Skip to content

5 things you didn’t know about Pablo Picasso’s early career

By Anonymous - Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais, Public Domain
By Anonymous – Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais, Public Domain

The art world celebrates the birthday of Pablo Picasso today, October 25. The Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker and ceramicist is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th century.

Exceptionally prolific throughout his life, Picasso (1881-1973) achieved universal renown and an immense fortune from his revolutionary artistic accomplishments.

Forty-three years after his death, Picasso’s paintings still sell for record prices. His Les femmes d’Alger (Version 0), a colorful depiction of women of Algiers, sold at Christie’s on May 11, 2015 for $179.4 million. It remains the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction.

Here are five facts from early in Picasso’s career that may surprise you:

1. Young Pablo’s first words were “piz, piz”

According to his mother. These words are a shortening of lápiz, the Spanish word for “pencil.” Picasso started his training as an artist at age 7, taught by his father, who was a traditional academic artist and curator of a local museum.

2. Picasso made his first trip to Paris, then the art capital of Europe, in 1900

Within a year he was signing his work “Picasso,” rather than his birth name: Pablo Ruiz y Picasso. The poverty he experienced in his first few years in Paris gave true meaning to the term “starving artist.” Picasso’s Blue Period (1901–1904), characterized by somber paintings rendered in shades of blue and blue-green, was surely influenced by his dire financial straits.

3. By 1905, Picasso became a favorite of American art collectors and siblings Leo and Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein became Picasso’s principal patron, acquiring his drawings and paintings and exhibiting them in her informal salon at her home in Paris. At one of her gatherings in 1905, Picasso met artist Henri Matisse, who would become a lifelong friend and rival.

4. One of Picasso’s friends, the poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire, was arrested on suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911

Picasso was brought in for questioning, but both men were later exonerated.

5. In May 1917, Picasso designed costumes and set for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes performance of Parade

A curtain from the ballet, also titled Parade, is the largest of Picasso’s paintings. A year later Picasso married Olga Khokhlova, a ballerina with Diaghilev’s troupe. The ill-fated union marked the first of many tumultuous relationships Picasso had with women.