For most of his life, Pablo Picasso was an international, media-magnified celebrity "the world's greatest painter." He was charming (women loved him; he mistreated them), controversial (in his personal life as well as his art) and enormously productive (creating more than 20,000 paintings, drawings and sculptures). In short, said critic Robert Hughes, Picasso was "the artist with whom virtually every other artist had to reckon."
And in his later years, Picasso had to reckon with himself. After all, he was the painter of the revolutionary Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the co-creator (with Georges Braque) of perspective-scrambling Cubism and the brilliant muralist who evoked the horrors of the Spanish Civil War in his monumental Guernica. What could he do to preserve his legendary status? More importantly, what could he do to forestall death?
Work. In the period after World War II, Picasso turned out more pieces, sometimes several a day, than at any time in his career. He took up ceramics, producing more than 3,000 lively painted pots, plates and anthropomorphic vessels. He excelled at printmaking. His simple, kitschy 1949 lithograph of a pigeon has become a much-reproduced international symbol, the dove of peace. His 347 Series, named for the number of related prints he made in 1968 when he was 87, is an astonishing retrospective of his erotic themes. An unnamed 15-m-tall steel sculpture, unveiled in 1967 for America's Second City, is now famous as the Chicago Picasso.
And he painted. His later masterpieces include The Studio of "Le Californie," a moving homage to Henri Matisse, once his rival, then his soulmate. He furiously reinterpreted the works of Eugène Delacroix, Edouard Manet and Diego Velázquez and other giants who had influenced him perhaps seeking to share in their immortality. And he drew himself, as a musketeer, minotaur, sexual actor and observer. His final self-portrait, done in 1972, months before he died, is one of his most famous. Here he is a gaunt old man, eyes bulging from a greenish skull, chest covered only in scribbles of hair. The medium is the pencil and crayon of a child.
"All I have ever made," Picasso once said, "was made for the present and in the hope that it will always remain in the present." Thirty-three years after his death at 91, Picasso is as present and alive as ever.