Category Archives: Pablo Picasso

“But You Did That in Thirty Seconds.” “No, It Has Taken Me Forty Years To Do That.”

Pablo Picasso? Mark H. McCormack? James McNeill Whistler? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A rapidly created artwork may still be quite valuable. An anecdote illustrating this point features Pablo Picasso and a pestering art lover. Would you please explore whether this tale is authentic or apocryphal?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of the Pablo Picasso vignette located by QI appeared in the 1984 book “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School” by Mark H. McCormack who was the powerful chairman of a talent management company. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

It always reminds me of the story about the woman who approached Picasso in a restaurant, asked him to scribble something on a napkin, and said she would be happy to pay whatever he felt it was worth. Picasso complied and then said, “That will be $10,000.”

“But you did that in thirty seconds,” the astonished woman replied.

“No,” Picasso said. “It has taken me forty years to do that.”

Picasso died in 1973; hence, the above citation provides only weak evidence. Interestingly, a thematically similar remark was made by the well-known painter James McNeill Whistler during court testimony in 1878. Whistler was asked by a lawyer about the stiff price he had set for an artwork he had created in two days: 2

“Oh, two days! The labour of two days, then, is that for which you ask two hundred guineas!”

“No;—I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime.”

If the Picasso story is apocryphal then its creator may have been inspired by the Whistler anecdote. Alternatively, if the story is authentic then Picasso’s response may have been influenced by a familiarity with Whistler’s response.

More information about the Whistler quotation is available here.

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Notes:

  1. 1984, What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School by Mark H. McCormack, Section 3: Running a Business, Chapter 11: Building a Business, Section: Charge for Your Expertise, Quote Page 169, Bantam Books, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1890, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies by James McNeill Whistler, Chapter: The Action, Quote Page 3 thru 5, John W. Lovell Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

“The Labour of Two Days, Is That for Which You Ask Two Hundred Guineas!” “No; I Ask It for the Knowledge of a Lifetime.”

James McNeill Whistler? Pablo Picasso? John Ruskin? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend a famous painter once created a work of art in a very rapid and seemingly slipshod fashion. Yet the price assigned to the piece was exorbitant. The artist was asked why the price of the painting was so large when the time expended in its construction was so small. The reply was something like:

I am not asking this high price for a brief amount of work. I ask it for the knowledge gained during the efforts of a lifetime.

I have heard versions of this anecdote referring to James McNeill Whistler and Pablo Picasso. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1877 James McNeill Whistler exhibited several paintings including “Nocturne in Black and Gold” at the Grosvenor Gallery in London which was operated by Sir Coutts Lindsay and his wife. The famous art critic John Ruskin’s evaluation was extraordinarily harsh; the prices were absurdly high, and the technique was crude he maintained. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

For Mr. Whistler’s own sake, no less than for the protection of the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay ought not to have admitted works into the gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly approached the aspect of wilful imposture. I have seen and heard much of cockney impudence before now, but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.

Whistler believed that Ruskin’s remarks were libelous, and he initiated a court case against the critic. In 1878 “The Times” of London wrote about the trial and described Whistler’s testimony. The painter admitted that “Nocturne in Black and Gold” was completed quickly, but he believed it was still quite valuable: 2

Of course, he expected that his pictures would be criticized. The “Nocturne in Black and Gold” he knocked off in a couple of days. He painted the picture one day and finished it off the next. He did not give his pictures time to mellow, but he exposed them in the open air, as he went on with his work, to dry. He did not ask 200 guineas for two days’ work; he asked it for the knowledge he had gained in the work of a lifetime.

Whistler prevailed at trial, but the jury awarded him only the nominal sum of one farthing. In addition, the judge did not allow Whistler to recover the costs he incurred while arguing the lawsuit.

Whistler published a transcript of his remarks during the trial within his 1890 book “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies”. See further below to read that text.

A thematically similar anecdote about Pablo Picasso is also circulating, and information about that topic is available here. Another pertinent tale called “Knowing where to tap” is examined here.

