Pablo Picasso? Françoise Gilot? Carlton Lake? Apocryphal?
Dear 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.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.