Polarizing Facts About Pablo Picasso

December 7, 2023 | Kyle Climans

Polarizing Facts About Pablo Picasso

"Good artists imitate, great artists take ownership."

"My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso."

If those two quotes prove anything, it's that Pablo Picasso wasn't just a genius painter... he was also pretty dang confident.

But why wouldn't he be? His name is synonymous with the world of art like few other people before or after him. Whether it was paint, clay, or even poetry, Picasso was an artist first and foremost. His many interesting styles have made him a figure of great admiration, controversy, and even parody. He's famous worldwide.

But who was the man behind the art? What kind of influence did his work have? We all know him, but how much do we really know about him? Find out more about Picasso with these assembled facts about his much-storied life.

43. Foreshadowing

Picasso was born in the city of Malaga, Spain, in 1881 to José Ruiz y Blasco and María Picasso y López. His father was a painter and art professor, and it seems as though he passed that talent along to his son.

According to his mother, young Pablo's first word was piz,” which is a shortened version of lapiz, the Spanish word for pencil. If that's not an omen of some kind, I just don't know what is.

pablo picasso

42. Busy Schedule

Picasso’s art career lasted a whopping 78 years, and he sure kept busy in that time.

Over his lifetime, he created over 147,800 works of art! These included “over 13,500 paintings or designs, 100,000 prints or engravings, 34,000 book illustrations, and 300 sculptures or ceramics.”

I don't even think "prolific" is enough to describe him. The man was an art-aholic.

Pablo Picasso factsPicryl

41. Until Life's End

Not everything is rosy when it comes to Picasso, though.

One example of his harsh behavior: he continued to have numerous affairs while being married to Olga Khokhlova, his former muse and the mother of his son, Paulo. Although they were separated, Picasso refused to divorce Khokhlova, since it would mean giving her half of his wealth (which, let’s be honest, he could have parted with and still remained extremely rich). In 1955, consumed by misery and unable to separate herself from Picasso, Khokhlova succumbed to cancer.

It was not exactly a happy marriage.

Pablo Picasso factsWikipedia

40. We Asked for Your Name, Not an Essay!

The ironic thing about a man who’s often known for just one of his names... Picasso actually had a grand total of 23 names!

His full name was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruíz y Picasso. If you’re wondering, he got his names from saints and members of his family.

Pablo Picasso factsWikipedia

39. The First of Many

The first painting which Picasso ever completed was called "Le Picador." The painting featured a man taking part in a bullfight on horseback. It also, as you'll no doubt notice, featured some degree of the abstract style he'd gain a reputation for later in life.

Very impressive, especially since Picasso was only nine when he finished the painting!

Pablo Picasso factsWikipedia

38. Interpret Me!

Such was Picasso’s talent as an artist (even from an early age) that he was able to draw before he could speak.

We can just imagine him expressing himself in artwork and his parents debating over what he’s trying to say! It's hard enough for most parents to understand their child's artwork.

Pablo Picasso factsWikimedia Commons

37. Rival in the Making

As we mentioned briefly, Picasso was far from the only talented artist in the family. His father was a respected painter and teacher in his own right.

And, as often happens, the two willfull and passionate artists ended up clashing frequently over their different styles. Although his father supported his son’s artwork and rented out a small room to serve as his studio, he would also check up on Picasso’s work and judge it harshly. It was a complicated relationship.

Pablo Picasso factsWikipedia

36. A True Bohemian

In 1900, when Picasso was 18 or 19, he made his first trip to Paris. While there he met his lifelong friend Max Jacob. The two of them lived together while Jacob helped Picasso learn French.

The two men quickly fell into a routine. Picasso stayed up all nigh,t working on his art, while Jacob worked during the day. However, most of Picasso’s work from this time period no longer exists. It ended-up burned by him and his friend, who were struggling to keep warm while they lived in poverty.

Pablo Picasso factsWikipedia

35. Manners!

As a newborn, Picasso was very frail and weak. The midwife initially believed he was lifeless, placing him on the table. He allegedly showed signs of life when his uncle blew cigar smoke in his face to elicit a response. To be fair, we’d all start screaming if someone blew cigar smoke in our faces.

Pablo Picasso factsWikipedia

34. Mid-Life Crisis?

In 1935, after presumably growing tired of just being a famous painter and sculptor, a 53-year-old Picasso began writing poetry. The poems he wrote are almost all untitled and are bereft of punctuation. The content of his poetry also tended to focus on intimate or even scatological themes. Hey, when you're Pablo Picasso, you can do what you want.

