Music Washes Away from the Soul the Dust of Everyday Life

Pablo Picasso? Berthold Auerbach? Playboy? Aline Saarinen? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator:The following adage has been attributed to the famous painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso. Here are two versions:

1) Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
2) The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.

I was surprised to discover a similar remark about music ascribed to a prominent German writer named Berthold Auerbach. Here are two versions:

1) Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
2) Music cleanses the soul from the dust and dross of everyday life.

What do you think?

Quote Investigator: In 1864 Berthold Auerbach published the novel “Auf der Höhe” (“On the Heights”) which included the following statement in German about the cleansing nature of music: 1

. . . die Musik wäscht ihnen den Alltagsstaub von der Seele . . .

In 1867 a translation of the book by Fanny Elizabeth Bunnett was released. One of Auerbach’s characters was appointed to the position of general superintendent of the Royal Theatricals, and he sought advice from another character. He was told that music was essential to dramatic works, and it should be included before the beginning and between the acts of a play. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

I know every art wishes now to isolate itself and be independent, and not to be subject to others. A drama without music is a repast without wine. When men see a great drama without having passed before hand through the initiatory undulations of music, they appear to me as if unconsecrated, unpurified; music washes away from the soul, the dust of every day life, and says to each one; ‘thou art now no longer in thine office, or in the barracks, or in thy workshop’.

The analogous saying about art was attributed to Pablo Picasso in 1964, but the artist was not being quoted directly, and this linkage might be spurious. A detailed citation is given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1875 a translation of “On the Heights” by Simon Adler Stern was published, and it included a different phrasing for Auerbach’s adage: 3

Each art endeavors to isolate itself, to remain independent of all others. But a play without music is like a feast without wine. Music cleanses the soul from the dust and dross of every day life and seems to say to every one: ‘You are no longer in your office, in the barracks, or in the workshop.’

The statement was memorable, and an instance was placed into an 1883 collection of quotations called “The Speaker’s Garland and Literary Bouquet”: 4

Music washes away from the soul the dust of every-day life. Auerbach.

In 1909 the same remark and ascription appeared in “Golden Gleams of Thought from the Words of Leading Orators, Divines, Philosophers, Statesmen, and Poets” by Reverend S. P. Linn. The hyphen in “every-day” was removed: 5

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. Auerbach.

In January 1964 “Playboy” magazine published a five page collection of quotations under the title: “The Wisdom of Pablo Picasso” with the subtitle: “the world’s foremost living artist puts forth a credo for creativity”. Auerbach’s adage was modified by replacing “music” with “art”, and the words were ascribed to Picasso: 6

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.

The above statement and many others in the article were clearly derived from pre-existing quotations. The name of the person who crafted the modified “art” saying was not clear to QI. The compiler of the words attributed to Picasso was unidentified in the magazine. QI will discuss some other suspicious quotations in separate articles.

On January 21, 1964 the Associated Press TV writer reviewed an NBC network television program during which the quotation attributed to Picasso was spoken by an art critic: 7

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” said Picasso. That statement, quoted by art critic Aline Saarinen, explained what paintings mean to five collectors. It was part of Sunday night’s warm, rich NBC special called “The Art of Collecting.”

In September 1964 the art quotation was disseminated further when it appeared in a testimonial letter within an advertisement printed in “LIFE” magazine: 8

“Thanks you again for such fine books. Picasso has said ‘Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.’ Surely, it can be said of good books, especially yours.”

In 2004 the “Reno Gazette-Journal” presented another instance of the saying attributed to Picasso while complimenting local artisans: 9

The Spanish artist Pablo Picasso once said the purpose of art is to wash the dust of daily life off our souls. Certainly these three Reno metalsmiths understand, as Picasso did, there is no reason why the functional items of life can’t also be beautiful and uplifting to the spirit.

In conclusion, Berthold Auerbach should be credited with the words he wrote in “Auf der Höhe”. The English translations from 1867 and 1875 are acceptable. The variant quotation about art attributed to Pablo Picasso in 1964 was derived directly or indirectly from Auerbach’s words. QI suspects that the ascription to Picasso was flawed.

Image Notes: Musical notes from Alexas_Fotos at Pixabay. Waterfall with rainbows from Unsplash at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Andrew Malton and Mardy Grothe whose inquiries led QI initiate this investigation which grew to encompass other quotations. The question above was formulated by QI. Quotation expert Mardy Grothe’s website is available here. Special thanks to Professor Charles Doyle.)


  1. 1866, Auf der Höhe: Roman in acht Büchern von Berthold Auerbach, Volume 2, Quote Page 70, Cotta’schen Buchh., Stuttgart, Germany. (Original publication was in 1864 according to several bibliographies) (HathiTrust Full View) link link
  2. 1867, On the Heights by Berthold Auerbach, Volume 2 of 3, Third Book: Seventh Chapter, Quote Page 64, Translated by F. E. Bunnett (Fanny Elizabeth Bunnett), Published by Bernhard Tauhnitz, Leipzig, Germany. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1875, On the Heights: A Novel by Berthold Auerbach, Volume 1, Translation by Simon Adler Stern, Quote Page 212, Henry Holt and Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link link
  4. 1883 (1881 Copyright), The Speaker’s Garland and Literary Bouquet, Volume: 5, Quote Page 183, Published by P. Garrett & Company, Philadelphia. Pennsylvania. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 1909, Golden Gleams of Thought from the Words of Leading Orators, Divines, Philosophers, Statesmen, and Poets by Rev. S. P. Linn, Edition: Tenth, Quote Page 225, A. C. McClurg & Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  6. 1964 January, Playboy, Volume 11, Number 1, The Wisdom of Pablo Picasso: the world’s foremost living artist puts forth a credo for creativity, Start Page 95, Quote Page 97, HMH Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans)
  7. 1964 January 21, The Oregonian, Art Show Draws Raves From Critic by Cynthia Lowry (Associated Press Radio-TV Writer), Section 2, Quote Page 3, Column 3, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank)
  8. 1964 September 11, LIFE, Volume 57, Number 11, (Testimonial letter in advertisement for Time-LIFE Books; letter from Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence J. Rogge of San Fernando, California), Quote Page 9, Column 1, Time Inc., New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  9. 2004 August 28, Reno Gazette-Journal, Section: Reno Magazine, Creativity in Iron by A. C. Turmon, Start Page 102, Quote Page 102, Reno, Nevada. (Newspapers_com)