Pablo Picasso ranks among the most significant artists in Western art history, and his extraordinarily wide-ranging body of work definitively shaped the course of modern art, influencing virtually every artist or movement that followed. Born in Spain in 1881, Picasso was the son of an academic painter and studied art in Barcelona, where the city’s fin-de-siecle avant-garde was an early influence. In 1904, he settled permanently in Paris, where he would remain for the majority of his life, and became part of the artistic milieu of the bohemian Bateau-Lavoir district. There he met poets such as Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacob, who became early commentators on and champions of his work.
Picasso’s work moved through several distinctive phases, though certain themes remained constant throughout his entire oeuvre. His early “Blue Period” of 1901 to 1904, named for the somber palette of the canvases, explores themes of poverty, loneliness, and despair, a response to the suicide of his friend Casagemas, with whom he had first traveled to Paris. After establishing himself in France, he turned his attention to the city’s itinerant performers, often depicting clowns and harlequins in the works of his “Rose Period.”