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A Man of a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

The Picassos

The Museu Picasso, Barcelona

The Museu Picasso in Barcelona appeared deserted as I admired Science And Charity.

I suddenly became aware of an old man beside me, also studying the painting.

‘Picasso was a fine artist,’ I ventured.

‘Indeed,’ my companion concurred. ‘His death from scarlet fever in 1898 was a tragedy.’

‘Picasso died in 1973,’ I corrected.

The stranger was silent for some moments. ‘Follow me,’ he said.

He led to Carrer De La Riera De Sant Joan, From The Window Of The Artist’s Studio and pointed at the random, shapeless daubs of black and brown paint. ‘Does this look like it was painted by the same person?’

It was certainly radically different in style. ‘Surely there was just one Picasso?’ I queried.

My guide shook his head. ‘After his success at the National Fine Arts Exhibition in Madrid in 1897 powerful people recognised Picasso’s future financial potential. When he died they formed a secret brotherhood to conceal the death.’

‘How could that be done?’

The old man beckoned onwards to Portrait Of The Writer Ramon Raventós and The Embrace. ‘These are by a young unknown who closely resembled Picasso. The Brotherhood found him in Horta de Sant Joan.’

I looked closely at the paintings. ‘They aren’t so accomplished.’

‘Sadly, he had little time to improve before he was struck by lightning near Madrid in 1901.’

My companion moved to The Madman. ‘This is a self portrait of his replacement. They discovered him in a Paris lunatic asylum.’

‘He showed talent,’ I observed.

‘Unfortunately the voices in his head kept commanding him to buy blue paint. His apartment was stacked from floor to ceiling.’

My informant gestured towards The Forsaken. ‘And he insisted on painting such miserable, depressing works with it.’

‘What became of him?’ I enquired.

‘Collapsing crates of his blue paint crushed him to death in 1905. They couldn’t clean all the pigment from the body. He was bright turquoise in his casket.’

‘And his successor?’

‘An inspired artist, but rapid onset macular degeneration led to virtual blindness by 1917. He then developed Parkinson’s disease.’

We continued past canvasses depicting misplaced and disconnected features characteristic of paintings by a blind person who lacked muscle control.

The old man paused again at Portrait Of Jaume Sabarés With Ruff And Hat. ‘He completed this just before he died in London in 1939.’

‘This one died too?’

‘An inexperienced helper was pushing his wheelchair across a railway level crossing…’

‘Four Picassos dead?’

‘The Brotherhood named it “The Curse of the Picassos”. They chose to not recruit another.’

‘Who undertook later works?’

‘Members of the Brotherhood or their relatives. None had any artistic talent but, by that time, anything with “Picasso” written on it was hailed as a masterpiece and work of genius. They employed an actor for photographs and public appearances.’

We stopped at The Pigeons. ‘I particularly like this one,’ continued the old man. ‘It was done by the five year old granddaughter of one of the Brotherhood. She meant them to be doves but couldn’t get the tails right.’

We finally arrived at the gallery containing the interpretations of the Velázquez masterpiece, Las Meninas.

My companion gestured at the paintings. ‘By now, the Brotherhood had removed the C, A and O from Picasso and were taking the other four letters with a vengeance.’

I closely examined the childlike scrawls and scribblings on several pieces: (1), (2). It was clear that my guide was telling the truth. ‘How do you know all this?’ I asked.

I turned around. The old man had vanished as quickly and silently as he had appeared.

I left the museum past a photograph of the Picasso of later years. He bore a remarkable resemblance to my recent companion and had the same bright eyes and mischievous smile.

As I glanced back at that picture, I even believe he winked.