The Paradoxical PicassoIt's doubtful that there was ever an artist filled with more paradox than Pablo Picasso. An outgoing "bear" of a man, Picasso was also devoted to solitude. Though largely unschooled, he was extremely literate. He was addicted to the eight-o'clock news but seldom watched any other television. At his easel, he captured many of the political moods swirling around him. Though notoriously profligate as a younger man, he doted on wife and children as he grew older. Theirs was a cloistered life yet he remained in touch with the world around him to a degree often startling to his friends, offering up deep insights into the personalities and motivations of local and world leaders. Some reported him to be practically mystic. He was loquacious but just as happy in Trappist silence. He was homespun yet familiar with the myths of ancient lore. Late in life, ensconced in baronial splendour in his villa, La Californie, just outside Cannes, Picasso was a dyed-in-the-wool "night person". Existing on as little as four or five hours sleep a day, he preferred working at night under the glare of a single, 500-watt bulb. His wife, Jacqueline, called his work habits a refuge from sleep.
Surviving friends tell of being a guest at his table, reporting his gregarious, outgoing personality, his vivid wit, his animated conversation, but most of all, his eerie gaze. As he ate, he would fasten on various objects around him, in effect, devouring them along with dinner. At such times, guests were quickly aware that Picasso was not seeing things about him as they did, but "digesting" them, creating images and relationships within his mind that might later come to rest on canvas, in the form of painted sketches, sometimes numbering as many as half a dozen a day.
With such a prodigious output, Picasso was forced to not only date his canvases but to number them as well. Much of his work is unsigned today because of his habit of affixing his signature only after the work had sold. At his death in 1973, at the age of 92, Picasso's villa, and a couple of his earlier homes, were bulging with literally thousands of finished and unfinished works, most of which continue to be warehoused, yet to hear the pounding gavel of the auction block. In the twenty-five years since his death, his estate has permitted a steady trickle of "new" works to be released to the world art market so as to maintain the value of works already in museums and private ownership.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
29 March 1998