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Ehrenwald, J. (1967). A Childhood Memory of Pablo Picasso. Am. Imago, 24(1-2):129-139.

(1967). American Imago, 24(1-2):129-139

A Childhood Memory of Pablo Picasso

Jan Ehrenwald, M.D.

Genius: an error that by chance departs from the ordinary.


One of Picasso's favorite quotations is from an anonymous Chinese painter who stated “I do not copy nature. I work like she does.” For better or for worse, this is exactly what Picasso has set out to do: For “better,” in some of his figurative paintings and drawings, matching the beauty and craftsmanship of representations of the human form by Ingres; the serenity of Renoir's portraits, or the timeless perfection of a classical Greek or Etruscan urn. For “worse,” in his monstrous distortions of animate and inanimate objects, in his deliberate quest for the shocking, the offensive, the subversive. If nature at large follows the laws of Euclidian geometry, Aristotelian logic and Newtonian mechanics—or at least is subject to modern principles of probability—Picasso's private world is designed to upset them all, including the viewers of his art.

Is it possible to account for the striking concatenation of innate endowment, cultural conditioning, idiosyncratic choice and sheer random gesturing which went into the making of his genius? Needless to say, the question is rhetorical. We must be satisfied in this context, and presumably in any other, with trying to bring some of the major ingredients of his art into focus and leave the broader question unanswered.

Pablo Picasso was the son of Don José Ruiz, a painter, curator and teacher at the Barcelona Academy of Fiene Arts. Don José is described as a moody, retiring individual who was suffering from recurrent depressions and anxiety states. He was an accomplished craftsman, painting in the strictly representational, academic manner of the late 19th century. He was “a painter of dining room pictures “as Pablo Picasso put it, “with partridges, pigeons, pheasants and rabbits.” Even in his formative years he did not conceal his disapproval, if not contempt, for this “mockery of art.”

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