Pablo Picasso, born in 1881 in Malaga, Spain, and died in 1973 in Mougins, France, was an active artist for most of his long life. His father was an artist himself, was Picasso’s first and most formative art teacher. Picasso has one of the most prolific creative careers in history, and his work was not only loved by art lovers around the world, but it was also incredibly influential for artists everywhere. But what was Picasso’s inspiration? What inspired these famous works?
Picasso went through many creative phases in his career. These phases have been labeled as “periods” and show the different styles and mediums he was experimenting with during that time in his life. Picasso’s “Blue Period” started in 1901 and lasted until 1904. During this period, Picasso painted mostly in cool blue and green tones, sometimes using a warmer color to accent his works. These pieces have a melancholy about them, and are quite somber, featuring scenes of poverty and desolation. What was Picasso’s inspiration to start painting in this way? In the spring of 1901, one of Picasso’s dear friends, a painter and poet named Carlos Casagemas, committed suicide in a cafe in Paris. Picasso was deeply affected by his death, and sank into a depression that lasted several years. Picasso’s journey through his grief and depression is clearly reflected in his “Blue Period.”
In 1904, Picasso moved to Montmartre in Paris, and settled into the community of bohemian artists and creators there. Coming out of his depression over his friend’s death, Picasso moved on from dark and serious subjects in his paintings to more lighthearted compositions featuring harlequins, clowns and carnival performers. His color palette warmed up as well, with his paintings now bathed in reds, oranges, pinks and earth tones. This period would be known as Picasso’s “Rose Period” and it lasted until 1906. So what can be credited with this major shift in his work? Picasso met a woman named Fernande Olivier in 1904 and they began a relationship that lasted seven years. Olivier would be the first of a long line of women who were muses and lovers to Picasso over the years. This relationship and the end of his bout of depression signaled a more positive phase of Picasso’s life. The overall tone of his work during this period is much more carefree and less somber.
Citing beautiful women as inspiration would become a theme in Picasso’s life, all the way up until his death. Picasso has been quoted saying: “For me there are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats.” He often became obsessed with a young woman and she became an artistic muse for him, inspiring many works. All of the women Picasso took as either wives or lovers were painted by the artist. His second wife Jacqueline Roque was the subject of over 400 portraits by Picasso, and was a great source of inspiration to him.
From 1906-1909 Picasso was heavily inspired by African art, after he was exposed to traditional African masks and other art objects coming from Africa into French museums in Paris. This phase has been called his “African Period,” and was a precursor to his most famous period, “Cubism.” Influenced by Paul Cezanne’s experimentation with three-dimensional spacing and perspective, Picasso and Georges Braque pioneered the artistic movement known as Cubism. This way of breaking down a form to its most basic forms and reconstructing them in an abstracted way is what Picasso is most known for.
So what can we say was Picasso’s inspiration?
Throughout his life, Picasso’s inspiration came in many different forms. Whether it be working through his emotions, responding to a difficult life event, meeting a beautiful young woman, an intense love affair or the work of his fellow artists, Picasso took inspiration from everywhere in his life. In turn, his life’s work has inspired and influenced millions of people around the world and forever changed the history of art. There is no denying the power of Picasso’s creative mind, and the effects of his stylistic experimentation in Cubism shaped the artistic movements that followed him. As an artist who would come to influence so many artists himself, Picasso is a pillar in the modern art world with a fascinating life full of inspiration.
Pablo Picasso, one of the most prolific and well-known artists in history with nearly 50,000 known works, is famed for his recalcitrant invention of Cubism alongside Georges Braque. The artist was also known as it happen for his, often controversial, chronicles with women. Picasso had several muses over the course of his lifetime which appeared in his work. One notable young woman who Picasso chose to immortalize in more than 60 works is Sylvette David.
David and Picasso first met in Vallarius in 1954 at an exhibition where her fiancé, Toby Jellinek, was showing. Picasso had one of Jellinek’s chairs delivered to his studio where he presented a portrait of the 19-year-old drawn from memory and asked her to pose for him. This meeting would inspire several drawings and sculptures as well as 28 paintings over the course of just a few months. Life Magazine referred to this interval as his “Ponytail Period,” and it imparted instant fame to David. High ponytails fashioned after the artist’s depictions of Sylvette gained immense popularity in France during the summer of 1954. One of the most memorable works that likely sparked this development was his Sylvette, 1954. The work features the model from the waist up posed in profile and rendered in the classic Picasso Cubist style with great emphasis placed on the elegance of her polished hairstyle.
