Pablo Ruiz y Picasso (1881 – 1973) was a Spanish artist who is regarded by many as the greatest painter in history. He was one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. He broke the practices of the past and co-pioneered the art movement Cubism that revolutionized European painting and sculpture. Picasso was a prolific artist and, apart from creating a large volume of work in other media, he made around 1900 paintings in his long career. Several of his paintings are among the most expensive ever sold but his most famous works are generally held by museums. Here are the 10 most famous paintings by Pablo Picasso including his Cubist masterpieces and works from his Blue Period.
#10 Family of Saltimbanques
The Rose Period is a term used to describe Pablo Picasso’s artworks from 1904 to 1906. It followed his grim Blue Period and marked the start of his stylistic experiments with primitivism; influenced by pre-Roman Iberian sculpture; and Oceanic and African art. The paintings of Picasso’s Rose Period are usually colorful and optimistic in mood with frequent depictions of circus people, acrobats and harlequins. This painting portrays six circus performers in a desolate landscape. The word “saltimbanco” comes from Italian and is used to refer to street performers. Critics have suggested that this painting is a group portrait of Picasso and his circle, symbolized as poor, independent and isolated. Family of Saltimbanques is the most famous painting of Picasso’s Rose Period.
#9 Ma Jolie
English Title: My pretty girl
Year: 1911 – 1912
Pablo Picasso co-pioneered the art movement Cubism, which revolutionized European painting and sculpture. Analytic Cubism was the first phase of the movement which was characterized by reducing the forms into basic geometric parts and by a tendency towards monochromatic use of color. This painting exemplifies the Analytic Cubist style. It depicts Marcelle Humbert, who was Picasso’s mistress at the time and who died three years later in 1915. Ma Jolie was Picasso’s nickname for Marcelle. It was also the refrain of a popular song which was performed at a Parisian music hall which Picasso often visited. Ma Jolie is among the most famous paintings by Picasso in Analytic Cubism.
#8 La Vie
English Title: Life
The Blue Period is a term used to refer to Pablo Picasso’s body of work between 1901 and 1904. The paintings of this period are essentially monochromatic in shades of blue and blue-green. The Blue Period, which is characterized by usually mournful subject matter, was in part brought about by the suicide of Picasso’s dear friend, Carlos Casagemas. Casagemas was an art student and poet who shot himself because of unrequited love for an artist’s model named Germaine Pichot. Along with The Old Guitarist, La Vie is regarded as the pinnacle of Picasso’s Blue Period. The painting portrays a naked couple confronting a mother bearing a child in her arms. The male figure in the painting is a portrait of Carlos Casagemas, who was depicted by Picasso in several posthumous portraits.
#7 Girl before a Mirror
This painting portrays Marie-Thérèse Walter, mistress and model of Pablo Picasso from 1927 to around 1935. The young Marie-Thérèse was one of his favorite subjects in the early 1930s. Girl before a Mirror portrays her as beautiful and dressed up with make up on the left side; while on the right side her face is darkened, her eyes are round and hollow, and her intensely feminine body is twisted and contorted. The painting is renowned for its varied interpretations. Some critics consider it to be a representation of Walter’s day-self and her night-self. Others view it as Walter confronting her mortality by looking at the mirror which suggests to her, her ultimate fate. It may also imply her transition from an innocent girl to a worldly woman aware of her own sexuality.
#6 Three Musicians
Along with Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso pioneered Cubism, an early-20th-century art movement in which the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints. Synthetic Cubism was the second phase of the movement which was characterized by increased use of color; simpler lines and shapes; and imitation or introduction of a range materials, like cut-out paper, into painting. This painting is a prime example of the Synthetic Cubist style. It portrays a Harlequin, a Pierrot, and a monk which are generally believed to be, respectively, Picasso; and his poet friends Guillaume Apollinaire, who died in 1918; and Max Jacob, who entered a monastery in 1921. Three Musicians is not only among Picasso’s greatest masterpieces but also one of the most renowned works in Synthetic Cubism.
