How did Pablo Picasso do it? Art historians have spent much time and many words answering that question, but in the video above, you can watch the painter in the act of creation — or, rather, you can watch a series of his paintings as they come into being, evolving from spare but evocative collections of marker strokes into complete images, alive with color. We see Picasso’s visual ideas emerge, and then we see him refine and revise them, sometimes toward a surprising result. All of this happens in under two minutes, since filmmaker Henri-Georges Clouzot shot the artist working with time-lapse photography, compressing each creative process into mere seconds.
This particular sequence became the trailer of Clouzot’s 1956 documentary The Mystery of Picasso. The paintings in it, we read at the end, “cannot be seen anywhere else. They were destroyed upon completion of the film.” Though word on the street has it that one or two of them may actually survive somewhere today, the idea of Picasso paintings existing only on film does capture the imagination, and it moved the French government to officially declare The Mystery of Picasso a national treasure. Picasso had, of course, painted on film before, as you might recall from seeing us feature Paul Haesaerts’ 1950 Visite à Picasso.
If you’d like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.