The Evolution of Picasso’s Painting Style and What Each Artistic Choice Represents

African Period (1906-1909)

For the three years that followed his Rose Period, Picasso found inspiration in Oceanic and African art. Known as his African Period, this phase retained the warmth of his Rose Period but conveyed a shift in both style and subject matter. Rather than produce figurative portrayals of performers, he began to depict abstracted, African mask-inspired depictions of all sorts of figures, from prostitutes in a Barcelona brothel (Les Demoiselles d'Avignon) to the artist himself (Self-Portrait).

NYC - MoMA: Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907)

Picasso, self portrait, 1907 

Picasso's fascination with the simplification and fragmentation found in “primitive” art inspired his next—and arguably most famous—phase: Cubism.


Cubism (1908-1914)

Cubism is a genre that features subject matter broken down into fractured forms. Pioneered by both Picasso and Georges Braque and renowned as one of the most important art movements, Cubism is separated into two primary phases: Analytical and Synthetic.


Analytical (1908-1912)

Analytical Cubism dominated the first four years of the movement. It is characterized by monochromatic, topsy-turvy canvases full of overlapping, geometric forms. The arrangement of these fragments form the subject, which is often unrealistically depicted from multiple angles at once.

Pablo Picasso Periods Picasso Famous Paintings Picasso Cubism

Girl with a Mandolin (1910) (Image: MoMA via Wikimedia Commons)


Synthetic (1912-1914)

Unlike Analytical Cubist works, paintings rendered in the Synthetic Cubist style were simplified, polychromatic, and inspired by collage art. Like the former phase of the movement, however, these paintings convey an interest in abstraction.

Pablo Picasso Periods Picasso Famous Paintings Synthetic Cubism

Guitar and Jug on a Table (1918) (Image via Wiki Art)

This part of the period officially lasted until 1914, though Picasso would continue to dabble in the style until the 1920s.


Neoclassicism (1917-1925)

Gradually shifting from the near-abstraction of Synthetic Cubism, Picasso adopted a Neoclassical style in 1917. This change occurred shortly after the artist's first visit to Italy, where he was inspired by the naturalism found in Italian Renaissance paintings.

Aiming to emulate these Renaissance artists, he returned to figurative painting—though, as evident in Woman Reading and The Pan Flute, they are not rendered in a style as realistically as his early works.


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Surrealism (1925-1932)

Following Neoclassicism, Picasso again moved away from naturalism. In 1925, he began working in a styled deemed Surrealist, characterized by dreamy depictions of figures with disorganized facial features and twisted bodies. This “surreal” quality is emphasized by an unnatural palette of bright tones and clashing colors, as well as a skewed sense of perspective and a contrast between organic and geometric forms.

Though Picasso is not considered a Surrealist painter, his paintings from this period made major contributions to the movement.


Late Work

After his Surrealist period and until his death in 1973, Picasso continued to paint. However, unlike his previous work, the pieces produced during this time are not categorized into certain styles, as they each incorporate different elements of his past periods. This approach culminated in an eclectic collection of paintings that both illustrate the influence of his changing style and remind viewers of his endless talent.

This article has been edited and updated.

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Kelly Richman-Abdou

Kelly Richman-Abdou is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. An art historian living in Paris, Kelly was born and raised in San Francisco and holds a BA in Art History from the University of San Francisco and an MA in Art and Museum Studies from Georgetown University. When she’s not writing, you can find Kelly wandering around Paris, whether she’s leading a tour (as a guide, she has been interviewed by BBC World News America and France 24) or simply taking a stroll with her husband and two tiny daughters.
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