Pablo Picasso’s Animal Sketches: A Masterclass in Simplicity

Pablo Picasso, Bull, 1945, image via Business Insider

Pablo Picasso, Bull, 1945, image via Business Insider

Picasso’s late-career animal sketches embody refinement and simplicity; with just a single, continuous black line he was able to capture the character, energy and motion of animals on a flat white page. Deceptively simple, these concise drawings hold within them dynamic, sweeping movement and the invocation of form - arriving at this language of simplicity took years of dedication and hard work, as Picasso slowly worked out how to chip away superfluous detail in favour of his distinctive minimalist touch.

Pablo Picasso, Dove, 1940s

Pablo Picasso, Dove, 1940s

Pablo Picasso, Dove, 1940s

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Picasso loved animals and had a wide variety of pets throughout his lifetime, including doves, dogs, goats, rabbits and chickens. He was attracted to animals for their pure, child-like innocence, which tapped deep into the core of our human spirit, but he was also fascinated by the cultural symbolism and patriotism animals could embody. In the latter half of his career Picasso spent years drawing animals with the sparest fluid lines, studying them over and over again with his obsessive eye to capture the essence just right. One of the most important influences on this spare, simplified language was tribal art, which reduced representations of people and animals into stylised, eye catching motifs.

Pablo Picasso, Dove, 1940s

Pablo Picasso, Dove, 1940s
Pablo Picasso, Dove, 1940s

Picasso’s artistic father had an ongoing infatuation with pigeons, so perhaps it is no surprise that doves were such a prominent feature in much of Picasso’s art. They became the ideal symbol for peace and unity in post-war society, sometimes merged with feminine bodies and faces to harness the power of mother nature, as seen in Dove. Like his father, Picasso kept pet doves and many of his most popular line drawings are based on direct, daily observation of his pets.

Pablo Picasso, Bull, 1945, image via Daily Art Magazine

Pablo Picasso, Bull, 1945, image via Daily Art Magazine
Pablo Picasso, Bull, 1945, image via Daily Art Magazine

As a Spaniard by birth, Picasso was also fascinated by bulls, which represented the raging patriotism he felt for his native Spain, even while setting up a new life in France. In one of his most iconic artworks, titled Bull, 1945, Picasso teaches a masterclass in reduction, exposing his methods for working out how to eradicate any unnecessary detail. As we can see in the simplest, final image, Picasso captures the bulky body weight, spindly legs and small, horny head of this great beast with an understated economy of line. Such is the power of this artwork, employees for Apple are taught the art of concision through studying the series.

Pablo Picasso, Dog, 1950s

Pablo Picasso, Dog, 1950s
Pablo Picasso, Dog, 1950s

 

Dogs were another of Picasso’s favourite animals, acting as constant companions for him throughout his life. Of the many breeds he owned throughout his life, including terriers, poodles, a Boxer, a Great Pyrenees, a German Shepherd and Afghan Hounds, Picasso’s dachshund Lump (meaning ‘rascal’ in German), was his most beloved. Gifted to Picasso from his friend, the photographer David Douglas Duncan, Lump went on to appear in over 15 of Picasso’s paintings, and was immortalised in the beautifully refined line drawing Dog, that captured the dog’s sparky personality with the barest of lines.

Pablo Picasso, Owl, 1950s

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Pablo Picasso, Owl, 1950s

 

As well as doves, Picasso also had a great affinity for all types of birds, particularly owls. Picasso was drawn to owls for their connection to classical mythology as the sacred bird of Athena, goddess of wisdom. But he also had a stray pet owl named UBU, whose reserved innocence is captured in the charismatic drawing Owl. Though deft and minimal, Picasso’s late line drawings reveal his lifelong obsession with animals, and his unique ability to capture the movement, shape and personality of these fascinating, enigmatic creatures that surrounded his daily life.

Pablo Picasso ‘Animal Sketches’ series prints in situ, by Illus Prints
Pablo Picasso ‘Animal Sketches’ series prints in situ, by Illus Prints

 

This amazing article written by Rosie Lesso


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