On April 8th, 1973, Pablo Picasso, a successful multi-millionaire painter, died in Southern France. Due to his longstanding aversion to the idea of death, there was not an adequate enforceable will. Under the French law, half of his immense fortune should have gone to his second wife, the former Jacqueline Roque, and the other half to Paul, his only legitimate child born out of Olga Khoklovla, his first wife. His three illegitimate children and his nephew could lay a claim for a piece of his vast fortune. They all did, entangling his estate in bitter years of legal proceedings that ended with negotiations.
Why wouldn’t a prominent figure like Picasso—who had the privilege of earning vast amount of money for his works during his lifetime, unlike many other painters—sit down to prepare a will? Because he was terribly superstitious and had always forbidden any talk of “death” in his presence.
Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born on October 25th, 1881, in Málaga, Spain, to two artists, his mother Maria Ruiz Picasso and his father Jose Ruiz Blasco, a professor in the Arts and Crafts School; popular lore says that the artist learned how to draw before he even could learn a single word. Under the aegis of his gifted parents, he developed quickly as an artist in prestigious schools. But there was another trait that he inherited from them: a superstitious nature. When we first visited Málaga, we searched for his home, which is located by a central square, right in the middle of the most kalé-influenced city in the Iberian Peninsula, renowned for its many superstitions. Location does matter.
Picasso’s superstitions involved even menial tasks like getting one hair’s cut by a barber. Being visually accustomed to his bald profile in later years, we forget that he had a lot of hair as a young artist living in Montmartre with the golden generation of artists from la Belle Epoque. In her book, Françoise Gilot, one of his former lovers, wrote that he believed that hair had magical powers and he could only trust a well vetted barber with its cutting and proper disposal. The assignment of power to hair is a constant theme in Mythology, starting with the story of Samson and Delilah.
However, most artists, including Picasso, are convinced that superstition can play a positive role to safeguard their gifts and to promote the much-coveted inspiration to continue producing work. The atelier of Rafael, the great Italian painter, has a bespoke machine to produce colored mineral additives that he had used in his magnificent tableaus. When Picasso visited his home, he planted both hands on the mineral residue, pressed hard and then lifted them ceremoniously; he laid both hands on his son’s forehead, expecting to magically transmit his predecessor’s inspiration to paint.
A much-camouflaged fact that shook his early career in Paris was the denunciation that he had arranged for the stealing of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from the Musée du Louvre in 1911. The police arrested Pablo Picasso and the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had earlier arranged for the theft of two African statues that he eventually gave to the painter for inspiration. During his public trial, Picasso broke down in tears, but he never confessed to the crime; they were both acquitted and the painting surfaced, unscathed, in an Italian home in 1914. Did they do it?
What do you think? Please tell us.
Don’t leave me alone.