The Passion of Picasso: A Paris Story
The life of Pablo Picasso was a tremendous testament to the human spirit. His enormous personality, his major impact on the world of art, and his visionary talent all combine to create a story that helps define the 20th century. And of course, it all comes back to Paris.
To celebrate this era defining artist, let’s look at the story of his life. And then, we must also consider the ways we can connect with Picasso to this day. In Paris, my tours include two options that bring you close to the painter — and we’ll look at each of those in detail in this post.
If you fall in love with the idea of Paris as much as Picasso did, then why not book a tour of the city today?
The Life of Picasso
Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973) was born in Málaga, a city in southern Spain. His father was a painter, and Picasso began taking lessons before he was 10 years old.
When his sister Conchita died at the age of seven, the family took up residence in Barcelona. Here, Picasso entered the School of Fine Arts at only 13. His father even paid to get him a studio outside of the house.
Because he took up painting so deeply, his father sent him off to study in Madrid to study art at the finest academy in the country. Though as an adolescent Picasso tired of studying, preferring visits to art museums and galleries to look at work.
Becoming a Great Painter
Through the last years of the 19th century, Picasso worked through realism and Symbolist influences, gradually getting to a more modern approach. In these early years, he was extremely influenced by El Greco and also newer painters like Edvard Munch.
In 1900 he visited Paris for the first time. Before long, he was living there. Times were often tough — it is said that he had to burn his own paintings to stay warm some nights — but he fell madly in love with the city.
Either just before after his move to Paris, his Blue Period began. It is during this time he created early masterpieces like The Old Guitarist (1903). Dark subject matter mixed with a cool palette, producing paintings leaden with grief and ennui. This was in part inspired by the suicide of his dear friend Carles Caseagemas.
Becoming a Famous Artist
When Picasso’s more chipper Rose Period began in 1904, his career also began to turn up. In the next few years, he became a favorite artist of none other than literary and art scene luminary Gertrude Stein. Stein brought him in contact with many important collectors and artists.
By 1907, his work was being influenced by African art, bringing a rush of creativity into his paintings that presaged his coming leap into Cubism. And in collaboration with Georges Braque, he finally took that leap in 1909.
Picasso helped invent Cubism through heated discussions in the cafes of Montmartre and in galleries and studios throughout Paris. With this new vision, his profile was on the rise, and it seemed he was setting the world on fire.
*Interesting side note, it is during this time that he was briefly arrested by police under the suspicion that he stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre.
These are the years he painted masterpieces like Girl with a Mandolin (1910), The Poet (1911), and Still Life with a Bottle of Rum (1911). All of these show the monochromatic palette and feverish geometry that set apart Cubism from anything anyone had ever seen before.
By 1912, he was rapidly expanding beyond Cubism into many new fields. The so-called Crystal Period saw him invent collage, be one of the first Western artists to explore minimalism, and even return to more classical approaches after the conclusion of World War I.
Consider the likes of his collage Head (1914) or Sleeping Peasants (1919). These show the wide range of voices and tones he had available to him at this point. It seems that, rather than discarded old forms whenever he learned something new, he always retained their lessons and was ready to use them whenever necessary.
A Legacy Established
As civil war came to Spain and later the Nazi’s emerged and were defeated, Picasso continued to paint. Over the following decades, he left a legacy rich with exploration and invention. His powerful sense of creativity made him an unparalleled voice of the 20th century.
Though in his personal life he could be cruel and bombastic, his artwork is always sensitive and deeply human.
By the end of his life, he was still a prolific creator with a passion for new ideas. His works like The Kiss (1969) and Harlequin Head (1971) were not appreciated in their time, with many critics thinking that Picasso’s talent had left him. But today, a new generation of critics and collectors are rediscovering his late works, and finding that they predict the coming wave of Neo-Expressionism that would reach its height in the 1980s.
Picasso is perhaps the most well known artist of his time, and his name has become synonymous with painting. And if we know where to look, we can still find him today.
Meeting Picasso Today
Such an incredible life deserves celebration. His artwork continues to be an inspiration for the soul so many years later.
For that reason, my clients routinely ask me for something specially designed to let them understand Picasso better. Because he loved Paris and was such a big part of its history, there are many things I can show you.
Both of them begin with the Museum of Picasso in the Marais, where I live.
1- Musée Picasso in le Marais, Paris
The Musée Picasso is one of the truly great art museums in Paris. It is located in the gorgeous Marais district, and it contains a staggering amount of painting and sculpture. There are more than 5,000 works of art as well as tens of thousands of pieces in the archive — like photos, letters, and more. But the collection also includes artwork that he owned by the likes of Cézanne, de Chirico, and Matisse, among many others.
When you visit this museum with an expert tour guide, you can discover the subtle changes that occur over the course of the collection, which is presented in mostly chronological order throughout. You learn how in each of his periods, Picasso kept developing his technique.
But you can also see how he kept returning to old methods and themes.
One of the most popular pieces in the museum is one of Picasso’s anti-war paintings, Massacre in Korea (1951). This painting — much like the famous Guernica (1937) and The Charnel House (1945) — calls for peace by exposing the horrors of war.
The fairly large work splits the image between the nude women and children on the left and the American forces on the right, though the lack of historical detail allows us to perceive something much more universal.
The painting also in part references other similar pieces, like Manet’s series of paintings on the execution of Emperor Maximillian and Goya’s legendary The Third of May 1808. Picasso used these works in part as inspiration, but his penchant for siding with the oppressed rises this work to new levels of moral force.
Massacre in Korea, along with so many other works by Picasso, are waiting for you inside the charming halls of the Musée Picasso. And from there, we can go see many sights to continue our art journey through Paris.
2- Dalí Paris
A great pairing with Picasso is his fellow Spanish artist turned Parisian expat Salvador Dalí. And in the unique setting of Dalí Paris, you can take in his surreal visions like never before.
The collection of 300 artworks are mostly sculptures that reflect characters from his most famous paintings, along with an impressive amount of two dimensional pieces. The visitor takes in these bizarre sights while music drifts through the air — a strange menagerie in the middle of Montmartre.
Picasso and Dalí share so much in common, not only their origins and love of Paris. They also brought striking new visions to the world of 20th century art, transforming it with their revolutionary ideas. And they were both enormous personalities and forces of nature.
3- Picasso in the Centre Pompidou
Another great place to go after the Picasso Museum is the nearby Centre Pompidou — a striking postmodern complex that contains an enormous public library and the National Museum of Modern Art.
The Pompidou is the largest modern art museum in all of Europe. And after pouring over the work of Picasso, it gives us a great opportunity to appreciate just how much the artist changed the way we see and create works of art today.
After this grand look at the modern age, we can then explore the Place des Vosges. In true Paris fashion, this square brings together old and new. It represents the survival of a previous time, as it is the oldest planned square in the city, being opened in 1605. But all around it are galleries featuring the latest artwork.
Here, we get a chance to see two periods of France at once. Visiting the Place des Vosges allows us to walk where Picasso no doubt visited. And the art galleries give us a glimpse into the future, showing us work from the Picassos of our own time.
Meet Picasso in Paris
Paris is where Picasso spent the most important years of his career. It is here that he helped invent Cubism and launch a major shift in the world of art. That is why I’ve decided to honour his legacy with two tours entirely devoted to him.
Reach out to me today, and let’s plan your ultimate Picasso tour.
Learn first-hand stories about this transcendent artist and the city he adopted as his home.
Thank you for reading.
Flora - guide conférencier in Paris