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Notes:

  1. 1879, The Annual Register: A Review of Public Events at Home and Abroad for the Year 1878, Part II, Remarkable Trials: Whistler v. Ruskin, Start Page 215, Quote Page 216 and 217, Rivingtons, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1878 November 26, The Times, Whistler v. Ruskin: Before Baron Huddleston and a Special Jury, Quote Page 9, Column 2, London, England. (The Times Digital Archive of Gale Cengage)

I Am Always Doing What I Can’t Do Yet in Order To Learn How To Do It

Pablo Picasso? Vincent van Gogh? Fred Beerstein?

Dear Quote Investigator: You have the following inspirational saying on the website:

Only one who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible.

The above remark reminded me of a statement that has been attributed to two very different painters: Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh:

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.

Can you tell me which artist really deserves the credit?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in a letter sent in 1885 to painter Anthon van Rappard from Vincent van Gogh who was immersed in the creation of the landmark canvas “The Potato Eaters”. The following English text based on the Dutch original was provided by the Van Gogh Museum. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The work in question, painting the peasants, is such laborious work that the extremely weak would never even embark on it. And I have at least embarked on it and have laid certain foundations, which isn’t exactly the easiest part of the job! And I’ve grasped some solid and useful things in drawing and in painting, more firmly than you think, my dear friend. But I keep on making what I can’t do yet in order to learn to be able to do it.

A somewhat different translation of the key sentence appeared in volume three of “The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh” which was reviewed in “The New York Times” in 1979: 2

His own description of his work is best: “I am always doing what I can’t do yet in order to learn how to do it.” Getting along with people was something else he could not do yet. “Madness,” he wrote, “is salutary in that one becomes less exclusive.” Another way of saying that when the need for human contact is terrible enough, anyone will do.

An instance was attributed to Pablo Picasso by 1995, but his death had occurred more than two decades earlier in 1973.

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Notes:

  1. Website: Van Gogh Museum of Amsterdam: Vincent van Gogh Letters, Letter number: 528, Letter from: Vincent van Gogh, Location: Nuenen, Letter to: Anthon van Rappard, Date: August 18, 1885, Website description: Van Gogh Letters Project database of the Van Gogh Museum. (Accessed vangoghletters.org on March 26, 2017) link
  2. 1979 February 10, New York Times, Books of The Times: Nature Has Spoken to Me by Anatole Broyard, (Book Review of “The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh” in 3 Volumes), Quote Page 17, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest)

When Painters Get Together They Talk About Where You Can Buy the Best Turpentine

Pablo Picasso? Jean Renoir? Garson Kanin? Apocryphal?

turpentine14Dear Quote Investigator: Critics discuss abstruse theories of creativity and engage in esoteric scrutiny of aesthetics while artists are primarily concerned with the practical. Admittedly, this is an oversimplification. Here is a statement that makes a similar point:

When art critics get together they talk about form and structure and meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.

Did Picasso really say this?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of a comparable expression located by QI appeared in a 1966 book by the screenwriter and director Garson Kanin who ascribed the words to Picasso: 1

Picasso says that when art critics get together they talk about content, style, trend and meaning, but that when painters get together they talk about where can you get the best turpentine.

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Notes:

  1. 1966, Remembering Mr. Maugham by Garson Kanin, Quote Page 45, Atheneum, New York. (Verified on paper)

I Am Only a Public Entertainer Who Has Understood His Times

Pablo Picasso? Giovanni Papini? Apocryphal?

picasso07Dear Quote Investigator: Pablo Picasso reportedly admitted in a “Confession” that he did not consider himself a great artist; instead, he was an entertainer who shocked and amused the rich and indolent to gain fame and wealth. Did Picasso really say this?

Quote Investigator: No. The well-known “Confession” was invented by an Italian journalist and literary critic named Giovanni Papini who wrote two novels filled with fictional encounters between the main character, a businessman named Gog, and famous figures such as Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, and Pablo Picasso.

