It's safe to say that Pablo Picasso is one of the world's most legendary artists. As one of the creators of Cubism, his works remain celebrated in museums and galleries across the globe. Here are eight facts about the iconic artist.
1. Pablo Picasso's real name was Pablo Ruiz.
Well, actually Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. The Spanish artist adopted his mother's Italian surname because he thought it suited him better. Here's how he explained it to Hungarian artist George Brassaï: "[Picasso] was stranger, more resonant, than Ruiz ... Do you know what appealed to me about that name? Well, it was undoubtedly the double s, which is fairly unusual in Spain. Picasso is of Italian origin, as you know. And the name a person bears or adopts has its importance. Can you imagine me calling myself Ruiz? Pablo Ruiz? Diego-José Ruiz? Or Juan-Népomucène Ruiz?"
2. Pablo Picasso completed his first painting at age 9.
Picasso's parents didn't have a refrigerator, but if they did, they'd have displayed his early works with pride. Painting ran in the family. Picasso started figure drawing and oil painting lessons with his painter father when he was 7 years old. By the age of nine, he'd finished his first painting. Picasso entered Barcelona's School of Fine Arts, where his father taught, at age 13. Two years later, he completed what he called his first major painting.
3. There are vicious rumors that Pablo Picasso was ... left-handed.
Being called a southpaw isn't the worst thing in the world. Picasso would certainly be in good company, if it were true. But Picasso was a righty. See for yourself in the video above.
4. There are also rumors that Pablo Picasso stole the Mona Lisa.
On August 21, 1911, someone stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre and turned the art world upside-down. When a French newspaper offered a reward for information, a man came forward with a statue he'd stolen from the museum four years earlier. He claimed to have stolen a few of them for the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who'd sold them to Picasso. The 29-year-old artist, now living in France, was taken to court, where he denied knowing that the statues he'd purchased were stolen. There was no real evidence or a link to the Mona Lisa theft, so Picasso wasn't charged.
The real thief, Vincenzo Peruggia, was caught in 1913 when he tried to sell the pilfered Mona Lisa to an art dealer. Peruggia had once been a guard at the Louvre and constructed the frame that encased the painting. He claimed to have stolen the Mona Lisa to bring her home to Italy, but some still believe that Picasso may have had something to do with it.
5. Pablo Picasso's iconic striped shirt was no ordinary striped shirt.
It was a Breton-striped shirt. In 1858, the navy and white knit top became the official uniform for French seamen in Brittany, with 21 horizontal stripes to represent each of Napoleon's victories and a continuous stripe from shirt to sleeves to make it easier to see sailors in the distance. Coco Chanel brought working-class Breton stripes to the fashion world in 1917. They're still en vogue.
6. For Pablo Picasso, Marie-Thérèse Walter was the one who got away.
Picasso once said, “Love is the greatest refreshment in life.” And let’s just say the man never left the concession stand. In 1927, he saw a pretty blonde named Marie-Thérèse Walter on the street and tried to pick her up with the old, “Miss, you have an interesting face ... I would like to do your portrait … I am Picasso” routine.
Walter had never heard of him.
But the two got together, despite differences in age (she was 17; he was 45), social stations (the rest of the world had heard of him), and relationship status (Picasso had a wife, ballerina Olga Khokhlova, and a few random mistresses). It was Picasso’s most colorful love affair. Some of his most acclaimed—and expensive—artwork was inspired by Walter. They even had a daughter together.
Alas, Picasso’s greatest muse never became Mrs. Picasso. The artist refused to divorce Khokhlova, and he and Walter called it quits around 1936. After Khokhlova died, Picasso married Jacqueline Roque, who worked in a pottery studio. Some say Walter was still waiting for Picasso to put a ring on it when he died in 1973. She died by suicide four years later in the home they’d shared. (Roque also died by suicide 13 years after Picasso's death.)
7. Pablo Picasso wasn't just a painter.
Picasso once said, "My mother said to me, 'If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.' Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.'" But that wasn't all. Picasso dabbled in poetry in 1935 after breaking up with his first wife and later wrote two surrealist plays—one of which was performed as a reading with Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre.
Rumor has it, Picasso predicted that someday he'd be more famous for his poems than paintings. But his untitled, punctuation-less, mostly sexual and scatological verses never took off. One gem: "the smell of bread crusts marinating in urine." Hey, you can't be good at everything!
8. Pablo Picasso's later years were his most prolific.
Though it's understandable to think that Picasso would slow down his output as he got older, he again went against conventional wisdom. The artist created more works during the final four years of his life than he did during any other similar stretch of time. Crude and abstract, this period was highlighted by 1971's The Young Painter, which was completed two years before his death.
A version of this story originally ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2021.