At the time of their meeting, Picasso’s personal life was in shambles; at 73, his wife Francoise Gilot had just left him. In his old age he seemed to have found comfort in the shy youthfulness of Sylvette. However, she did not succumb to the charms of the renowned artist and they maintained a purely professional relationship for the duration of their time together. The portraits of Sylvette flamed out after Picasso met his next love, Jacqueline Roque. The women who Picasso claimed as muses are legendary for losing their minds following their respective relationships with the artist. Sylvette, however, survived unscathed and went on to pursue her own artistic career.
Contemporary critics tend to discount this body of work because of its ephemerality; the high ponytail and the button down coats which Sylvette often sports in Picasso’s depictions of her were French trends of the 1950s and therefore, according to some, lack the qualities of notable work in the course of art history. However, the series of works that David modeled for is often regarded as Picasso’s only successful attempt at drawing from a model, and the beauty of the work is undeniable. The legacy of the works featuring the 19 year old endures in the work of Sylvette, now known as Lydia Corbett, herself. Though she was able to avoid the so-called madness which so tragically afflicted the other women in Picasso’s life, his influence is still clear in her oeuvre today.
Similar portraits of women by Pablo Picasso
In 1946, while visiting the annual pottery exhibition in Vallauris, Pablo Picasso had the good fortune to meet Suzanne and Georges Ramie. The Ramies owned the Madoura workshop, a ceramics studio in Vallauris, where Picasso, who was eager to delve into a new medium, made his first venture into ceramics. He became so enthralled with ceramics that he decided to move to Vallauris to pursue his new passion.
Picasso lived in the small, scenic town of Vallauris from 1948 to 1955. He bought and transformed Les Fournas, a former perfumery in Vallauris, into his studio, where he worked prolifically. Located in the south of France, Vallauris was renowned for its pottery. During his time in Vallauris, Picasso worked extensively, creating many ceramics, sculptures, linocuts, and paintings, including his masterpiece “War & Peace”, a diptyque that was installed in the chapel of the Château de Vallauris in 1959. It was also in Vallauris where Picasso first developed a fascination with two mediums: ceramics and linocuts.
Picasso loved the malleability of clay and the fiery firing process, which transformed clay into stunning works of ceramic art. He experimented with varied shapes, forms, textures, enamels, and glazes, innovating the ceramics medium. Picasso’s approach was anything but conventional- he would melt clay like bronze, fashion mythical creatures directly in the glaze, and tirelessly decorate plates and dishes with his favorites subjects, such as bullfights, women, owls, goats, fauns, and fish. He incorporated surprising and innovative materials into his craft and invented white paste, which is a ceramic that has not been glazed and decorated with pieces in relief. These white paste works are amongst the most stunning and desirable Picasso ceramics to date.
Picasso went on to create thousands of ceramics in the Madoura ceramic studio. Incollaboration with Suzanne and Georges Ramie and the skilled ceramicists at the Madoura studio, Picasso shaped plates, dishes, vases, jugs, and other earthenware utensils and then painted and decorated them with enamel and metal oxides. Picasso was particularly fascinated by the use of metal oxides, as their very nature meant that he never quite knew how the end product would look.
Just as Picasso collaborated with master printers to create editions of his printed works, Picasso collaborated with Suzanne and Georges Ramie to create set editions of his ceramic works. Today, these Picasso ceramics are amongst the most valuable and desirable works of Picasso’s entire artistic oeuvre. The diversity of form and range of subject matters found within Picasso ceramics lend them a rareness and unique charm that contributes to their increased demand in the art market.
In addition to ceramics, Picasso also became fascinated with the linoleum cut (or linocut) medium while living in Vallauris. Printer Hidalgo Arnera introduced Picasso to the linocut medium, initially suggesting linocuts as a suitable medium for producing posters. However, in his trademark fashion, Picasso pushed the boundaries of the linocut medium, creating astounding linocuts that remain amongst his most renowned and valuable prints to date. While Picasso’s first linocuts were used as posters to advertise the bullfights and ceramic exhibitions in Vallauris, he quickly transformed the linocut medium into a unique form of expression unlike anything the world had every seen, predominantly by placing increased emphasis on color and form.
Linoleum cuts (or linocuts) are a type of relief printmaking in which the artist-engraver cuts into a linoleum block to form a design. The remaining negative surface is then inked and printed. Desirable for their boldly graphic compositions, delightful use of ornamental patterns, expressive treatment of color, and superior handling of line, Picasso linocuts are collectible for their vibrant imagery and as relics of Picasso’s cherished time spent in Vallauris.
