Quote Investigator

So What? I Paint Fakes, Too

Pablo Picasso? Leonard Lyons? Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler? Arthur Koestler? Marshall McLuhan? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The most fascinating anecdote about authenticity that I have ever heard features Pablo Picasso repudiating a painting that he apparently created. Are you familiar with this tale? Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest occurrence of this anecdote located by QI appeared in the popular syndicated column of Leonard Lyons in 1957. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

One of Picasso’s friends asked him to look at a picture he’d bought: “Is this a genuine Picasso?” The painter examined it and said, “No, it’s a fake.” The friend was crestfallen, then said: “Oh, well, I have this other one — a genuine Picasso.” The artist looked at the second picture and said: “That’s a fake, too” . . .”But that’s impossible,” said the friend, bewildered. “I saw you paint it myself”. . .“So what?” Picasso shrugged. “I paint fakes, too.”

Lyons did not identify the confused individual in this article, but ten years later in 1967 Lyons revisited the topic and pointed to Picasso’s art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler as the owner of the disavowed painting.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1961 an instance of the tale appeared in the “Des Moines Tribune” of Des Moines, Iowa: 2

One story says that a man who had known Picasso a number of years took a signed canvas for authentication before putting it up for sale—a necessary step in view of the number of fake Picassos floating around the world.

Pablo looked at the painting, shook his head and grunted: “It’s a fake.”

“Look here,” said the friend indignantly. “You know darn well I watched you paint that one 30 years ago.”

“Maybe,” replied Picasso without blinking an eye, “but it’s a fake now.”

In 1962 the book publisher and quotation collector Bennett Cerf printed a version in his syndicated column: 3

A friend once brought Picasso three paintings to sign. Picasso refused, declaring that all three were palpable fakes. “But,” protested the exasperated friend, “I saw you paint these pictures with my own eyes.” Picasso’s unabashed answer was, “I can paint fake Picassos just as well as anybody.”

In 1964 prominent writer Arthur Koestler published the tale within his work about creativity titled “The Act of Creation”: 4

An art dealer (this story is authentic) bought a canvas signed ‘Picasso’ and travelled all the way to Cannes to discover whether it was genuine. Picasso was working in his studio. He cast a single look at the canvas and said: ‘It’s a fake’.

A few months later the dealer bought another canvas signed Picasso. Again he travelled to Cannes and again Picasso, after a single glance, grunted: ‘It’s a fake.’

‘But cher maître,’ expostulated the dealer, ‘it so happens that I saw you with my own eyes working on this very picture several years ago.’

Picasso shrugged: ‘I often paint fakes.’

In 1967 columnist Leonard Lyons stated that Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler was the baffled recipient of Picasso’s judgement: 5

Picasso’s agent, Kahnweiler, was with the artist when a painting was delivered to him for authentication. Picasso said it was forgery.

“But,” said the agent, “I was standing near you in your studio when you painted this very picture.

Picasso shrugged: “I just want to show I can paint a fake Picasso as well as anybody else.”

A collection of statements on the theme of fakes within the 1972 book “Culture Is Our Business” by Marshall McLuhan referred to the episode: 6

“Phoney”—”as unreal as a telephone conversation.” (1910 dictionary)

“I paint fakes all the time.” (Picasso)

“I have painted 2000 pictures. 5000 of them are in the U.S.A.” (Matisse)

In furs the genuine fake costs more than real fur. It wears better.

In conclusion, QI considers the anecdote substantive and hypothesizes that Leonard Lyons heard it from Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler before Lyons wrote about it in his 1957 column. The exact phrasing of Picasso’s response is uncertain because Lyons and others have presented multiple versions.

Image Notes: Picture of Osborne Bull covered with imagery from Picasso’s well-known painting ‘Guernica’; image jfdolo at Pixabay. Portrait of Pablo Picasso in front of his painting ‘The Aficionado’ circa 1912; accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Notes:

  1. 1957 February 22, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Picasso Can ‘Paint Fakes, Too’ by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 27, Column 1 and 2, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1961 October 10, Des Moines Tribune, It’s Fake, Cries Crafty Picasso (Special Dispatch to The Des Moines Tribune), Quote Page 18, Column 2, Des Moines, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1962 September 20, The Times and Democrat, Try and Stop Me by Bennett Cerf (King Features Syndicate),Quote Page 15, Column 2, Orangeburg, South Carolina. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1964 Copyright, The Act of Creation by Arthur Koestler, Part One: The Jester, Chapter III: Varieties of Humour, Quote Page 82, Hutchinson & Company, London. (Verified with scans)
  5. 1967 February 3, The Pittsburgh Press, The Lyons Den by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 16, Column 4 and 5, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (“Kahnweiler” is misspelled with double “l” in the original newspaper text) (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1972 (1970 Copyright), Culture Is Our Business by Marshall McLuhan, Section 3, Chapter: Fake Vermeer, Quote Page 46, Ballantine Books, New York. (Verified with scans)