The first satirical work titled “Gog” was published in 1931, and the sequel “Il Libro Nero: Nuovo Diario di Gog” (The Black Book: New Gog Diary) was released in 1951. 1 Papini’s writings were not intended to mislead readers. Yet, the fascinating statements he crafted for the luminaries were compelling enough to be remembered and misremembered. Reprinted passages in periodicals and books sometimes incorrectly indicated that the words were genuine. For example, in 1993 the scholar Frederick Crews wrote a powerful essay titled “The Unknown Freud” in “The New York Review of Books”. Unfortunately, one segment of the essay presented a statement ascribed to Freud by Papini as authentic. During the subsequent discussion Crews apologized and stated that his error stemmed from other scholarly works that improperly ascribed the words to Freud. 2 3

A comparable misunderstanding occurred regarding Panini’s mock interview with Picasso. A columnist writing for “The Washington Post” in 1952 noticed that Paris newspapers were printing the interview. He accepted the Picasso attribution and shared fragments of the text with his readers: 4

Paris newspapers are agog. The story has been picked up by several American publications including Quick.

Admitting himself to be “a public entertainer” exploiting as best he could “the foolishness, the vanity and the greed” of his contemporaries, Picasso recently confessed that he merely sought to please master and critic with the “new, the strange, the original, the extravagant, the scandalous … the less they understood them the more they admired me.”

Over the years, multiple translations have been created, and sometimes the translations have been indirect, e.g., English text has been derived from French text created from Italian text.

A 1954 book lambasting modern art titled “Peril on Parnassus” by William F. Alder included a version of the fictive remarks. However, a reviewer in the “Los Angeles Times” responded skeptically: 5

Giovanni Papini’s alleged interview with Picasso, in which that painter was quoted as calling himself “a public clown, a mountebank,” is printed early in the book. But no mention is made of Picasso’s denial.

In January 1964 a journal of arts and literature called “Origin” published “A Confession” with a Pablo Picasso byline. The editor was unaware that the piece was based on “Il Libro Nero”. It began as follows: 6

When I was young, like all the young, art, great art, was my religion; but, with the years, I came to see that art, as it was understood until 1800, was henceforth finished, on its last legs, doomed, and that so-called artistic activity with all its abundance is only the many-formed manifestation of its agony. Men are detached from and more and more disinterested in painting, sculpture and poetry.

The imaginary Picasso suggested that modern artists resorted to “expedients of intellectual charlatanism”. Picasso’s own works, he felt, consisted of whims, tom-fooleries, brain-busters, and arabesques. He concluded his essay:

Today, as you know, I am famous and very rich. But when completely alone with myself, I haven’t the nerve to consider myself an artist in the great and ancient sense of the word. There have been great painters like Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt and Goya. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his time.

This is a bitter confession, mine, more painful indeed than it may seem, but it has the merit of being sincere.

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Notes:

  1. WorldCat Entry, Year: 1951, Title: Il Libro Nero: Nuovo Diario di Gog, Author: Giovanni Papini, Publisher: [Firenze]: Vallecchi, Language: Italian, (English Title Translation: The Black Book: New Gog Diary)
  2. 1993 December 16, The New York Review of Books, Footnote to Freud by Frederick C. Crews, Publisher: Rea S. Hederman, New York. (Online archive at nybooks.com) link
  3. 1994 February 3, The New York Review of Books, The Unknown Freud: An Exchange, (Letters responding to “The Unknown Freud” by Frederick Crews from J. Schimek, James Hopkins, Herbert S. Peyser, David D. Olds, and Marian Tolpin, et al. Also several replies from Frederick Crews), Publisher: Rea S. Hederman, New York. (Online archive at nybooks.com) link
  4. 1952 August 3, The Washington Post, Four Books About Art: Picasso Gave His ‘Silly’ Era in Painting a Blow, (Several books reviewed by Sterling North), Quote Page B7, Column 4, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)
  5. 1954 September 19, Los Angeles Times, New Art Books by A.M., Quote Page D7, Column 5, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)
  6. 1964 January, Origin, Second Series, Issue 12, Pablo Picasso: A Confession, (Note: The article presents an incorrect ascription to Picasso), Start Page 1, End Page 2, Editor: Cid Corman, Yamaha Art Gallery, Kyoto, Japan. (Verified with scans; thanks to the librarians of Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

