Watch Picasso Create Entire Paintings in Magnificent Time-Lapse Film (1956)

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.

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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.

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Comments (12)
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  • Jim C says:

    nothing that my 7 year old couldn’t do

  • Fernanda Baffa says:

    Como faço para achar o link com esse filme completo? Alguém poderia me informar?

  • J.C. Nahrling says:

    The photography of this film was done by a man named Claude Renoir, who’s grandpa was called Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

  • AH says:

    you’re right Jim C- so why doesn’t he? And where are your 7 year old’s masterpiece realistic paintings that he got bored of before he moved to abstraction?

  • pinar says:

    Jim C- This is exactly what Picasso aimed for: paint just like a child! He even tried to forget what he’d learned just to be able to learn to paint like a child!

  • Tom says:

    So Jim C. Can your 7 year old do this too:
    I do not intend for this to be mean spirited, and perhaps you’re being ironic anyway, but with a little understanding of the history of art you would realize how silly your comment is.

  • hubertus fremerey says:

    great again ! People think it is simple, but it iss not at all. One should always have in mind that P was a master with 17 already and then looked for something new. Go to Barcelona to know that. Or take up a book with pics of young Picasso.

  • Nik Willmore says:

    “When I was young, like all the young, art, great art, was my religion; but with the years, I came to see that art, as it was understood until 1800; was henceforth finished, on its last legs, doomed, and that so-called artistic activity with all its abundance is only the manyformed manifestation of its agony. Men are detached from and more and more disinterested in painting, sculpture and poetry; appearances to the contrary, men today have put their hearts into everything else; the machine, scientific discoveries, wealth, the domination of natural forces and immense territories. We no longer feel art as a vital need, as a spiritual necessity, as was the case in centuries past. / Many of us continue to be artists and to be occupied with art for reasons which have little in common with true art, but rather through a spirit of imitation, through nostalgia for tradition, through mere inertia, through love of ostentation, of prodigality, of intellectual curiosity, through fashion or through calculation. They live still through force of habit and snobbery in a recent past, but the great majority in all places no longer have any sincere passion for art, which they consider at most as a diversion, a hobby and a decoration. Little by little, new generations with a predilection for mechanics and sports, more sincere, more cynical and brutal, will leave art to the museums and libraries as an incomprehensible and useless relic of the past. / From the moment that art is no longer the sustenance that nourishes the best, the artist may exteriorize his talent in all sorts of experiments with new formulas, in endless caprices and fancy, in all the expedients of intellectual charlatanism. In the arts, people no longer seek consolation, nor exaltation. But the refined, the rich, the indolent, distillers of quintessence seek the new, the unusual, the original, the extravagant, the shocking. And I, since cubism and beyond, I have satisfied these gentlemen and these critics with all the various whims which have entered my head, and the less they understood them, the more they admired. By amusing myself at these games, at all these tomfoolery’s, at all these brain-busters, riddles and arabesques, I became famous quite rapidly. And celebrity means for a painter: sales increment, money, wealth. / Today, as you know, I am famous and very rich. But when completely alone with myself, I haven’t the nerve to consider myself an artist in the great and ancient sense of the word. There have been great painters like Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt and Goya. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his time. This is a bitter confession, mine, more painful indeed than it may seem, but it has the merit of being sincere.” – Pablo Picasso (In ORIGIN 12, 1964)

  • john kerhu says:

    A fine example of the story” The Emperor has no clothes” . You people are fools for believing this is really art. You must have missed finger painting class in kindergarten.

  • Paul Kalac says:

    Of course Jim C & John Kerhu, children CAN paint just like Picasso in imitation. But you won’t find a 7yr old conceiving the works he conceived throughout the 20th century. There lies the twist.

  • Guenter says:

    hubertus: I agree totally with you… because I have been in Barcelona…wow!

  • Frank says:

    The honesty is almost painful and, surely, disarms all the cynical

    adverse criticism. Take him or leave him, the choice is the

    viewer’s, but there is no need to resort to low jibes. Emulate

    the man’s humility and suspend your judgement.

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