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.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 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) ↩
- 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 ↩