Picasso was an iconic and important figure in Vallauris’ history. He became a freeman of Vallauris and greatly contributed to the renaissance of the Vallauris pottery industry in the 1950s. Picasso also demonstrated his commitment to civic duty by creating linocut posters for Vallauris’ annual ceramic fairs and bullfights.
Following Picasso’s departure from Vallauris in 1955, Vallauris remained an important part of Picasso’s life. He retained fond memories of his time spent living in Vallauris, where his lover Francois Gilot and their children Claude and Paloma Picasso often accompanied him. Picasso would return to Vallauris at later points in his life to revisit the bullfights, exhibitions, and old friends and acquaintances. In fact, Vallauris was so dear to Picasso that he married his second wife Jacqueline Roque in great secrecy at the Vallauris town hall in 1961.
Picasso’s presence in Vallauris shaped the town’s history. Following his move there, other artists, such as Victor Brauner and Marc Chagall, rushed to work in the ceramic studios in Vallauris. Today, the Musee National Picasso in Vallauris pays homage to the artistic inspiration and personal happiness that Picasso found in Vallauris.
Pablo Picasso’s Vollard Suite represents a major landmark in Picasso’s extensive and prosperous career as a printmaker. Comprised of 100 etchings created in the neoclassical style, the Vollard Suite offers us a rare glimpse into Picasso’s brilliant artistic psyche. Named after its publisher, renowned art dealer and critic Ambroise Vollard, the Vollard Suite etchings remains Picasso’s most celebrated graphic series to date.
Picasso’s work on the Vollard Suite spans a seven-year period, from 1930-1937. However, it was not until 1934, when Picasso asked to buy a Renoir and Cezanne from Vollard’s private collection, that a deal was struck between the two men – Picasso would create a series of 100 etchings and hand over the publishing rights to Vollard in exchange for the Renoir and Cezanne paintings. As Vollard had already published Picasso’s first etched series The Saltimbanques (Bloch 1-15) in 1914-1915 to great acclaim, he was eager to collaborate with Picasso on another series of Picasso etchings.
Picasso created 97 etchings from 1930-1936 and added three additional etched portraits of Ambroise Vollard to complete the Vollard Suite in 1937. The Picasso Vollard Suite edition was printed on Montval paper made with a specially designed ‘Vollard’ signature watermark. The complete edition was comprised of 300 sets, of which 250 sets were on smaller format paper (approximately 13 3/8 in x 17 ½ in) and 50 sets were on larger format paper (approximately 15 ¼ in x 19 ¾ in). In addition, 3 sets were created on vellum and an additional set of printer’s proofs was gifted to Picasso’s master printer and close friend Roger Lacouriere. Picasso signed all of the etchings within the Vollard Suite in the plate so that each work within the series bears the printed signature of Picasso.
In 1939, the same year that the Picasso Vollard Suite was printed, Vollard met an untimely death in a tragic car accident. This tragedy, combined with the onset of World War II, greatly delayed the distribution of these Picasso etchings. At some point between 1942-1945, Henri Petiet, another renowned art dealer, purchased Picasso’s Vollard Suite etchings for 10,000 francs. In the 1950s, Petiet asked Picasso to hand sign these works. Picasso, who felt that his side of his bargain with Vollard had already been upheld, was reluctant to hand sign the prints and asked for additional compensation. He signed the Vollard Suite etchings sporadically from the 1950s-60s in a haphazard and disorganized fashion, resulting in a significant number of impressions that were left unsigned.
Petiet proceeded to sell the works from the Vollard Suite. While some works were sold as entire sets, the majority of the Picasso Vollard Suite etchings were sold individually, making complete sets of the Vollard Suite extremely rare and valuable in today’s market.
Stylistically, the majority of the images within the Picasso Vollard Suite reflect the neoclassical phase of Picasso’s work, which was greatly influenced by his travels to Rome, Florence, Naples and Pompeii. Thematically, the Vollard Suite contains several interwoven themes, such as the sculptor in his studio and the Minotaur.
