How Picasso’s journey from prodigy to icon revealed a genius | Daily News

How Picasso’s journey from prodigy to icon revealed a genius

At Reina Sofía museum in Madrid, schoolchildren visit Picasso's iconic painting Guernica.
At Reina Sofía museum in Madrid, schoolchildren visit Picasso's iconic painting Guernica.

It's the morning before Christie’s Impressionist and modern art evening sale in New York City, and suddenly, there it is.

Just past the auction house’s entrance at Rockefeller Center, Pablo Picasso’s vibrant geometric portrait “Femme Accroupie (Jacqueline)” jaunts down a hallway, carried by two art handlers dressed in black.

Painted in the south of France in October 1954, the canvas features Jacqueline Roque, Picasso’s 27-year-old mistress, later to be his wife, her arms clasped around a patchwork skirt of green and purple triangles. The artist, then 72, painted “Femme Accroupie” in a single day, and it gushes with vigorous brushstrokes, thick pigment, rambunctious shapes, misaligned eyes, and an inverted nose. Golden light rings Jacqueline’s body. Even off the wall, the painting commands attention.

That evening, auctioneer Adrien Meyer will start the bidding at $12 million, and it will quickly surge upward as two Christie’s representatives duel in a telephone bidding war on behalf of their anonymous clients. His back straight, his head jutting forward like a jaguar eyeing a peccary, Meyer will pivot between the pair until one of them signals defeat. Finally, with a bang of his hammer, he’ll announce the winning price: $32.5 million.

Astounding but not surprising. Nearly half a century after his death, Picasso continues to bewitch, confuse, entice, and provoke. From his early days as an artist, Picasso shattered our most primal understanding of the world with his fractured faces and splintered perspectives. He worked voraciously, reinventing his style at a rapid pace—his blue and rose periods, the African period, cubism, surrealism—creating thousands of sculptures, drawings, copperplate etchings, ceramics, and paintings. Just as Albert Einstein envisioned gravitational ripples in the cosmos, Picasso saw undulations in the world we live in, long before we saw them ourselves.

Sitting on a chartreuse couch in his living room in Geneva, Picasso’s son Claude contemplates the impact of his father’s work. “He went on to destroy everything we were accustomed to,” he says, “and created a new vision for everyone.”

How does a person evolve from newborn to mastermind? How can a single soul redefine the way we see? Picasso the man was messy. He loved life at the circus and death at the bullfights. He could be both boisterous and silent, amorous and domineering. But from his beginning as a prodigy to his final years painting musketeers and matadors, Picasso seemed destined for artistic greatness, his journey to genius fixed as firmly as paint on canvas. All the elements were there: a family that cultivated his creative passion, intellectual curiosity and grit, clusters of peers who inspired him, and the good fortune to be born at a time when new ideas in science, literature, and music energized his work and the advent of mass media catapulted him to fame. Unlike creative geniuses who died young—Sylvia Plath at age 30, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at 35, Vincent van Gogh at 37—Picasso lived to the age of 91. The arc of his life was not only prodigious; it was long.

Pablo Picasso was born on October 25, 1881, in Málaga, Spain, a baby so lethargic he was feared stillborn. He was revitalized, Picasso said, by a puff of smoke from his uncle Salvador’s cigar. Landmarks of the artist’s childhood brim with vitality today in this sunlit Mediterranean city. A choir sings Man of La Mancha’s “Impossible Dream” in the Church of Santiago, where Picasso was baptized with holy water as a baby. Plaza de la Merced, where the artist etched his first drawings in the dust outside his home, bustles with tourists at cafés ordering, if they desire, a 12-euro ($15) hamburguesa Picasso. Pigeons light on the stones; the waters of the Alboran Sea lap at the shoreline; and Gypsies, like those who taught young Picasso to smoke a cigarette up his nostril and dance flamenco, continue to traverse Málaga’s streets.

Sipping tea out of a red cup in the courtyard of the Museo Picasso Málaga, the artist’s grandson Bernard Ruiz-Picasso reflects on how these early influences shaped Picasso’s art. Everything about this place is rich with history and sensuality, he says. Civilizations collided on the soil Picasso inhabited: Phoenician, Roman, Jewish, Moorish, Christian, and Spanish. Aromas filled the air. Gesturing to a nearby orange tree, Bernard says Picasso drew inspiration from the color of the fruits, from the violet flowers that drape Spain’s jacaranda trees, and from the beige and white stones of Málaga’s 11th-century Alcazaba, set into Gibralfaro hill, steps from the museum.

“He kept in his mind all those senses, all those images, all those smells and colors, which nourished and enriched his brain,” says Bernard, who established the museum—which opened in 2003—with his mother, Christine Ruiz-Picasso, fulfilling his grandfather’s wish.

Genius is almost always cultivated by parents and teachers who support and nurture the seeds of greatness. Picasso’s mother, María Picasso López, prayed for a son and revered her firstborn child. “His mother was gaga about him,” says Claude Picasso, who is the legal administrator of his father’s artistic estate. From the start, young Pablo communicated through art, drawing before he could speak. His first word was “piz,” short for lápiz, or pencil. Like the composer Mozart, Picasso had a father in the business, José Ruiz Blasco, who was a painter and his son’s first teacher. “He was the best student his father ever had,” Claude says. Picasso was still a child when his artistry began surpassing that of his father, who may have been “not only astonished but petrified by the talent of his son,” Bernard says.- National Geographic


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