The Shadow Side of Greatness

Pablo Picasso. He is one of the most famous artists of the 20th century and a household name even among people who, like myself, consider themselves to be complete novices in the art world.

I recently went to a Picasso exhibition. What impressed me the most was not any individual piece of art, but rather his remarkably prolific output. Researchers have catalogued 26,075 pieces of art created by Picasso and some people believe the total number is closer to 50,000.

When I discovered that Picasso lived to be 91 years old, I decided to do the math. Picasso lived for a total of 33,403 days. With 26,075 published works, that means Picasso averaged 1 new piece of artwork every day of his life from age 20 until his death at age 91. He created something new, every day, for 71 years.

This unfathomable output not only played a large role in Picasso’s international fame, but also enabled him to amass a huge net worth of approximately $500 million by the time of his death in 1973. His work became so famous and so numerous that, according to the Art Loss Register, Picasso is the most stolen artist in history with over 550 works currently missing.

What made Picasso great was not just how much art he produced, but also how he produced it. He co-founded the movement of Cubism and created the style of collage. He was the artist his contemporaries copied. Any discussion of the most well-known artists in history would have to include his name.

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Falling in Love With Picasso

Falling in love with Picasso was a terrible thing to do.

His first marriage was to a woman named Olga Khokhlova and they had one child together. The two separated after she discovered that Picasso was having an affair with a seventeen-year-old girl named Marie-Therese Walter. He was 45 years old at the time.

Picasso fathered a child with Walter, but moved on to other lovers a few years later. He began dating an art student named Francoise Gilot in 1944. She was 23 years old. Picasso had just turned 63 at the time.

Gilot and Picasso had two children together, but their relationship ended when Picasso began yet another affair, this time with a woman who was 43 years younger than him. After they separated, Gilot published a book called Life with Picasso, which revealed his long list of sexual flings and sold over one million copies. Out of revenge, Picasso refused to see their two children ever again.

Basically, Picasso’s romantic life was a revolving door of affairs and infidelity. In the words of our guide at the Picasso exhibit, “There were always many others.” There must have been something intoxicating about Picasso because after his death, not one, but two of his lovers committed suicide due to their grief.

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