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Seven Decades of Drawing

Drawing was the foundation of Pablo Picasso’s practice throughout his long career, marked by many stages of artistic development. The son of a painter and art teacher, Picasso began to sketch at an early age; by the age of fourteen, the precocious artist was already an accomplished draftsman. Although academic draftsmanship laid the foundation for Picasso’s craft, his practice would soon outgrow conventional definitions of a medium characterized by fluidity, immediacy, and a sense of ease. Guided by his intuition and innate understanding of line, Picasso pursued the development of radical ideas in his drawings, innovating approaches to form and expression.

In his experiments with Cubism, Picasso broke down the separation between artistic modes of expression by emphasizing construction and assemblage. Cubism made it possible for sculpture, painting, and drawing to be manipulated in a variety of ways; thus, drawing could hint at sculpture, just as sculpture could be imbued with painterly or linear qualities. For Picasso, draftsmanship was not so much a separate “academic” discipline, but a tool for exploring ideas that migrate from one medium to another, over the course of several decades. It could give works on paper the weight and texture of painting, or the multiplicity of sculpture.

What links many of these experiments is drawing’s versatility and universality. With his increased fame after the Second World War, drawing also became Picasso’s favorite tool for creating illustrations that were reproduced in books and newspapers, a way of disseminating images that were widely shared and very often popular.

The exhibition offers a selection of drawings and works on paper, from works in charcoal and crayon to colored pencil, collage or papiers collés, graphite, gouache, ink, pastel, wash, and watercolor. Some of the drawings provide insight into the evolution of his iconic paintings, such as Les demoiselles d’Avignon, while others stand alone as virtuoso, independent works showcasing Picasso’s mastery of line, form, and medium. Selected from leading private and public collections, the exhibition presents a wide range of works, from charming, early drawings executed in the spirit of Symbolism, to Cubist compositions, Surrealist-inspired sketches, and late works in which the artist rehearses timeless themes inspired by ancient mythology and Old Master paintings.

“As soon as I set to work, [other ideas] seem to flow from the pen. To know what you want to draw, you have to begin drawing it.”


Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Arguably the most influential artist of the 20th century, over the course of his career Pablo Picasso pioneered successive artistic innovations that shaped the development of modern art. He was prolific in a wide range of mediums, including painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, and printmaking. Born in 1881 in Spain, the son of an art teacher, Picasso exhibited his first paintings in Barcelona at the age of 12. After an earlier trip to Paris, he left Barcelona in 1904 and moved permanently to France, where he would live until his death in 1973.

TOP: Photo by Robert DOISNEAU/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images.
BOTTOM: Picasso in his studio, after August 1944. Photo: Bettmann Archive / Getty Images.

© 2021 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York