Legend has it that the acclaimed Spanish painter Pablo Picasso’s first words were not ‘mama’ or ‘dada’. According to Biography.com, his mother said his first word was ‘piz’, short for ‘lapiz’ – the Spanish word for pencil. Is it any wonder he became a famous artist?
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Once Picasso identified the pencil, it didn’t take him long to grasp it and start drawing. His father was a talented painter and art teacher himself, and quickly realised that his son was gifted. So, he began Picasso’s art education at seven years old. “The Picador” is Picasso’s earliest surviving painting, which he completed when he was nine years old. And by the age of 13, he had gained acceptance to the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona!
Along with fellow artist Georges Braque, Picasso created one of the most influential art styles of the 20th century: cubism. For cubists, art does not necessarily have to copy nature or mirror the artist’s surroundings. Instead, cubism uses geometric forms, distortion, and stylisation to emphasise the two-dimensionality of the canvas.
Even as he was impressing the public with his innovative artwork, Picasso found himself caught in a scandal that involved stolen art. When Picasso was living in Paris at age 29, Leonardo da Vinci’s prized painting - the Mona Lisa - was stolen from the Louvre. Picasso was brought in for questioning by the French police because his acquaintance, French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, implicated him in the crime. Eventually, both were exonerated. Two years later, Italian Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia was found to have stolen the painting because he believed it belong in da Vinci’s home country, Italy.
Picasso lived till the age of 91, so he had time to hone his skills over a period of 75 years. And he didn’t just paint – over the years, he became an expert sculptor, ceramicist, set designer, poet, and playwright. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, he is responsible for 13,500 paintings and designs, 100,000 prints and engravings, 34,000 book illustrations, and 300 sculptures and ceramics. He also invented the artistic medium of collage, as we know it, by gluing wallpaper fragments and newspaper clippings alongside paintings.
Even as Picasso is one of the most prolific painters in history, he also holds the record for the artist with the most artwork stolen or missing. In 2012, the UK-based Art Loss Register, the world's largest database of stolen art, listed 1,147 stolen works by Picasso.