The predominant theme in the Picasso Vollard Suite is the sculptor in his studio, a theme that has biographical implications for Picasso. He explores this theme in 46 etchings, nearly half of the works within the suite. In 1931, Picasso purchased a sculpture workshop in the Chateau du Boisgeloup, around 50 miles outside of Paris. Many of his Vollard Suite works were inspired by sculptures that he created in this workshop in the French countryside. These Picasso etchings address this theme depict the artist as a classical hero, bearded and nude with an ivy crown upon his head. A beautiful model and muse who bears a great similarity to Picasso’s lover Marie-Therese Walter often accompanies him within these works. The intimate model, or the model asleep, was a common motif at the time of Picasso’s relationship with Marie-Thérèse Walter. From 1927-1937, Picasso payed homage to his beautiful, young mistress in a range of artistic works. With her oval face, Roman nose, and short, cropped hair, her likeness is apparent in the female figures within the Vollard Suite. Multiple etchings within this suite convey the sculptor and his model lounging together in the sculptor’s studio, peacefully contemplating the sculptor’s work.
In addition to his depictions of the sculptor in his studio, Picasso created a range of works for the Vollard Suite that address the theme of the Minotaur, a mythological creature that is half man, half bull. Like the sculptor in his studio, the theme of the Minotaur also has biographical undertones, serving as an artistic alter ego for the great artist. Throughout the series, the Minotaur transforms from a kind and gentle lover to a rapist and devourer of women, perhaps reflecting Picasso’s turbulent relationships with his lover Marie-Therese Walter and his wife at the time Olga Khokhlova.
The gradually decline of the Minotaur is apparent in striking works such as Wounded Minotaur VI, in which the Minotaur falls to his knees before a crowd of indifferent onlookers. As the series progresses, the Minotaur undergoes a third transformation- he becomes blind and impotent, wandering the night led by a little girl with features similar to that of Marie-Therese. Stunning works such as Blind Minotaur Guided by a Girl Through the Night highlight this powerful imagery. Suggestive of tragedy and suffering, these concluding works were perhaps influenced by the increasingly dark political situation in Europe during the 1930s as well as by Picasso’s own fear of blindness.
Pablo Picasso’s Vollard Suite is a remarkable achievement in the graphic arts that offers great insight into Picasso’s turbulent and passionate personal life. As Michael Taylor, director of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College states, “The Vollard Suite functions as a visual diary of the artist’s creative thinking and preoccupations during a pivotal moment in his career. These works illustrate the two worlds to which Picasso owed allegiance at this time, namely the harmony and order of classical art and the surrealist world of dreams and the imagination” (Dartmouth College, 2013).
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Ambroise Vollard was born in 1867 in the French colony of Réunion, an island in the Indian Ocean. At age 19 he was sent to study law in Montpellier, France, and from there moved on to Paris at age 21. With the little money he had, he began to amass a small collection of art as a side interest to his study of the law. He would dig through prints that were being sold on the banks of the Seine. Soon his passion for art exceeded his desire to be a lawyer, and he left law school to become a fully-fledged art dealer. His first gallery opened in 1893 at 39 rue Lafitte, in Paris. In 1894 he moved to a better space just up the street at 6 rue Lafitte. He was immediately interested in the somewhat unknown and unappreciated Impressionist artists that had been shunned by the Academy. He was fond of Paul Cézanne’s work in particular. In 1895, he held the first solo public exhibition of Cézanne’s work. This exhibit made Cézanne known in Paris and increased the worth of the before little-known French painter. Vollard’s collection of Cézanne’s art also inspired a young Picasso – who was taken with the painter.
Vollard had influential early shows for other famous masters as well, including a posthumous show of Vincent van Gogh. In 1901, Vollard held a solo show for Pablo Picasso which Vollard did not consider successful, as pieces only sold for quite low prices. Vollard did not offer to buy the remaining pieces. This was the start of a fruitful professional relationship between the dealer and artist, but Vollard never ended up consenting to be Picasso’s primary art dealer, though Picasso inquired. Despite the perceived lack of success of his first Picasso showing, Vollard bought more pieces from the artists’ Rose and Blue periods, after Leo and Gertrude Stein began collecting his work. Vollard commissioned a few albums from Picasso, including the very famous Vollard Suite, and the wide recognition that Picasso gained from the reach of these books helped to cement his fame.
Vollard maintained relationships with many well-known artists of his day – including Degas, Pissarro, and Renoir. Both Degas and Renoir attended his first public exhibition. Degas and Pissarro had a continued interest in his career, but never wanted to be employed by him. Degas would on occasion trade pastels and drawings for works by some of Vollard’s artist such as Cézanne and Gauguin. Renoir, on the other hand, had a very lasting and strong friendship with the art dealer. Renoir had another primary art dealer, but allowed Vollard to sell some of his minor works. Many artists painted Vollard, as did Renoir, but it was his Vollard as Toreador that Vollard treasured and never sold.
