Why Did Picasso Prosper?

by Jessie Roberts

Ian Leslie suggests that Pablo Picasso’s success with Cubism was hardly inevitable, but rather the product of circumstance:

First, there was a new kind of consumer: the industrial revolution had created a class of young, educated, affluent Parisians, who, keen to distinguish themselves from their dish_picasso more conventional elders, prided themselves on daring displays of taste.

Second, new channels of distribution were opening: the French government had divested itself of responsibility for the city’s annual art salon, and private galleries sprang up in its place. Finally, a new breed of art dealers emerged, many of them foreign and thus outsiders to the Parisian establishment. These young, hungry businessmen competed to find the new new thing first and sell it at the most aggressive price possible.

In short, and almost without anyone noticing, Paris’s art market had become receptive to the commercial possibilities of risk-taking. Artistic innovation was becoming economically viable for the first time. Breaking with the past was starting to be encouraged; soon it would be demanded. This was the environment in which Picasso made his leap into the unknown.

[Professor Stoyan] Sgourev’s analysis of Cubism suggests that having an exceptional idea isn’t enough: if it is to catch fire, the market conditions have to be right. That’s a question of luck and timing as much as it is of genius.

(Image: Portrait of Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, 1912, via Wikimedia Commons)