Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga, Spain, on October 25, 1881. Picasso's father was a painter and art teacher. Picasso's father began teaching him to draw and paint when he was a child, and by the time he was 13 years old, his skill level had surpassed his father's. "When I was a child, my mother said to me, 'If you become a soldier, you'll be a general. If you become a monk you'll end up as the pope,'" he later recalled. "Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso."
In 1895, when Picasso was 14 years old, his family moved to Barcelona, where he quickly applied to the city's prestigious School of Fine Arts. Although the school typically only accepted students several years his senior, Picasso's entrance exam was so extraordinary that he was granted an exception and admitted. Nevertheless, Picasso chafed at the School of Fine Arts' strict rules and formalities. In 1897, a 16-year-old Picasso moved to Madrid to attend the Royal Academy of San Fernando. However, he again became frustrated with his school's singular focus on classical subjects and techniques. Picasso remains renowned for endlessly reinventing himself, switching between styles so radically different that his life's work seems to be the product of five or six great artists rather than just one.
Art critics and historians typically break Picasso's adult career into distinct periods, the first of which lasted from 1901 to 1904 and is called his "Blue Period," after the color that dominated nearly all of his paintings over these years. At the turn of the 20th century, Picasso moved to Paris — the center of European art — to open his own studio. Lonely and deeply depressed over the death of his close friend, he painted scenes of poverty, isolation and anguish, almost exclusively in shades of blue and green. Picasso's most famous paintings from the Blue Period include "Blue Nude," "La Vie" and "The Old Guitarist," all three of which were completed in 1903.
By 1905, Picasso had largely overcome the depression that had previously debilitated him, and the artistic manifestation of Picasso's improved spirits was the introduction of warmer colors—including beiges, pinks and reds—in what is known as his "Rose Period" (1904-06). Not only was he madly in love with a beautiful model, Fernande Olivier, he was newly prosperous thanks to the generous patronage of art dealer Ambroise Vollard. His most famous paintings from these years include "Family at Saltimbanques" (1905), "Gertrude Stein" (1905-06) and "Two Nudes" (1906).
Cubism was an artistic style pioneered by Picasso and his friend and fellow painter Georges Braque. In Cubist paintings, objects are broken apart and reassembled in an abstracted form, highlighting their composite geometric shapes and depicting them from multiple, simultaneous viewpoints in order to create physics-defying, collage-like effects. At once destructive and creative, Cubism shocked, appalled and fascinated the art world. In 1907, Picasso produced a painting that today is considered the precursor and inspiration of Cubism: "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon." A chilling depiction of five nude prostitutes, abstracted and distorted with sharp geometric features and stark blotches of blues, greens and grays, the work was unlike anything he or anyone else had ever painted before and would profoundly influence the direction of art in the 20th century.
Picasso’s works between 1918 and 1927 are categorized as part of his "Classical Period," a brief return to Realism in a career otherwise dominated by experimentation. The outbreak of World War I ushered in the next great change in Picasso's art. He grew more somber and, once again, preoccupied with the depiction of reality. His most interesting and important works from this period include "Three Women at the Spring" (1921), "Two Women Running on the Beach/The Race" (1922) and "The Pipes of Pan" (1923). From 1927 onward, Picasso became caught up in a new philosophical and cultural movement known as Surrealism, the artistic manifestation of which was a product of his own Cubism. Picasso's most well-known Surrealist painting, deemed one of the greatest paintings of all time, was completed in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War: "Guernica." After Nazi German bombers supporting Francisco Franco's Nationalist forces carried out a devastating aerial attack on the Basque town of Guernica on April 26, 1937, Picasso, outraged by the bombing and the inhumanity of war, painted this work of art.