Tag Archives: Mary Chamot

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.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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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)