Pablo Picasso factsGetty Images

33. Will You Be Paying with Credit Card?

When Picasso's painting "Women of Algiers" was sold for $179.3 million on May 11, 2015, it became the most expensive painting ever purchased. The decision to pay so much was very controversial. In fact, according to an article in The Guardian which was published at the time, the decision was just another example of art-critics doing whatever everyone else was.

The article put it this way:

"Splurging £102.6m on Picasso’s Women of Algiers is simply insane. The record-breaking price paid for a late, ungreat work shows the foolishness of collectors infected by a dumb new buzz around the artist"

In any case, the record was eclipsed just two years later, in 2017. A painting by Leonardo da Vinci, "Salvator Mundi," sold for an unbelievable $450.3 million.

Pablo Picasso factsGetty Images

32. Who Needs to Prepare for The End of Life?

When Picasso's life came to an end, he did not have a completed will. This meant that his estate taxes to the French state had to be paid out through his artwork. These paintings formed the immense collection which is still found in the Musée Picasso in Paris to this day.

Pablo Picasso factsWikimedia Commons

31. I’ll Paint the Blues for You

Even if you're not a big art fan, you might have heard jokes about an artist's "blue period. Those references are inspired by Picasso.

Picasso’s Blue Period lasted for three years, from 1901 to 1904. His paintings from this period were depressing in nature, often depicted in shades of blue and green. So Blue Period refers both to his emotional state at the time, and the colors he used to express it.

The Blue Period came about in response to personal trauma in Pablo's life. The early passing of his sister, along with the self-inflicted demise of his friend, Carlos Casegemas, served as inspiration.

Pablo Picasso factsWikipedia

30. Ladies’ Man??

Picasso was well-known for his multiple marriages, and the many affairs he had outside of said marriages.

He allegedly demanded that his intimate partners be submissive and shorter than himself (notably, he was only 5'4", which considerably limits the choices).

Pablo Picasso factsGetty Images

29. Out of Africa

From 1907 to 1909, Picasso’s art style was greatly influenced by African artifacts which he found in the Palais du Trocadero's ethnographic museum.

This has since been known as his African Period and it produced one of his most famous paintings: "Les Demoiselles d’Avignon."

Pablo Picasso factsFlickr, Steven Zucker, Smarthistory co-founder

28. Too Much for Joe Public

It’s safe to say that "Les Demoiselles d’Avignon" was a controversial work of art when it was released, even for Picasso.

Though it can be hard to imagine in today's world, when he initially completed the piece in 1907, it inspired such outrage and negative response among his own circle of friends that he did not publicly exhibit the painting until 1916.

The controversy around the issue is too intricate to condense into one simple explanation (perhaps one day we'll dedicate a whole article to it), but it can essentially be summarized like this: the artwork was deemed excessively vivid and startling, violating the ethical standards of the time. The portrayal of unclothed women, engaged in a bordello setting, was deemed excessive by both critics and art enthusiasts.

Pablo Picasso factsFlickr, Steven Zucker, Smarthistory co-founder

27. Spirit of Vanity and Lust?

While Picasso frequently painted women, he was less interested in painting men. Most of his paintings of the male body are self-portraits. Some speculation for this is fairly straightforward: critics believe that, for Picasso, intimacy and art were interconnected.

Which would explain a lot, to be fair. It's not exactly hard to believe.

Pablo Picasso factsGetty Images

26. And We Danced

Near the end of the WWI, in the middle of his Cubism period, Picasso began working with the Ballets Russes, a ballet company under the direction of Sergei Diaghilev.

It was there that Picasso met ballerina Olga Khokhlova, whom he would marry in the summer of 1918.

Pablo Picasso factsGetty Images

25. You’ve Got a Friend in Me

According to Picasso himself, the only woman whom he considered to be his friend was the American art collector and literary legend Gertrude Stein. While living in Paris, Stein frequently exhibited Picasso’s work, becoming his primary patron. Picasso painted portraits of both Stein and her nephew, Allan.

Ernest Hemingway factsWikipedia

24. Early Romance

Despite being a model and an artist in her own right, Fernande Olivier became known mainly for her relationship with a young Picasso as he was on the cusp of fame and fortune in the 1900s. Meeting in 1904, Picasso and Olivier were living together by 1905, despite Olivier still being married (she had left her husband without ever getting a formal divorce and had changed her name to avoid him). Olivier would become Picasso’s muse during his Rose Period.

