Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano Santisma Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. Phew! A mouthful, but a name reckoned to be among the greatest artists of the 20th century. His paintings are worth millions and millions have seen and admired his work. A handful is fortunate to own some of his paintings. He’s better known to the world as just Pablo Picasso. To his family he is simply known as – Pablito!

Pablo the Pigeon Painter [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
Pablo the Pigeon Painter [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]

Picasso was born on October 25, 1881, in the Spanish town of Malaga. His father, Don Jose Ruiz, was an art teacher. His mother, Dona Maria Picasso, believed Pablo was destined for a glorious future. She thought that if Pablo joined the army he would become a general and if he joined the church he would become the next Pope!

Pablo had two younger sisters, Lola and Conchita. Even before he learnt to speak, Pablo discovered that he could get what he wanted by drawing. For instance, he loved churros, the sugarcoated long, twisting fritters that were sold piping hot at stalls all over Spain. The three-year-old would just draw a spiral on a sheet of paper, and watch while his wish was soon granted!

But Pablo hated school and all its rules. When Don Jose dropped Pablo at school, the boy would demand that his father should leave behind either his walking stick or his paintbrushes or the pigeon he was drawing – as a pledge that he would return.

The young boy often willed himself to fall sick. Soon, he was being tutored at home, as often as his family’s funds permitted. Sometimes, the maid went to school with him, just to hold the pigeon that Pablo wanted to draw.

Pablo could not pass his school exams. He would not pay attention to his lessons. Instead he loved it when he was punished, by being sent to a room, where he could then sit and draw to his heart’s desire.

Occasionally, he’d signal to his uncle, who lived next door, to come and rescue him from school. Pablo would hold up a finger to signal a ‘one.’ His uncle thought he meant an hour later, so that’s when he turned up at the schoolroom door.

All that while, Pablo would restlessly sit on his school bench, looking at the clock on the wall with longing, wondering why it moved so slowly. He was too young to figure out that an hour is a long time in real life.

Young Pablo never did childish drawings. His first painting was of the port of Malaga, with its lighthouse. At eight, he did an oil painting of a mounted picador in a bullring because bullfighting is very important to Spanish society. Don Jose, who loved the sport, explained all its mysteries to him.

Soon, Don Jose had to shift to a job in Corunna. At ten, Pablo hated numbers in class, but easily translated them into his beloved pigeons. “I’ll show them what I can do,” he resolved. “I won’t miss a single detail…”

“The little eye of the pigeon is round like an 0. Under the 0 a 6, under that a 3. The wings are like 2s. The little feet rest on the table, as if on a horizontal line. Underneath it all, the total.” That’s how Pablo coped with math through drawing.

In September 1892, Don Jose decided to enrol Pablo – whose genius he recognised by then – in his own art class. Picasso recalls, “My father cut off the feet of a dead pigeon. He pinned them to a board in a proper position, and I copied them in detail until he was satisfied.” Don Jose was so impressed that he even got Pablo to paint the feet of all the pigeons in his own canvases.

When little Conchita fell very ill, 13-year-old Pablo pledged never to paint again if his sister could be saved. Unfortunately, she died. That’s when Don Jose handed over his brushes and colours to Pablo, and promised never to paint again himself!

Before they left Corunna, Don Jose arranged for an exhibition of Pablo’s art in the back room of a shop that sold curtains, umbrellas and knick-knacks. Not many works were sold, especially when people discovered that the artist was not yet 14! It was Pablo’s first one-man show.

It was from these small beginnings that the previous century’s greatest artist, came into being!

750 words | 7 minutes
Readability: Grade 6 (11-12 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: features
Tags: #spanish, #pigeons, #paintings

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