Picassian Fables

Pablo Picasso. Self-Portrait, Sketches of Pompeu Gener and Oriol Martí and Other Sketches. Barcelona, 1899-1900. Pen and ink, and graphite pencil on watermarked paper. 32 x 22 cm. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Gift of Pablo Picasso, 1970. MPB 110.676. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photograph, Gasull Fotografia

The influence of geniuses is directly proportional to the number of legends and apocryphal stories that can be told about them. Picasso is a clear example of this capacity of human beings to make up stories about the personalities who were notable for their outstanding talent and extraordinary skills. There are many anecdotes and stories about Picasso, but some of them are absolutely false and others contain half-truths or have simply been modified or enlarged over time and with imagination.

In the case of icasso, the apocryphal or semi- apocryphal stories begin at the moment of his birth. It seems that the birth was very difficult and the child was born with few signs of life. In fact he was dead. The midwife, convinced that she couldn’t do anything for the baby, left him on a table while attending to the mother. As Picasso himself explained, if his uncle Salvador hadn’t been there he wouldn’t have survived. The uncle, who was smoking a cigarette, couldn’t think of anything better to do than to blow out a puff of smoke over the child, who reacted immediately with “a roar of fury”. This story seems to be only half true, but it doesn’t matter because it suited Picasso perfectly to explain the crucial presence of death in his work.

Another of the legends that has been spread around about Picasso is related to the restaurants and cafés that he frequented. In the days of leaner times, it is said that the young painter would sometimes leave without paying by drawing coins on the paper napkins to pretend he had left the money for the meal on the table before leaving. Neither of the two things can be proven, although it is however possible that Picasso drew things on the paper napkins because he was used to doing so on all types of everyday objects. Nevertheless, it was sure that he did so in the tavern Quatre Gats, but for pure pleasure. In terms of the design of the famous menu, could it be that the owner Pere Romeu commissioned it in exchange for being able to eat and drink for free? Was it a paid commission? What’s true is that the receipts for this commission haven’t been conserved, but it cannot be said for sure that the young artist was paid in kind with food and beer.

Habitants del Museu: Pere Romeu, l’ànima dels Quatre GatsPablo Picasso. Pere Romeu. Barcelona, 1900. Pen and sepia ink, wash and watercolour on paper. 17.9 x 12.9 cm. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Given by the Barcelona City Council, 1963. MPB 50.488. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photograph, Gasull Fotografia

A more far-fetched legend is that Picasso had had something to do with the robbery of La Gioconda at the Louvre in 1911. Nothing further from the truth, but it is true that during the police investigation, the painter and his friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, were investigated, interrogated and even retained – in the case of the poet – since the police also implicated them in the same museum for a previous robbery of Iberian statues, perpetrated by an acquaintance of the poet. The police suspected the same thief in the case of the Mona Lisa but they were two very different cases as demonstrated when Leonardo’s painting appeared in Italy. What is true is that the case of the Iberian statues complicated the relation between Apollinaire and Picasso a lot.

Pablo Picasso. Caricature of Guillaume Apollinaire. Page of a sketchbook. Gósol, 1906. Black pencil on graph paper. 12 x 7.3 cm. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Acquisition, 2000. MPB 113.039.27. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photograph, Gasull Fotografia

Regarding Picasso’s extraordinary technical skills, there are also legends. For example, that such an iconic work as Guernica was painted in just one week. Both thanks to the preparatory drawings that are conserved, as well as the photographic report by Dora Maar about the creative process of the mural, it is known that the work was carried out in a little more than a month, from 1st May to 4th June 1937. It’s true that Picasso was in a hurry to finish the work because it had to be hung in the Pavilion of the Republic for its opening in July. It was done in record time, but there’s a clear difference between a month and a week.


Written by the Museum


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