Pablo Picasso factsFlickr, Thomas Hawk

23. Good Times

In contrast to his Blue Period, Picasso’s Rose Period from 1904-1906 was characterized by a light tone, featuring hues of pinks and oranges.

Circus themes were prevalent in his paintings from that time period, especially the comedic, multi-colored figure of the Harlequin, which appeared frequently in his works.

Those are some pretty intense mood swings there, Pablo.

Pablo Picasso factsWikipedia

22. I’m a Love, Not a Fighter

Regardless of his political ideologies in his lifetime, Picasso never actively participated in combat during either WWI, the Spanish conflict, or WWII.

Even though he resided in France during a period of significant turmoil, he was never persuaded to join the armed forces as he was still a Spanish citizen.

Kim Philby factsWikimedia Commons

21. Bang Bang

Picasso would reportedly carry a pistol with him. It was loaded with blanks, and he would fire them at people who were boring or irritating him! At some point, the term “eccentric artist” stops being an acceptable term to use!

Pablo Picasso factsPicryl

20. So Much for Romance

Fernande Olivier’s relationship with Picasso ended as Picasso’s success took off on a grand scale. He left her in 1912, without any obligation to support her since she had never been married to him. Living in poverty, Olivier found a financial opportunity to write about her relationship with the famous Picasso, but her writing was suppressed by his lawyers. In 1956, an elderly Olivier managed to gain a small pension from Picasso as long as she never wrote about their life together again as long as either one of them still lived. Olivier remained loyal to her promise; her memoirs weren't fully published until both of them had departed from this life.

Pablo Picasso factsFlickr, Gandalf

19. Divisions Within the Left

Picasso famously joined the French Communist Party in 1944, just as the Nazis lost control of Paris to the Allies. As you can imagine, this was a very polarizing decision...

André Breton, having once shared a close friendship, declined even a handshake due to his disgust at the other's decision to join the Communist Party. This was in light of Breton's support for Leon Trotsky, who found himself expelled from the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin and subsequently met a violent end under Stalin's command.

Pablo Picasso factsWikipedia

18. Solidarity Forever?

Interestingly, Picasso, who remained a member for approximately thirty years, appeared to have a mixed view of the Communist Party until the end of his life. One quote which has been attached to Picasso on the subject of the party reads as follows: “I have joined a family, and like all families, it is full of s***.”

Pablo Picasso factsWikipedia

17. Coldly Replaced

During the WWII, a 61-year-old Picasso began an affair with the 21-year-old Francoise Gilot after first seeing her in a restaurant. This was, of course, after he discarded his brokenhearted previous mistress, Dora Maar.

Pablo Picasso factsFlickr, Fresh On The Net

16. Having Second Thoughts

Things weren’t all sunshine and flowers for Francoise Gilot during her ten-year relationship with Picasso. His estranged wife, Olga Khokhlova, allegedly harassed her when they saw each other in the streets of Paris. Picasso himself also physically abused her and cheated on her several times, despite the fact that she bore him two children and inspired his artwork.

Pablo Picasso factsWikimedia Commons

15. Self-Aware Creep?

During his elderly years, Picasso continued to pursue relationships with women, despite the ever-widening age gap between him and them. As with many other aspects of Picasso’s life, this was reflected in his artwork of the time. While recurring themes had previously been a Harlequin or the Minotaur, they were replaced during this time with “an old, grotesque dwarf as the doting lover of a beautiful young model.” We’re not sure what kind of life crisis that is.

Pablo Picasso factsPicryl

14. Conflict! What Purpose Does it Serve?

Arguably the most recognized pieces by Picasso associated with Communism was his 1951 expressionist painting, 'The Korean Tragedy'. Deeply against American participation in the Korean conflict, Picasso created a display somewhat inspired by "accounts of American atrocities."

Pablo Picasso factsFlickr, damian entwistle

13. Sounds Like a 90s Disney Film Cast

Picasso loved pets, and he owned a variety of them throughout his lifetime. Aside from the usual plethora of cats and dogs, Picasso also owned a turtle and a monkey.

