7 Things To Know About Pablo Picasso

George Konig/Keystone Features/Getty Images
George Konig/Keystone Features/Getty Images

Pablo Picasso was born on October 25, 1881 in Málaga, Spain. Celebrate what would have been the art legend's 136th birthday with these surprising facts.

1. HIS 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. HE COMPLETED HIS FIRST PAINTING AT AGE NINE.

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 seven 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 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.

4. THERE WERE RUMORS THAT HE 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. HIS 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. MARIE-THÉRÈSE WALTER WAS THE ONE WHO GOT AWAY.

Picasso 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 Marie-Thérèse. They even had a daughter together.

Alas, Picasso’s greatest muse never became Mrs. Picasso. The artist refused to divorce Olga, and he and Marie-Thérèse called it quits around 1936. After Olga died, Picasso married Jacqueline Roque, who worked in a pottery studio. Some say Marie-Thérèse was still waiting for Picasso to put a ring on it when he died in 1973. She hanged herself four years later in the home they’d shared. (Jacqueline also committed suicide 13 years after Picasso's death.)

7. HE 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!

London's Trafalgar Square Gets a Poetry-Writing Red Lion

Tolga Akmen, AFP/Getty Images
Tolga Akmen, AFP/Getty Images

London’s historic Trafalgar Square just got a fifth lion, the BBC reports. The fluorescent red, AI-powered lion takes visitor-submitted words and turns them into two-line poems, which are displayed on a screen inside its mouth. The history-inspired installation is part of the ongoing festivities for the London Design Festival, which ends Sunday.

The idea comes from set designer Es Devlin, who is participating in a yearlong collaboration with Google Arts & Culture. She was inspired by another designer who remarked that Sir Edwin Landseer, who sculptured the other lions in the square in the late 19th century, "never wanted [them] to look so passive.” Landseer apparently wanted the lions to assume a more lively stance, “but Queen Victoria found it too shocking,” Devlin says.

The story of how Trafalgar Square’s lions came to be is an odd piece of history. For one, the process was painfully slow. Landseer spent four years just working up a sketch and spent hours studying the habits of lions at the London Zoo. He even waited two years for one of the zoo’s lions to die, then carted it back to his studio and kept it there until it started to decay. He was forced to throw out the animal—and his reference material—before he finished. “Which is why, if you look closely, you can see that the lions in Trafalgar Square actually have the paws of cats, rather than lions,” The Telegraph notes.

[h/t BBC]

5 Weird 1960s Covers for Classic Novels

Chaloner Woods/Getty Images
Chaloner Woods/Getty Images

There are a lot of weird and bad book covers for the classics out there, and the Internet has delighted in chronicling them.

Some are designed to mimic the look of current blockbusters, like these Twilight-style covers for novels by Jane Austen and the Brontës. Others rely on bad stock photos and inept Photoshopping for classic works that have crossed into the public domain, from The Scarlet Pimpernel to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The subset of covers for 1960s paperbacks is rich with particularly hideous findings, mostly from Penguin and Signet Classics. Shockingly, they're not made by untalented people who are bad at Photoshop. These covers were drawn by established, objectively talented, and sometimes famous illustrators like graphic design legend Milton Glaser. They were purposely executed in unorthodox, interpretive styles. But although they may be done by respected artists, their aesthetic value remains questionable. Take a look at some of the strangest below.

1. THE GREAT GATSBY BY F. SCOTT FITZGERALD // 1962

The Great Gatsby cover by John Sewell
Courtesy of Setana Books

In the baffling jacket for this Jazz Age classic, a man’s face is stretched bizarrely sideways. He appears to be wearing thick eyeliner and has some serious wrinkles around his eyes. But, let's back up for a minute: Who is this supposed to be? Surely not the title character; Gatsby doesn’t have a bald patch or a unibrow. One Twitter user who collects Gatsby editions considers this specimen to be the "oddest" one he owns.

The artist, John Sewell, was a British graphic designer working in the '60s whose print covers usually involved colored paper cut-outs. He did a cover in a similar style for F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night, but that one is a little less weird.

2. OUR MUTUAL FRIEND BY CHARLES DICKENS // 1964

cover of Our Mutual Friend by Seymour Chwast
Courtesy of swallace99, Flickr.

The artist here is Seymour Chwast, who, along with Milton Glaser, co-founded the postmodern collective Push Pin Studios in 1954. The Push Pin style "reject[s] tradition in favor of reinvigorated interpretations of historical styles," as their website states.

And yet, the people on this cover are hideous. The eyebrows on Our Mutual Friend's Gaffer Hexam (the man in the white shirt) are at a sharp 45-degree angle, a trait rarely found in nature. Lizzie Hexam, who’s supposed to be beautiful, also looks pretty wretched.

According to the artist's biography on the Seymour Chwast Archive, "Each of his imaginary characters (even portraits of real individuals) have similar facial features—round lips, slits for eyes, bulbous noses. They never scowl, yet they are not cute." That's for sure. A quick browse through his work shows that naturalism was never his goal.

3. ADAM BEDE BY GEORGE ELIOT // 1961

Adam Bede cover by James Hill
Courtesy of swallace99, Flickr

Why is Adam Bede's hand bigger than his face? And his arm bigger than his waist? What would George Eliot think?

This one is by James Hill, the first Canadian to become a member of the American Illustrators Association. His work ranged from lurid, pulpy book covers to treatments for classics like this one to a series of paintings inspired by Anne of Green Gables.

4. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT BY FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY // 1968

Crime and Punishment cover

Courtesy of Felt Books

The 1960s produced many psychedelic book covers, and this style spilled over into reprints of the classics. On this Dostoyevsky opus, a guy's face is replaced by a groovy rainbow with a figure in a coffin inside. While the artist is unknown, the rainbow design echoes the style of several graphic designers of the 1960s.

5. HARD TIMES BY CHARLES DICKENS // 1961

Hard Times cover
Courtesy of ElwoodAnd Eloise, Etsy

This cover for Charles Dickens's grim tale of Victorian inequality was designed by Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast's partner in Push Pin Studios. Glaser also designed the I Love New York logo and a Bob Dylan poster that depicts the singer with a rainbow 'fro. A versatile artist, his work includes logos, posters, interior design, magazine illustrations, and, of course, book covers. But here, the heavy cross-hatching on the figures' faces, hair, and clothes nudges them into werewolf territory. The psychedelic winged horse seems like a nod to the Summer of Love, but a tavern called the Pegasus's Arms actually figures prominently in the book.

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