#5 Le Rêve
English Title: The Dream
This painting also depicts Marie-Thérèse Walter. Unlike his later mistress Dora Maar whom Picasso often portrayed as tortured or threatening, Marie-Thérèse usually appears as blonde, sunny and bright in his paintings. Picasso created numerous works with elements of eroticism and the erotic content of this famous painting is often noted with critics pointing out that Picasso painted an erect penis, presumably symbolizing his own, in the upturned face of his 22-year-old model. In March 2013, Le Rêve was sold in a private sale for $155 million making it the fifth most expensive painting ever sold at the time. As of 2016, this price is the second highest ever paid to acquire a painting by Picasso after Les Femmes d’Alger (Women of Algiers), which was sold for $179.4 million in May 2015.
#4 The Old Guitarist
Year: 1903 – 1904
The Old Guitarist was painted by Picasso during his Blue Period (1901 – 1904), which was brought about by his struggle with poverty and the suicide of his dear friend Casagemas. The painting portrays a bent and sightless man who is holding a large guitar close to him. The blue palette adds to the melancholy and accentuates the tragic and sorrowful theme. In 1998, researchers used an infrared camera to discover a young mother seated in the center of the composition, reaching out with her left arm to her kneeling child at her right, and a calf or sheep on the mother’s left side. Although Pablo Picasso later dismissed his Blue Period works as “nothing but sentiment”, these paintings are still hugely popular and The Old Guitarist is the most famous among them.
#3 The Weeping Woman
In his masterpiece Guernica, Pablo Picasso depicted a weeping woman holding her dead child. He then created a number of portraits based on this figure which culminated with this painting, the last and most elaborate painting of the series. The model in the painting is French photographer and painter Dora Maar, who was his mistress from 1936 to 1944. Maar was one of the most influential figures in Picasso’s life during their relationship and also his primary model. Picasso brilliantly uses distorted images, strategically placed tears, blue chattering teeth and piercing black eyes to depict the pain and horror felt by the figure in the portrait. Apart from being the most famous work in the Weeping Woman series, this portrait is also Picasso’s most celebrated depiction of Maar.
#2 Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
English Title: The Young Ladies of Avignon
Originally titled Le Bordel d’Avignon (The Brothel of Avignon), this revolutionary masterpiece is considered one of the most influential paintings of twentieth century as it played a key role in the development of both Cubism and Modern art. It was a radical departure from traditional European painting. Picasso used different styles to depict each figure in the painting with the head of the women pulling the curtain in upper right being the most strictly Cubist element. The painting was controversial not only for its radical style but also for its subject. It was first exhibited to the public in 1916 and its title was changed to lessen its scandalous impact. The Avignon of the work’s title is a reference to a street in Barcelona famed for its brothel. The artwork depicts five nude female prostitutes in a disconcerting confrontational manner. They are rendered with angular and disjointed body shapes with the two figures on the right shown with African mask-like features. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon has had an enormous and profound influence on Modern art.
Guernica is a town in northern Spain. On 26th April 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, Guernica was bombed by Nazi German and Fascist Italian warplanes on request of Spanish Nationalists. Picasso created this masterpiece in response to the bombing of Guernica. It brought worldwide attention to the Spanish Civil War and is considered one of the powerful anti-war paintings in history. There have been numerous interpretations of Guernica since its creation. On the left of the canvas, a wide-eyed bull stands above a woman grieving over a dead child in her arms. The center is dominated by a horse falling in agony as if struck by a weapon. Under the horse is a dismembered soldier while towards its right is a frightened female figure which appears to have floated into the room through a window. From the right, an awe-struck woman staggers towards the center. The two dominant elements in the painting, the bull and the horse, are important characters in Spanish culture. Guernica is the most famous painting by Pablo Picasso and is considered one of the most brilliant artworks ever created.