Pablo Picasso Famous Paintings and Inspiring Works that Changed the World

Illustration of a famous Picasso Painting with Picasso's signature on top, adjacent is a photograph of his biography

Observation of several Pablo Picasso famous paintings reveal great leaps in creative thought and artistic application which have inspired both artists and spectators alike for decades. Trailblazing the movement of Cubism, the visual depiction of abstracted subjects through multiple vantage points, Picasso’s paintings have pushed the boundaries of the role of an artist, from a mere filter who mirrors the world, to a visionary who sees through the world and attempts through creativity to change it.

Through Picasso famous paintings, Pablo has left his mark on the art world and the consciousness of those who have seen his work up close. To see his impact in greater detail, let’s examine 7 of Picasso’s famous works.

7 Examples of Pablo Picasso Famous Paintings and Works

Old Guitarist, 1903

Pablo Picasso painting old guitar
The Old Guitarist (1903), Art Institute of Chicago.

While Picasso is most known for his pioneering of the Cubist Movement, like many abstract painters of his time, his roots began in more classical painterly traditions. In fact, Picasso’s earliest paintings reveal his solid foundation in perspective and proportions.

From early on, Picasso showed raw talent as a painter and was enrolled in Madrid’s Royal Academy of San Fernando, but after a year he dropped out, presumably feeling uninspired by the restrictions of classical realism.

As a young artist, Picasso quickly mixed with other ambitious and even volatile contemporaries, exploring the drunken underbelly of Parisian society in search for inspiration. In 1901, a close companion of Picasso’s, in the company of Picasso and other friends, turned the gun on his object of unrequited love and then on himself.

Pablo Picasso famous Painting the death of Casadegas
The Death of Casagemas (1901) by Pablo Picasso; Pablo Picasso, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While the love interest survived, Carles Casagemas, Picasso’s close friend died, and the trauma triggered a painterly style that was to be known as The Blue Period between 1901 – 1904. During this time, the color blue overwhelmingly dominated the palate and melancholy mood of Picasso’s paintings.

One of the most recognized works to come out of Picasso’s Blue Period is the Pablo Picasso famous painting, The Old Guitarist. Both his understanding of the human form and his willingness to contort the limits of the body, show how Picasso can, through manipulation of form and color, offer new dimensions to meaning and understanding.

Painted towards the end of the Blue Period, the frail figure of the old man becomes lost in the blue background white brush strokes are used to delineate and animate the near corpse-like figure.

In contrast, the guitar, painted in rich brown hues, offers the only warmth in this image, offering solace and even hope in otherwise difficult circumstances.

Girl on a Ball, 1905

Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso, 1905, Acrobate à la Boule (Acrobat on a Ball), oil on canvas, 147 x 95 cm, The Pushkin Museum, Moscow.

Emerging out of PIcasso’s Blue Period, Girl on a Ball (or Young Acrobat on a Ball) signifies a new turning over of a leaf with what is known as The Rose Period. Here, dreary blues are tempered with softer rosey tones. During this time, Picasso’s famous paintings focused largely on circus performers during rehearsal.

In Girl on a Ball, Picasso juxtaposes strength in the oversized man in the foreground with the youth and buoyancy of the girl of the ball. Compared to the awkward distortion of the Old Guitarist, this Young Acrobat displays a lightness of being through the young figure’s physical and anatomical freedom, illustrating how form outweighs subject matter in Picasso’s expressiveness.

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907

Les Demoiselles dAvignon
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Pablo Picasso, 1907, oil on canvas, 244 x 234 cm.

When it comes to Pablo Picasso’s famous paintings, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is one of his most iconic works. Arguably Picasso’s first cubist painting, Les Demoiselles is also one of Picasso’s most controversial of his masterpieces.

At the time of its creation, the subject matter, women in a brothel, was nothing new in art history. The list of influences is long, but It had been a kind of right of passage for young male painters to legitimize and transmute their sexual fantasies into artistic outlets and to do so relying on the generous access to willing female anatomic studies that brothels had to offer.

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Google search screenshot with keywords: brothel-painting-classical-art

But what sets Picasso’s work apart from this long-standing tradition of male artistic patronage, is the completely unromanticized way in which Picasso chose to depict his subject. In this famous Picasso painting, a cubist style is employed to transform both subject and context.

As we have seen in Girl on a Ball, how Picasso chooses to paint his subjects is at least as relevant as what he chooses to paint.

Again in cubist form, space is collapsed between and around the figures. Through a lack of shading and broad color planes, the individuality of each woman is removed and the figures are completely subjectified beyond recognition.

To add to this, their identities are also obscured with the use of primitive masks, showing a brutal honesty in the relationship between prostitute and patron, whereby the prostitute becomes nothing more than a primal plaything, taken out of real-life context.

The women, however, are confrontational and at the same time ironically on display. They meet both Picasso’s and the viewer’s gaze head-on, adopting aggressive rather than passive postures. Some argue that this is meant to somehow empower what remains of the women.

Three Musicians, 1921

Pablo Picasso 1921 Nous autres musiciens Three Musicians oil on canvas 204.5 x 188.3 cm Philadelphia Museum of Art 1
Pablo Picasso, 1921, Nous autres musiciens (Three Musicians), oil on canvas, 204.5 x 188.3 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Next on our list of Pablo Picasso famous paintings is his work Three Musicians, where we can see Picasso’s quintessential ‘Synthetic Cubist’ style in full swing. Several versions of this large work have been produced.

