15-Year-Old Picasso Paints His First Masterpiece, “The First Communion”


It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a life­time to paint like a child. — Pablo Picas­so

We think it’s safe to say that most of us have a pre­con­ceived notion of Picas­so’s style, and The First Com­mu­nion, above, isn’t it.

Picas­so was just 15 when he com­plet­ed this large-scale oil, hav­ing lost his 7‑year-old sis­ter, Con­chi­ta, to diph­the­ria one year before.

The strick­en young artist had attempt­ed to bar­gain with God, vow­ing to give up paint­ing if she was spared. As Ari­an­na Huff­in­g­ton writes in the biog­ra­phy Picas­so: Cre­ator and Destroy­er:

…he was torn between want­i­ng her saved and want­i­ng her dead so that his gift would be saved. When she died, he decid­ed that God was evil and des­tiny an ene­my. At the same time, he was con­vinced that it was his ambiva­lence that had made it pos­si­ble for God to kill Con­chi­ta. His guilt was enormous—the oth­er side of his belief in his pow­ers to affect the world around him. And it was com­pound­ed by his almost mag­i­cal con­vic­tion that his lit­tle sis­ter’s death had released him to be a painter and fol­low the call of the pow­ers he had been giv­en, what­ev­er the con­se­quences.

If there’s evil at work in the “First Com­mu­nion,” he keeps it under wraps. All eyes are on the rapt young com­mu­ni­cant, embod­ied in his sur­viv­ing sis­ter, Lola, in a snowy veil and gown.

Their father, painter and draw­ing pro­fes­sor José Ruiz y Blas­co, assumes the part of the girl’s father or god­fa­ther, a solemn wit­ness to this rite of pas­sage.

Ruiz y Blas­co pro­vid­ed instruc­tion and cham­pi­oned his son’s gift. He encour­aged him to enter the “First Com­mu­nion,” and lat­er, “Sci­ence and Char­i­ty” (in which he appears as the doc­tor) in the Exposi­cion de Bel­las Artes, a com­pe­ti­tion and exhi­bi­tion oppor­tu­ni­ty for emerg­ing artists.

Picas­so lat­er remarked that “every time I draw a man, I think of my father.  To me, man is Don José, and will be all my life…”

Ruiz y Blas­co, con­vinced that Picasso’s tal­ent would bring suc­cess as a nat­u­ral­is­tic painter of clas­si­cal scenes and por­traits, was deeply dis­ap­point­ed when his teenaged son began blow­ing off class at Madrid’s pres­ti­gious Acad­e­mia Real de San Fer­nan­do. 

Just imag­ine how he react­ed to the scan­dalous Cubist vision ofLes Demoi­selles d’Avignon,” unveiled a mere eleven years after the “First Com­mu­nion.”

The rest is his­to­ry.

Just for fun, we invit­ed the free online AI image gen­er­a­tor Craiy­on (for­mer­ly known as DALL‑E Mini) to have a go using the prompt “Picas­so First Com­mu­nion”.

The results should sur­prise no one. 

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Gestapo Points to Guer­ni­ca and Asks Picas­so, “Did You Do This?;” Picas­so Replies “No, You Did!”

14 Self-Por­traits by Pablo Picas­so Show the Evo­lu­tion of His Style: See Self-Por­traits Mov­ing from Ages 15 to 90

How To Under­stand a Picas­so Paint­ing: A Video Primer

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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