It’s possible to look at Pablo Picasso’s many formal experiments and periodic shifts of style as a kind of self-portraiture, an exercise in shifting consciousness and trying on of new aesthetic identities. The Spanish modernist made a career of sweeping dramatic gestures, announcements to the world that he was going to be a different kind of artist now, and everyone had better catch up. Even in his most abstract periods, his work radiated with an emotional energy as outsized as the man himself.
The somber Blue Period paintings, with their moodiness and “themes of poverty, loneliness, and despair,” correspond with his mourning over the suicide of a friend, Catalan artist Carlos Casagemas. The Picasso in the 1901 portrait further up looks gaunt, broken, decades older than his 20 years. In the 1917 drawing further down, however, the artist at 35 looks out at us with a haughty, smooth-cheeked youthful gaze.
Picasso’s animus and vitality even permeate his least inviting painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (click here to view), a brothel scene with five geometrical women, two with African and Iberian masks; “a painting of nudes in which there is scarcely a curve to be seen,” writes The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones, “elbows sharp as knives, hips and waists geometrical silhouettes, triangle breasts.” The 1907 self-portrait of Picasso at age 25 (below) comes from this period, when the artist began his radical Cubist break with everything that had gone before.