Pablo Picasso factsGetty Images

12. Art as Protest

One of Picasso’s most famous works of art is his 1937 masterpiece "Guernica." This is an oil painting Picasso created as a reaction to the devastating attack on the Spanish town of Guernica, carried out by forces backed by Germany and Italy during the Spanish internal conflict. Through its palette of black, white, and grey, the painting depicts the heartbreaking suffering of people and animals caught up in chaos. Due to Franco's authoritative regime in Spain, Picasso made it clear that he would not allow Guernica to be brought to Spain until they underwent a change in government. He ultimately met his end before Franco, and the painting wasn't permitted in Spain until 1981.

Muses FactsWikipedia

11. Oh Snap!

When the Germans occupied Paris during the WWII, Picasso remained in the city. On one occasion, he was confronted by an officer from Germany's National Socialist party who had seen a picture of "Guernica" and asked Picasso if he had created it. Allegedly, Picasso replied, “No, you did.”

Priceless Works Of Art factsGetty Images

10. Jealous Lover

While Picasso was putting together "Guernica," the process was documented through the photography of Dora Maar. Maar was a French photographer and painter who had a relationship with Picasso for nearly nine years. She also served as his muse, often depicted in his artwork while weeping. This, sadly, was reflected in real life, as Picasso not only abused her physically but forced her to paint only in his Cubist style. Once she finally separated from him, she was at last free to delve into different painting styles (although her work didn't gain recognition or acclaim until posthumously).

Pablo Picasso factsWikimedia Commons

9. Giving Something Back to Spain

Following Franco's triumph in the Spanish internal conflict, Picasso transported his masterpiece "Guernica" to the United States. The aim was to generate funds from exhibitions that could be used to financially assist Spanish refugees.

Pablo Picasso factsPicryl

8. God is no more, and so is Conchita.

Although Picasso was baptized and raised a Catholic, he eventually lost his faith and became an atheist. The tragic loss of his sister had left him with a great deal of conflicting feelings towards religion. Naturally, this conflict would be reflected in his artwork.

Pablo Picasso factsPicryl

7. Someone Call Han Solo!

During the German occupation of France, Picasso ceased to display his artwork, as it did not align with the styles of art approved by the German regime. Not only that, they forbade bronze casting within the city of Paris. In defiance of the Nazis, Picasso continued working with bronze in his studio. He even acquired bronze that was covertly brought to him by the French Resistance!

Pablo Picasso factsGetty Images

6. So it Ends

On April 8, 1973, a 91-year-old Picasso was entertaining friends in Mougins. Picasso’s last words were said to have been “Drink to me, drink to my health. You know I can’t drink anymore.” He succumbed to heart failure and pulmonary edema.

Pablo Picasso factsGetty Images

5. This Isn’t Working Out

Picasso's relationship with Fernande Olivier was infamously turbulent, even culminating in physical altercations at times. The situation escalated in 1907 when Olivier adopted Raymonde, a 13-year-old girl she discovered at an orphanage in Paris. This arrangement lasted until Olivier discovered Picasso's “explicit drawings” of Raymonde, after which she promptly sent the girl back to the orphanage.

Pablo Picasso factsGetty Images

4. Thanks for Nothing, Pablo

Of all the women whom Picasso had begun affairs with and later discarded, Francoise Gilot would ultimately become the only woman in his life to leave him first. Like any abusive partner, he reacted with hostility and spite, using his vast influence to undermine and suppress Gilot’s own artistic career. When she published a book about her life with him, he took it out on their children, refusing to see them again. They were even blocked from attending his funeral by his widow, whom he had married partly out of spite towards Gilot.

Pablo Picasso factsGetty Images

3. Beloved Sister

One of the most harrowing moments in Picasso's life was the passing of his sister, Conchita, in 1895. Conchita fell victim to diphtheria at the age of seven, devastating Picasso and partly inspiring what later became known as his Blue Period.

Pablo Picasso factsFlickr, Gandalf

2. I Asked for a New Bike…

When Picasso was about 14 years old, his father introduced him to an establishment of ill repute to have his first intimate experience. They would continue these trips together, which we can imagine played a profound role in his art, not to mention his future womanizing.

Pablo Picasso.Getty Images

 1. No One Suffers Like the Artist’s Relatives

According to Picasso’s granddaughter, Marina, her grandfather was a very difficult man to know, as he frequently pushed those closest to him “to despair and engulfed them.” Given that one mistress, one wife, one son, and one grandson all ended up taking their own lives, while two other important women in his life “went mad,” Marina’s claim has a sinister merit behind it.

Pablo Picasso factsWikipedia

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

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