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Pablo Picasso: Cubism, Guernica, and Much More


In his long career, Pablo Picasso lived the isms of the 20th century. His art shows how he was classically trained, experimented with bohemians in Paris (inventing Cubism), captured the horror of modern warfare with Guernica, and found freedom in playful abstraction.

Complete Video Script

[95] A young artistic genius from Spain — Pablo Picasso — was a brilliant example of the creativity that came with the new century. His work showed both where art had come from and where it was headed.

[96, Pablo Picasso, 1881–1973; Science and Charity, 1897, Picasso, Picasso Museum, Barcelona] Even as a teenager, Picasso had exceptional talent — capturing the human anatomy brilliantly, learning the rules he would later break. His early self-portraits show great self-awareness. And he could paint realistically while conveying deep feeling.

[97, Motherhood, 1903, Picasso, Picasso Museum, Barcelona] Young Picasso moved to turn-of-the-century Paris, where he went bohemian, making friends with poets, prostitutes, and fellow artists. He experimented with many different styles, painting Impressionist landscapes like Monet, posters like Toulouse-Lautrec, still-lifes like Cézanne, and the bright colors of Van Gogh. Times of grief and depression led to his Blue Period — paintings of society's outcasts, that matched his mood.

[98, Le Bateau-Lavoir, Paris] When he emerged from his blues, Picasso took on his next challenge. Here in Paris, he and his friends created art freed from convention, pioneering a whole new way to look at the world…Cubism.

[99, Seated Nude, 1909, Picasso, Tate Modern, London] With Cubism, increasingly the subject — like, say, a person — dissolves into its visual building blocks. It's like Cubists shattered a three-dimensional reality and then reassembled the shards onto a two-dimensional canvas. Cubism shows "multiple perspectives" at the same time on a flat surface. We might see the front and side view on a single face. The foreground and background blend together into a flat pattern. Increasingly, what mattered was not the subject itself but how we see it. Picasso and his fellow artists innovated bold new styles that freed us to see the world in new ways. The notion of representational art — painting things the way they look — that had guided Europe for centuries was breaking up.

[113] In the 20th century, Europe saw the rise of fascist dictators, like Adolf Hitler. As war clouds gathered, Europeans got a foretaste of WWII with the Spanish Civil War. That tragedy inspired the creation of one of the most powerful pieces of 20th-century art.

[114] It was a typical market day in the peaceful Spanish town of Guernica, when suddenly warplanes — courtesy of Hitler's air force — appeared overhead…and reduced the town to rubble.

[115, Guernica, 1937, Picasso; Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid] In the wake of history's first saturation bombing, Picasso wove the shattered shards into a large Cubist-inspired painting that told the sad story. A woman looks to the sky, horses scream, a soldier falls — body shattered, sword broken. A wounded woman flees a burning house. A bull — symbol of Spain — ponders it all, watching over a mother and her dead baby — a modern pietà. Picasso put a human face on collateral damage. His painting caused a sensation, throwing a stark light on the brutality of rising fascism…and the specter of World War II.

[116, Vienna] World War II was devastating, with millions dead, and entire cities reduced to rubble. But — with the help of generous American aid — Europe bounced back stronger than ever.

[117, La Joie de Vivre, 1946, Picasso, Picasso Museum, Antibes, France; paintings from Picasso Museums in Antibes and Barcelona] As Europe emerged from the rubble of war, so did its art. Pablo Picasso settled on the French Riviera. Like Europe itself, he had a renewed joie de vivre, with a new girlfriend dancing across the beach, and flute-playing creatures celebrating the newfound freedom. With his distinct style, Picasso painted a carefree paradise, where civilized people could let their hair down and indulge in simple, animal pleasures.

[118, The Pigeons, 1957, Picasso, Picasso Museum, Barcelona] All his life, Picasso said, "Paintings are like windows open to the world." These canvases, painted when he was in his 80s, show the joys of the sun-splashed French Riviera. To the end, Picasso continued exploring and loving life through his art. As a child — he told his friends — he was taught to paint as an adult. And as an old man, he had learned to paint like a child.