Was Picasso the most creative person ever?

Whenever I encounter Picasso I’m staggered by his creativity. Was he the most creative person who ever lived? I can’t immediately think of a rival. He created some 70 000 works of art: paintings, drawings, prints, collages, photographs, films, sculptures (which themselves used a huge range of media), and pots. And perhaps most remarkable of all he kept reinventing what he did, breaking new ground not just for himself but for everybody.

I came away with from the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery of Picasso’s Portraits with one strong conviction–to read a biography of Picasso.

But now 24 hours later I close my eyes and see which pictures return to me. Actually many return, but annoyingly the one that returns to me most strongly I cannot find despite some 30 minutes of fruitless searching on the web.

It was an early picture from when he first travelled to France and was influenced by the paintings and posters of Toulouse Lautrec. It’s a richly coloured painting some three feet by four. In the foreground is a libertine dressed in evening clothes. He has a beard and moustache, and his face has a green tinge. We’d been discussing at breakfast whether it could ever be right for parents to weigh in if their offspring took up with unsavoury partners. We agreed that if your daughter brought home the man in the painting you’d have to act immediately. Behind the man, at the top of the painting reflected in a mirror you could see the erotic dancers he was watching in a Paris nightcub. At the right of the picture you could see that they were semi-naked dancers, although they were a long way from being “realistic.” At the left of the picture the dancers dissolved into a mosaic of vibrant colour. I took this to be the man’s imagination.

Another picture I remember clearly and have seen before was of Olga, Picasso’s first wife. It’s a painting that owes a great debt to Ingres, whom Picasso much admired, and shows the cool elegance of Olga, a ballet dancer. The blurb claimed that you could see strain in her face, foreshadowing the break-up of their marriage. Lin and I were unconvinced.


I was drawn to pictures, like the cool one of Olga, that seemed atypical Picassos–although his output was so diverse that you might argue that nothing can be atypical. But both Lin and I liked the portrait of him in a wig, which is funny and reflects his admiration for Goya.


Many of the pictures reflected how he was inspired by artists that had gone before including Rembrandt, Velazquez, El Greco, Raphael, and Titian. I’d rank him with those great painters. Lin doesn’t agree.

  1. Somebody who occurs to me as a possible rival to Picasso for “most creative person who ever lived” is William Blake, who scores over Picasso in that he wrote great poems as well as creating great paintings and prints. Leonardo da Vinci must be another rival, but Picasso is hard to beat on volume as well as reinvention.
  2. This is my third blog about Picasso, reflecting his ubiquity. https://richardswsmith.wordpress.com/2016/01/23/picassos-scupltures/  https://richardswsmith.wordpress.com/2016/08/11/the-magic-of-blue/

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