares of Paris in the early 20th century.
The figures in the painting are shown melancholic and contemplative, with their faces and bodies marked by poverty and hardship. In addition, the figures are depicted in muted blues and greys, which evoke a sense of sadness and resignation.
The painting is considered a masterpiece of Picasso’s Blue Period, which was characterised by a sombre palette and a focus on themes of poverty, loneliness, and despair. “Les Saltimbanques” is seen as a powerful expression of the isolation and struggle faced by artists and performers in early 20th-century Paris.
The painting is now housed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where it is one of the most important works in their collection. It has been the subject of numerous studies and analyses and is considered one of the most significant works of Picasso’s early career.
PICASSO CELEBRATION: THE COLLECTION IN A NEW LIGHT Curated By Paul Smith Musée national Picasso-Paris Until 27 August 2023