One Cannot Invent What Does Not Exist. The Genius of Invention Lies in Rediscovering What Has Been Lost, Forgotten, or Misunderstood

Pablo Picasso? Jacques Lassaigne? Mary Chamot? Playboy?

paint10Dear Quote Investigator: I came across the following statement attributed to the prominent artist Pablo Picasso:

A painter cannot paint what does not exist. He can only rediscover what has been lost, forgotten or misunderstood.

This is certainly a curious ontological outlook, but I have not been able to find a good citation. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: This statement was ascribed to Pablo Picasso in “Playboy” magazine in 1964, but QI believes this evidence was flawed. A full citation is given further below.

The earliest strong match found by QI appeared in the critical commentary accompanying a 1939 art book about the French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The critic was Jacques Lassaigne, and his words were translated from French to English by Mary Chamot. Lassaigne’s topic was invention and not painting. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

It is obvious that one cannot invent what does not exist. The genius of invention lies in rediscovering what has been lost, forgotten or misunderstood: scientific theory teaches us that no energy is lost in the world, but that it changes.

Interestingly, the commentary by Lassaigne included another passage about the different motivations of artists and the diverse milieus of creation. The highlighted phrase within the following excerpt was later reassigned to Picasso in 1964: 2

Are the tortuous bye-ways and secret experiences necessary and productive? I think it is a question of intention: they are valuable and enriching only so far as they are not made to oblige: art can certainly not be born in artifice. For the rest, in plastic values we can only judge by results, not by intentions.

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Notes:

  1. 1939, Toulouse Lautrec by Jacques Lassaigne, Translated from French to English by Mary Chamot, Quote Page 28, The Hyperion Press, Paris. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1939, Toulouse Lautrec by Jacques Lassaigne, Translated from French to English by Mary Chamot, Quote Page 29, The Hyperion Press, Paris. (Verified on paper)

Music Washes Away from the Soul the Dust of Everyday Life

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

rainbow07Dear 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.

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Notes:

  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

We Love Music for the Buried Hopes, the Garnered Memories, the Tender Feelings, It Can Summon with a Touch

Letitia Elizabeth Landon? Pablo Picasso? Samuel Rogers?

landon09Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement has been attributed to the major artist Pablo Picasso:

Art! I love it for the buried hopes, the garnered memories, the tender feelings it can summon at a touch.

Curiously, a similar remark about music has been attributed to the Victorian novelist and poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon:

We love music for the buried hopes, the garnered memories, the tender feelings it can summon at a touch.

The poet Samuel Rogers has also been linked to the words above. Would you please help to dispel this confusion?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in the novel “Romance and Reality” by L.E.L. The three initials were used to designate the author Letitia Elizabeth Landon. The following passage employed a simile based on a magic lamp. Thus, the phrase “summon with a touch” referred to both a magical genie and intense feelings. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The man who stands listening to even a barrel-organ, because it repeats the tones “he loved from the lips of his nurse”—or who follows a common ballad-singer, because her song is familiar in its sweetness, or linked with touching words, or hallowed by the remembrance of some other and dearest voice—surely that man has a thousand times more “soul for music” than he who raves about execution, chromatic runs, semi-tones, &c. We would liken music to Aladdin’s lamp–worthless in itself, not so for the spirits which obey its call. We love it for the buried hopes, the garnered memories, the tender feelings, it can summon with a touch.

The parallel 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. By 2003 the saying about music was being credited to Samuel Rogers who had died in 1855. QI believes this linkage was not substantive.