Vollard was unique in that he encouraged many of his artists to venture into printmaking – he called them painter-printmakers. He commissioned illustrated books and portfolios from many of them, starting with Pierre Bonnard. In 1896 Vollard published an album called Les Peintres-Graveurs which had an accompanying exhibition. This album included the works of the greats such as Cézanne, Gauguin, and Marc Chagall, among more. The next year, in 1897, he published L’Album d’estampes originales de la Galerie Vollard which included works from Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro, Cézanne, Rodin, and more.
The end of his career was taken up with the publishing of illustrated books. One of his first was the famous Daphnis and Chloe, a Greek love story, and was illustrated by Bonnard. Vollard was also author of manuscripts on Renoir and Cézanne. World War I, Vollard, now a wealthy man, continued to run an art gallery from his home. He died in 1939 unexpectedly and without an heir, and as a result his art was dispersed and distributed to a multitude of places – not all of them known.
Pablo Picasso, La Vie, 1903.
Pablo Picasso Blue Period (1901-1904) and his Paintings:
Hailed as a defining moment in Pablo Picasso’s artistic career, The Blue Period (1901-1904) was inspired by Picasso’s own emotional turmoil and financial destitution. Following a journey through Spain and the suicide of his close friend and confidant Carlos Casagemas (1881-1901) in February 1901, Picasso’s work took a dramatic turn. Casagemas, a poet, fell victim to unrequited love and ultimately took his own life after attempting to kill his scorned lover. His suicide had a deep and profound affect on Picasso, who was struggling as an unrecognized and poverty-stricken artist living in Paris at the time.
Beginning with several paintings memorializing Casagemas in late 1901, Pablo Picasso’s themes grew solemn and dark. He adopted a nearly monochromatic palette of blues and blue greens and began to convey somber scenes of misery and misfortune. The monochromatic use of blue was commonly used in symbolist paintings in Spain and France, where it was often affiliated with the emotions of melancholy and despair, suggesting that Picasso drew inspiration for The Blue Period from his time spent in Spain observing these symbolist works.
“Picasso metaphorically allows his subjects to escape their fate and occupy a utopian state of grace. Some are afflicted with blindness, a physical condition that symbolically suggests the presence of spiritual inner vision.”
The Blue Period also directed Picasso’s attention to subjects of misfortune: beggars, drunks, prostitutes, and the crippled, hungry, sick, and destitute. However, rather than show the specific circumstances of their misfortune, Picasso elongated his subjects’ forms, endowing them with a unique sense of haunting beauty and supernatural grace. As the National Gallery of Art (2014) suggests, by idealizing these figures, “Picasso metaphorically allows his subjects to escape their fate and occupy a utopian state of grace. Some are afflicted with blindness, a physical condition that symbolically suggests the presence of spiritual inner vision.”
Pablo Picasso, The Soup, 1902.
Throughout the Blue Period, Pablo Picasso produced many works addressing symbolic, philosophical, and humanitarian themes. La Vie, one of Picasso’s most iconic and mysterious works, has been interpreted (and disputed) by historians as an allegorical reference to birth, death, and redemption, the responsibilities of daily life, sexual incompatibility, and the struggles behind artistic creativity. A nude couple and a robed woman cradling a baby stand ominously before two paintings that depict figures crouched over in despair. The composition is stilted, the space compressed, the gestures stiff, and the tones predominantly blue – features characteristic of works from Picasso’s Blue Period. La Vie began as a self-portrait, but Picasso soon found his own features transforming to those of his lost friend Casagemas (the male figure on the left), perhaps suggesting the very personal nature of this work.
Pablo Picasso, The Tragedy, 1903.
While Picasso worked predominantly as a painter during The Blue Period, he also created phenomenal prints in the style of The Blue Period. These marvelous prints are often created after the image of renowned Picasso paintings, such as The Embrace and The Two Saltimbanques (Harlequin and his Companion). Picasso also incorporated pochoir, or hand-applied watercolor, to the majority of these prints, further contributing a sense of texture and emotion. Picasso’s journey into the dark depths of The Blue Period transformed his career as an artist. As a result, these prints, created in the style of The Blue Period, are amongst Picasso’s most valuable and desirable prints in today’s market. While The Blue Period ultimately defined Picasso as a modern artist, it serves as a reflection of Picasso’s own melancholy nature during a difficult period in his life. Furthermore, it highlights Picasso’s immense ability as an artist to channel his own misery and hardship into a revolutionary form of artistic expression.