Here, once again, we observe the flattened geometric areas of color used to abstract the human form. The space is also nonexistent between the figures, table, and instruments, placing all these items on nearly one plane of view.

To some extent, the image resembles a collage more than a coherent painting. Breaking up the visual elements into geometric shapes feels almost like breaking the image up into musical notes.

For more info on his famous Picasso painting check out the video below.

Guernica, 1937

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A tiled wall in Gernika claims “Guernica” Gernikara, “The Guernica (painting) to Gernika.”

Ultimately, you cannot make a list of Picasso’s most famous paintings without including this impactful, anti-war masterpiece of Guernica.

In 1937, in the midsts of the Spanish Civil War, Picasso was asked by the Spanish Republicans to create a mural for the world’s fair in Paris. Until that point, Picasso largely avoided overtly political themes in his work, but after seeing the newspaper reports of the bombing of the city of Guernica in the Basque territories in the north of Spain by Fascist forces, Picasso sprung into action inspired and heartbroken by the massacre which took place.

Two things stand out initially when viewing this monumental work: the scale and the limited color palate. The painting is monumentous, stretching more than 7 meters across, wrapping viewers in its tragic scene. Underneath you can see an image of a crowd viewing the work to get an idea of its scale.

The color palate is limited to white, grey, and black, reflecting the colors of a newspaper clipping, signaling Picasso’s desire to use this work to spread the news of the atrocities at Guernica.

In terms of style, Picasso utilizes both aspects of Cubism and Surrealism in his attempts to transcend the horrors of the scene. The image is one of carnage, using cubist flatness of forms to deconstruct aspects of the event, and at the same time applying symbolism and layering of meaning to activate subconscious reactions in the viewer.

You can write a dissertation breaking down each aspect of the symbolism in this piece, but essentially, what Picasso manages to convey is not only the destruction at the hands of fascist governments but the heroism in the ability of survivors to endure such pain.

Les femmes d’Alger, 1955

Les femmes dAlger Picasso version O
Les femmes d’Alger, Picasso, version O, 1955. Low Resolution. Fair Use.

Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) is, to date, the most expensive Picasso painting sold at auction. It is one of a series of 15 unique paintings which explore variations on the same motif. The image, of women in a brothel or harem, harkens back to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon which we viewed early in this article. Being set in an oriental environment of Algeria puts a new spin on the subject.

Femmes dAlger dans leur appartement Eugene Delacroix Musee du Louvre Peintures INV 3824 Q1212737
Women of Algiers in their Apartment (1834), oil on canvas, 180 × 229 cm. Eugene Delacroix. Louvre, Paris.

Picasso’s painting was directly inspired by the painting seen above from Eugene Delacroix. This source material, created almost 120 years prior to Picasso’s series, became of symbol of western orientalism which imported images of exotic and forbidden otherness to Europe during the height of colonialism, and namely during the French occupation of Alergia.

Challenged both by the artistic beauty and problematic cultural associations of Delacroix’s work, Picasso used his series of 15 paintings and a deep dive into understanding the work from multiple perspectives. And of course, in typical Picasso form, what better way could there be to examine something from multiple viewpoints than to use Cubism as your tool?

What stands out most about Version O in particular is the incorporation of seemingly all of Picasso’s tools in his painterly toolbox. Full frontal gaze is met and juxtaposed between a reclined and passive, yet angularly aggressive pose of the figure in on the right. The space, or in this case, the apartment, is collapsed and draped by abstracted oriental patterns. In total, the work represents not only the culmination of this particular Delacroix study but the embodiment of Picasso’s style as a whole.

Chicago Picasso, 1967

Photograph of public art work Chicago Picasso on a sunny day.
Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza, Chicago, Illinois, US. Photo by J. Crocker, 2004.

Wrapping up this list of Pablo Picasso’s famous paintings and works is the untitled work of public art, referred to as Chicago Picasso.

Situated in Daley Plaza, this sculpture is the considered Picasso’s most recognized public art piece, and for the Windy City, it also was the first of its kind, being purely an aesthetic work of art and not a monument dedicated to a known Chicago figure.

At 50 feet tall, the steel structure towers in height and has become a magnet for visitors and children eager to climb its base. Unsure if Picasso meant it ironically or not, he is said to have gotten his inspiration for the head structure from that of his Afghan Hound named Kabul. 

Arabian Hound Image to show Picasso influence for Chicago Picasso.
Afghan Hound XXXIII Dogs Show in Ustroń, Poland. Photo by Lilly M.

What’s striking about this piece is its adherence to Cubist design through its flat abstracted geometric planes. However, despite its three-dimensional shape, this cubist work allows viewers to experience it from all angles, making it multidimensional, or if you will, cubist squared.

While the work has been criticized for its lack of relevance to the City of Chicago, the steel, sleekness, and humor manage to catch the city’s spirit with a Picasso touch.

In Conclusion

These 7 Pablo Picasso famous paintings are cornerstones of Picasso’s various stages in his artistic career, but of course, they only scratch the surface of his prolific creative production. Using Cubism largely as a tool of exploration, Picasso was obsessed with his urge to go beyond the surface of an image and understand our world from multiple sides, physically and philosophically. Through the uniqueness of his style and his dedication to a search for truth, Picasso’s famous paintings and works remain an inspiration for today and for years to come.

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