Lesser-Known Work by Picasso

A double canvas by Picasso with life paintings studying the front and back of a man. Nu de face, nu de dos, Pablo Picasso, 1895-1897. Est. Est: €60,000 - €80,000 via Christophe Joron-Derem (May 2010).

Over the course of more than a century, the name Pablo Picasso has become synonymous with art that pushed boundaries, and is yet beloved by many. Regardless of a person’s artistic knowledge, most are able to identify at least a few works by Picasso and maybe even name the style he is so famous for making popular: Cubism. Indeed, with his radical innovations and unconventional personality, Picasso was arguably the prototype for the general public’s accepted image of the artistic genius.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Picasso, along with Van Gogh and Warhol, remains the best represented artist on a list of most expensive paintings ever sold at auction. For nearly 80 of his 91 years alive, Picasso devoted himself to an ever-changing aesthetic and stylistic metamorphosis that few other artists have successfully accomplished. The great artist once said, “I mix it up a lot, I shift a lot. When you see me, I’ve already changed, I’m already somewhere else. I am never in one place and that’s why I don’t have one style.” 

It is this attitude that helped to create a prolific body of work displaying a striking diversity. By the time of his death in 1973, Picasso had created over 80,000 works consisting of paintings, ceramics, drawings, tapestries and prints. 

In 2010, much to the surprise of Picasso lovers and experts alike, hundreds of previously unknown Picasso works were discovered in a home in Paris. The discovery was a testament to the artist’s impressive output. It also proves that, while Picasso’s work may seem to some overly admired at times, the artist’s oeuvre is so impressive that even veteran Picasso lovers continue to be surprised. 

Early Pencil Studies c. 1890 to 1900

Pencil study of a young boy attributed to Pablo Picasso

Pencil drawing of a boy, attributed to Pablo Picasso, 1896. Sold for AUD700 via WA Art Auctions (April 2020).

If anyone has ever doubted Picasso’s dedication to and mastery of artistic technique, they need only look at his early paintings and drawings. Born to parents that encouraged his artistic practice, Picasso was skilled in oil painting by the age of eight. 

His pencil studies from 1890 to 1900 illustrate his commitment to mastering the human form and an advanced understanding of the foundations of classical art from a young age. While those unfamiliar with the artist may be quick to dismiss his later abstract work as an inability to grasp key artistic concepts, his early work proves that this was anything but the case. 

Life studies from art school

A double canvas by Picasso with life paintings studying the front and back of a man.

Nu de face, nu de dos, Pablo Picasso, 1895-1897. Est: €60,000 – €80,000 via Christophe Joron-Derem (May 2010).

While Picasso has become synonymous with modern art, which prided itself on radical aesthetics, the artist did not begin his career by pushing boundaries. Nu de face, nu de dos was created when Picasso’s artistic career had just begun at the young age of 13. At this time, he worked in a realistic style that stands in stark contrast to the more abstract paintings he would go on to create. 

Picasso’s roots in realism are often overlooked and sometimes entirely unknown. At this point in his career, the young artist painted scenes inspired by his Catholic faith, as well as portraits of his family members. Early paintings such as nu de face, nu de dos showcase the traditional, academic approach that Picasso was working hard to master at the time. This double canvas perfectly showcases the talent of the young prodigy. Nu de dos, painted during his time at the Lonja School, reveals his skill in capturing light. In Nu de face, the young artist focuses above all on the face, searching for expression, demonstrating his mastery of portraiture, a genre which he would go on to subvert.

“Should we paint what’s on a face?” What’s in a face? Or what’s behind a face?” 

The Blue Period

A nude woman sits with legs crossed

Nu aux jambes croisées, Pablo Picasso. Sold for $12,010,000, via Sotheby’s (November 2015).

Though not a very popular Picasso painting, it is part of one of the artist’s most well-known artistic periods, his famous blue period. Considered by many to be the most critical period of Picasso’s life, he suffered from a deep depression over the death of his good friend Carlos Cagemas. The shades of blue used during the blue period paintings create a somber tone in the composition, while also reflecting the hopelessness Picasso felt at the time. 

The painting depicts a nude woman in a dejected bodily position, with back hunched, unkempt hair and a single stocking. This could be reflective of the unhappy disposition that Picasso felt at the time.

Work from c. 1937

Black and white print portrait of the art dealer Ambroise Vollard

Portrait de Vollard, Pablo Picasso, 1937. Est. €2,500 – €3,500 via Artcurial (November 2007).

The year 1937 marked the start of some powerful works that focused on Picasso’s preoccupation with political events of the time. In this year, he prepared preparatory drawings for some well-known, controversial paintings such as Guernica and The Dream and Lie of Franco. However, Picasso also completed less politicized works in this year that fell under the radar, such as this portrait of the art dealer, Ambroise Vollard

Graphic Design/Poster Work

Among the least circulated of Picasso’s works are his poster designs for exhibitions. During a trip to Paris in 1900, Picasso was introduced to the poster work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. His interest in poster work began with designs for his own exhibitions and slowly grew to include  magazines, book covers, and even advertisements.

The town of Vallauris in the French Alps, where Picasso lived from 1948 to 1955, commissioned posters designed by the artist to promote the town as the center of perfume and pottery. He also produced peace posters, strongly advocating neutrality and peace during both world wars and the Spanish Civil War. Just as in his more popular works, one can quickly identify recurring themes or images in his posters. Goats, bulls and doves appear multiple times throughout these posters, showcasing the artist’s love of animals.