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Notes:

  1. 1831, Romance and Reality by L.E.L. (Letitia Elizabeth Landon), Volume 1 of 3, Chapter 8, Quote Page 64, Published by Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, London. (Google Books Full View) link

When There’s Anything To Steal, I Steal

Pablo Picasso? Françoise Gilot? Carlton Lake? Apocryphal?

art08Dear Quote Investigator: Pablo Picasso was one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. He was also open to the ideas and approaches of other creators. The following remark has been attributed to the master painter:

When there’s anything to steal, I steal.

Is this statement authentic?

Quote Investigator: There is a substantive citation supporting this quotation. In 1964 “Life with Picasso” by Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake was published. Gilot was a long-time companion and muse of Picasso; they had two children together. She was also an independent artist and writer. Her coauthor, Lake, was an art critic.

Gilot described a visit that she and Picasso made to the fellow artist Henri Laurens who seemed delighted with the meeting. Gilot concluded that Laurens was especially welcoming because he was not in his studio. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Most of the painters and sculptors Pablo called on were a little uneasy when Pablo was in their ateliers, perhaps because Pablo often said, “When there’s anything to steal, I steal.” So they all felt, I think, that if they showed him work they were doing and something caught his eye, he would take it over but do it much better and then everyone else would think that they had copied it from him.

Gilot was with Picasso primarily between 1944 and 1953; hence, the 1964 book was published after a decade delay. Yet, her coauthor was convinced that the quotations presented were accurate. The information in her testimony that Lake was able to cross-check was correct: 2

. . . I have been continuously impressed by her demonstration of the extent to which that much abused term “total recall” can be literally true. Françoise knows exactly what she said, what Pablo said, every step of the way for the ten years and more that they spent together. The direct quotations from Picasso are exactly that.

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Notes:

  1. 1964, Life with Picasso by Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Part VI, Quote Page 317, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1964, Life with Picasso by Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Section: Foreword, Quote Page 9, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

Nothing Can Be Accomplished Without Solitude

Pablo Picasso? Apocryphal?

solitude08Dear Quote Investigator: To accomplish an arduous cerebral task it is necessary to avoid quotidian interruptions and achieve a deeper form of concentration. The remarkable painter Pablo Picasso has been credited with the following perceptive adage:

Without great solitude no serious work is possible.

This quotation is popular, but I have only been able to find it on websites and in recent books and periodicals. Are these the genuine words of the modernist master?

Quote Investigator: In 1989 the prominent Spanish writer Camilo Jose Cela told a newspaper reporter that the remark above was spoken to him by Pablo Picasso. Yet, the conversation between Cela and Picasso must have occurred many years before because the famous painter died in 1973. A detailed citation is presented further below.

A similar statement was made by Picasso in 1932 as reported in the newspaper “ABC” based in Madrid, Spain. The news story was obtained via telephone while Picasso was in Paris. The artist emphasized the pivotal importance of solitude to his work. But his description suggested that solitude was a psychological state that he was able to enter without the knowledge of others. Below was the original Spanish text (English is further below): 1

No se puede hacer nada sin la soledad. Me he creado una soledad que nadie sospecha. Pero el reloj dificulta hoy la soledad. ¿Ha visto usted algún santo con reloj?

Picasso’s thoughts were translated and published many years later in 1960 in “The New York Times”. The text consisted of a single paragraph attributed to Picasso in an article section titled “Ideas and Men”; no source for the words was specified: 2

Nothing can be accomplished without solitude. I have made a kind of solitude for myself which nobody is aware of. Today it’s very difficult to be alone because we have watches. Have you ever seen a saint wearing a watch?—PABLO PICASSO

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Notes:

  1. 1932 June 15, ABC Diario Ilustrado (Madrid), Informaciones y noticias del extranjero: ABC en Paris, (Telephone conversation with Pablo Picasso), Start Page 35, Quote Page 36, Madrid. (Online archive of ABC at hemeroteca.abc.es; accessed December 11, 2015) link
  2. 1960 July 17, New York Times, Opinion of the Week: At Home and Abroad: Ideas and Men, Quote Page E9, Column 6, New York. (ProQuest)