Jhey are the ultimate “how to draw” books for a young child, created by a passionate dad who happens to be one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Pablo Picasso’s granddaughter has discovered an extraordinary collection of sketchbooks used by artists to teach her eldest daughter to draw and color.
Picasso filled the pages with playful scenes – animals, birds, clowns, acrobats, horses and doves – that would delight any child, as well as adults.
He created them for Maya Ruiz-Picasso when she was between five and seven years old. On some pages, the little girl makes impressive attempts to imitate the master. She also noted her father’s work, scribbling the number “10” on a circus stage, to show her approval.
He drew two charming images of a fox in search of grapes – inspired by the 17th century fabulist Jean de La Fontaine’s fable about sour grapes, The fox and the grapes – and Maya colored one of them. He also drew simple but beautiful eagles in one motion, without lifting the pencil from the paper, conveying to him his love of form and pure line.
The never-before-seen collection includes exquisite origami bird sculptures that he brought to life in Maya from invitation cards to the exhibition.
His granddaughter, Diana Widmaier-Ruiz-Picasso, found the works by chance while rummaging through the stored family material. Intrigued, she shows them to her mother, now 86, for whom the memories resurface.
Widmaier-Ruiz-Picasso told the Observer“She said, ‘Of course, those are my sketchbooks when I was little. We tend to be very visual in the family, so she was immediately immersed in that time. It was a very emotional moment. , not only because you’re talking about one of the greatest artists, but also because it made him very human. I was excited. Then I was moved.
Picasso, who died in 1973, had learned to draw from his father, an art teacher, “so it was something natural for him to do” with Maya, his granddaughter says: “There is a beautiful page where he draw a bowl and she draws a bowl.
“Sometimes she makes one picture and he makes another, showing her the right way to do it. Sometimes they depicted different scenes. Other times he drew a dog or a hat. Sometimes he uses the whole page to draw a particular thing. Other times it depicts certain scenes, circus scenes. It’s very interesting.”
Maya remembers in particular that, during the Second World War, there was a shortage of colored pencils and notebooks: “That’s probably why my father wrote in my notebooks and colored with my pencils. I have fond memories of those times when we met in the kitchen to draw together. It was the only place in the apartment where it was warm.
Widmaier-Ruiz-Picasso is an art historian, curator and jewelry designer, who has just published her latest book, Picasso Sorcererexploring his superstitions and his belief in magic.
She describes the discovery of the sketchbooks as “fortuitous” because she was co-curator of a major exhibition for the Picasso-Paris museum on her close bond with her first daughter, born of her passionate love for Marie-Thérèse Walter, who he met in 1927 when she was just 17 and he was 28 years her senior.
The exhibition, Maya Ruiz-Picasso, daughter of Pablo, runs until December 31 and includes his many Maya portraits, personal effects and photographs, as well as the sketchbooks and origami sculptures, which are on display for the first time.
It is not known if the origami birds were made from invitation cards for his own exhibitions. The granddaughter said, “I didn’t want to open her work.”
In the book accompanying the exhibition, she writes: “Who has never heard of looking at a painting by Picasso: ‘A child could have done that!’ Many artistic revolutions of the 20th century were greeted with mockery and outrage, it is true, but in the case of Picasso there is a grain of truth in this judgment. As Maya, his first daughter, recalls, “the mystery of life, and therefore of childhood, has always interested my father”.
She adds: “In search of a pictorial language that would break with the exhausted codes of academic realism, Picasso borrowed a lot from the unruly lines of children’s drawings. Where Van Gogh, Gauguin and Matisse focused on the graphic and pictorial naivety with which children draw, Picasso placed greater emphasis on elements that disrupt figurative traditions, i.e. deformation and deformity.
Didier Ottinger, deputy director of the National Museum of Modern Art, Center Pompidou, is currently presenting a Picasso exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, a collaboration with the Picasso-Paris Museum. Noting that these sketchbooks reflect the artist’s fascination with childhood, he said, “Who learned from whom?