Picasso's 1901 exhibition - the founding of a genius

112 years ago, Pablo Picasso launched the first major exhibition of his work.

On June 24, 1901, the Parisian elite would be exposed to the brilliance of this enigmatic, vibrant Spanish talent for the very first time.

Picasso in 1908-1909, having found success at the pinnacle of the Parisian art scene

Needless to say, the exhibition was a critical success, with reviewers besotted with Picasso's insatiable appetite for creativity. Respected critic Gustav Coquiot introduced the 19-year-old as:

"Pablo Ruiz Picasso - an artist who paints all round the clock, who never believes the day is over, in a city that offers a different spectacle every minute… A passionate, restless observer, he exults, like a mad but subtle jeweller, in bringing out his most sumptuous yellows, magnificent greens and glowing rubies".

And so one of the most brilliant and prolific artistic careers in history was launched - but what led to this breakthrough year?

The building where Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain

Born in Malaga, Spain in 1881, Picasso began his artistic training at the age of just nine under his father, Jose Ruiz y Blasco, in 1890.

His father was a well-established painter, as well as an art teacher at the Escuela Provincial de Bellas Artes, giving Pablo the perfect platform from which he could explore his artistic passions.

Jose Ruiz y Blasco
Picasso's father, Jose Ruiz y Blasco, was noted for his wonderful depictions of pigeons and doves

A fast learner, it only took until 1893 for the juvenile qualities of his very earliest works to fade, and elements of the artist we know today start to appear.

However, contrary to the wild, colourful style that Picasso is now famous for, he initially produced works of great academic realism.

One of his greatest achievements during this period is The First Communion (1896), which depicts his sister, Lola, and recalls the work of earlier Spanish masters such as Velazquez and Goya.

Aged 14, he produced Portrait of Aunt Pepa later in the same year. This magnificent and dramatic portrait truly shows his development as an artist, with poet and critic Juan-Eduardo Cirlot calling it, "without a doubt one of the greatest in the whole history of Spanish painting."

Paul Cezanne's portrait of Ambroise Vollard, the dealer that launched Picasso's career

Picasso first visited Paris in the winter of 1900, a propitious trip that he found truly inspiring and one that would secure the 1901 exhibition with art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who had worked with Cezanne and Renoir.

He returned to Madrid, but in February 1901, he received word that his close friend Carlos Casagemas had committed suicide by shooting himself in Montmartre's Hippodrome cafe in front of the young woman who had jilted him - an event that would affect Picasso's work for the following year.

Picasso left Spain for Paris at the beginning of May 1901, armed only with a scant number of drawings and even fewer paintings.

Taking up Casagemas' former studio with agent Pere Manach, he had just a month to produce enough works to fill the exhibition.

Picasso Dwarf Dancer
Picasso's La Nana (Dwarf Dancer), one of the many works he created inspired by Paris' spectacles

With Paris a hub of artistic activity at the time, Picasso did not find it hard to draw inspiration from the city's colours, scenes and nightlife. Dwarf Dancer and At the Moulin Rouge are two of his most famous works produced during this burst of creativity.

Yet Picasso was not content to let the success of the Vollard exhibition determine his artistic style. Still profoundly moved by his friend's suicide, he turned to a darker palette and his paintings took on a more sinister mood. The dawning of his next great era - The Blue Period - had begun.

Paul Fraser Collectibles has a wonderful signed postcard of Absinthe Drinker, one of the most celebrated works from Picasso's Blue Period.

Picasso Absinthe Drinker

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