Creating over 1,880 paintings over the course of his lifetime, Pablo Picasso produced no shortage of masterpieces. Here are 5 essential paintings worth understanding by Picasso:
1. Girl Before a Mirror
Picasso painted Girl Before A Mirror during his cubism period in March 1932. The young girl was Picasso’s mistress, Marie Therese Walter, who he painted multiple times during the 1930s. When looking closely at the image, one can interpret many different symbols within various parts of the painting. The woman's face for one is painted with both a side and frontal profile. One side shows suggests a daytime appearance, one where she seems more feminine, all dolled up with her make up done. The other side however, consists of a rough charcoal texture that portrays her at night. One can interpret the painting as Marie’s distorted vision when she looks at herself in the mirror - she cannot see both sides of herself, but rather, sees a much older, darker image of herself; she is seeing herself as an old woman. From the green discoloration on her forehead, darkening of her facial features, to the lines that show that her young body has been distorted, one may also ponder the possibility that Marie is self-conscious, as she sees all the flaws in herself that the world cannot see.
2. Portrait of Ambroise Vollard
Ambroise Vollard was one of the great art dealers in the early 20th century. Having advocated artists like Van Gogh, Renoir, and Matisse, Vollard was very close with Picasso and, in fact, commissioned him to create a set of 100 etchings which became known as the “Vollard Suite.” In this portrait, Vollard's downcast eyes, the massive explosion of his bald head, his distinct nose and the dark triangle of his beard are the notable idiosyncrasies the eye latches on to. With eyes closed like a tranquil, omnipotent god, Vollard is sublime.
3. Fernand with a Black Mantilla
In his 1908 transitional painting, Picasso depicts his mistress Fernande Olivier wearing a mantilla, a Spanish scarf worn over the head, which perhaps symbolizes the artist’s Spanish origins. The iconic stylization of her face and its abbreviated features, however, foretell Picasso’s increasing interest in the abstract qualities of human portraiture, which would profoundly influence his subsequent works. (Source: Guggenheim)
4. The Poet
The Poet was painted during the summer of 1911, when Pablo Picasso was working in close association with Georges Braque in the French Pyrenees town of Céret. In this work, the human form has been visually dissected and reconstructed as an architecture of rectilinear and curvilinear elements. The small circle at the upper center of the canvas penetrated by the acme of a triangular plane becomes an eye when associated with the longer, broader plane of a possible nose and the crescents of a probable mustache. Once this recognition occurs, a complete image can be reconstituted by the inference of chin, pipe, neck, attenuated torso, elbows, and chair arms. (source: Guggenheim)
Guernica is undisputedly Picasso’s most powerful work of art. Painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazi's devastating bombing on the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, Guernica elicits the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work has gained a monumental status, becoming a timeless reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of world peace.
By Cecillia Zhou
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