Last weekend I visited the Guggenheim for the exhibit Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso: Time, Truth, and History. As the paintings were arranged thematically, rather than chronologically, is was possible to see connections and influences in a more direct way. It was in front of the juxtaposition of these two paintings by Goya and Picasso that I heard a guide, passing with a tour, tell the following story as explanation of Picasso’s darker picture.
Francisco de Goya’s Still Life With Sheep’s Head (c. 1808-1812); Pablo Picasso’s Still Life With Sheep’s Skull (1939)
It was 1939. The Spanish Civil War had ravaged his country. Europe was on the brink of disaster. His mother had died. Picasso was close to his mother and had taken her surname for his. Picasso said, “My mother told me ‘If you become a soldier you’ll be a general. If you become a monk you’ll end up as the pope.’ Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.”
Clearly, he knew himself to be a personal brand before we had heard of such things.