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Understanding Picasso in three of his lesser-known portraits

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Picasso is, without a doubt, one of the most famous artists in history. But very few really get to understand the genius behind his unique shapes.

Nowadays, art and beauty are not synonymous. The artist is not obliged to create under an ideal; they are free. Since the avant-garde, artists can choose what they want to create. They have become geniuses and therefore have managed to impose their vision on art.

Contemporary spectators see through the images what the artist proposes and how they convert their reality into our own. But as a genius, the artist creates, deforms, and interprets to his own advantage. Sometimes in search of harmony of color or form, sometimes in favor of artistic experimentation. There are several examples of this capacity or game that turns the artist into a genius.

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The genius artist par excellence is Pablo Picasso. In his 1910 portrait of the gallery owner Ambroise Vollard, the Spanish artist shows a cubist portrait in which the protagonist is far from reality or even from other images or portraits made of Vollard, such as those of Cezanne or Renoir. Picasso decomposed the figure into different planes and assembled them from different perspectives. The great experimentation in form prevails over the color of the painting. In addition, it invites the viewer to perform an exercise in understanding what is presented to them.

But Picasso’s genius was not limited. In 1917 he painted Portrait of Olga in an Armchair, based on his partner, Olga Khokhlova. It is a completely different portrait from the previous one. It is more of a classical portrait, with a clear inspiration in those of Ingres. Moreover, as it is not completely finished, it shows a sense of warmth and intimacy.

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This portrait, indeed, shows a great interest in the forms, in this case classical. However, the interesting thing is the details that differ from reality. There is a photograph of Olga posing for this work. The face in the painting is much more friendly and rounded. Even the pose is much more upright and elegant, as Picasso depicts a longer neck and spleen than in the photograph.

Much more distant from reality is Woman with a Hat, 1935, also based on Khokhlova. In this case, the form and line have disappeared, to leave more space for reflection to the application of color. It is a simple portrait, accessible to the viewer, although it does not present any features that directly allude to Olga.

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In short, the artist’s ability as a genius adapts to all styles. They play and transform reality, besides turning their images into icons. For that reason, the spectator grants them veracity and believes in the verisimilitude of the images that the artist presents. Even though on many occasions these images are far from reality.

While it is true that for many art is a simple embellishment, there is much that a work of art, whatever its nature or genre, can hide in meaning and content. Nothing comes from nothing. Everything always arises from something else. The works of Picasso, the father of cubism, come from something, and here you can read about his stories.

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Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva

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