The Spanish Artist and the German Dog

The door to the studio was shut tight.  Inside, Pablo Picasso, one of the most famous artists of the 20th century, was hard at work on his latest masterpiece—and he was not to be disturbed.  Lump (pronounced “loomp”) was not discouraged.  He pushed his way inside and dropped a stone at the feet of the painter, tail wagging expectantly.  Picasso, interrupted in mid-stroke, smiled at the dachshund and kicked the stone, sending Lump running after it.

So was a typical day in the life of the Spanish painter and his German dog.  Although Picasso was extremely private and withdrawn, even with friends and family, someone did manage to get close to him, spending his days eating off his plate, watching him paint, and curling up in his lap.  That someone was Lump, a German-born dachshund who arrived at Picasso’s home one day with a photographer—and promptly decided to stay.

Picasso’s life was marked by great violence and political changes.  He lived in Europe and saw firsthand the destruction of war, such as World War I, World War II, and the Spanish Civil War.  He lost family and countless friends to these conflicts, and it changed him forever. Finding solace in work, he created over 50,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures, and poems during his lifetime.  This obsession with art, in addition to the horrors he witnessed during the wars, caused Picasso to become extremely solitary and withdrawn.  He and his wife Jacqueline retreated to the French countryside where they could live and work in private.

 And then, one spring morning in 1957, Picasso’s friend, David Douglas Duncan, stopped by for a visit with his dog, Lump.  Now, Picasso was no stranger to animals.  He often worked animals into his art and had several animals around the house, including a dog named Yan, whom he practically ignored.  Animals were, for the most part, objects to be painted, not living things to be cuddled and cared for.  But, for some reason, he was immediately smitten with the little German dachshund.  He surprised his wife by taking Lump into his arms.  He surprised her even more when he allowed the dog to stay behind once his “owner” had left.  Lump had somehow, in the course of one day, entered Picasso’s very small inner circle of friends.

Lump became a constant companion to the great painter.  He was often found in Picasso’s lap, eating off of his plate.  He was one of the very few who was allowed into Picasso’s studio and spent many hours there simply watching the man work on his latest masterpiece.  Lump was also one of the even fewer who was allowed to interrupt. Dropping a rock at Picasso’s feet and having him kick it was one of his favorite games.  And, surprisingly, the work-a-holic often took a break from his art to play with Lump.

Picasso, however, was an artist to his core, and he could not separate his work from his relationships.  So it should come as no surprise that his relationship with Lump became a part of his art.  He painted Lump into his variations of Velázquez’s Las Meninas, replacing the large manly-looking dog with a long, sausage-shaped one.  

He also made art for Lump.  On the day they met, Picasso asked Mr. Duncan if Lump had ever had his own plate.  When told no, Picasso proceeded to paint a portrait of Lump on the very plate off of which he had just eaten.  This plate is now housed in the Harry Ransom Center in Texas as a valuable piece of art.  In addition, when Picasso discovered that Lump had lived in an apartment most of his life and had never seen a rabbit, he fashioned one out of an old pastry box and laughed with glee as Lump promptly destroyed it.  It might have been the only time Picasso laughed at destroyed art!

Pablo Picasso, who passed away on this day in 1973, is remembered by millions as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.  However, he is remembered by those who knew him best, such as his good friend Mr. Duncan, as a “one-man solar system powered by a single energy source—work,” which included no one but his wife Jacqueline and, incredibly, Lump, who also passed away in 1973.          

So what was it about the German dog that so fascinated the Spanish painter?  Picasso would only say, slyly, “Lump, he’s not a dog, he’s not a little man, he’s something else.”  And, thanks to his presence in Picasso’s life and art, he will remain so forever.

***If you’d like to see pictures of Picasso and Lump’s adorable friendship, David Douglas Duncan, Lump’s original owner, released a book of photographs entitled “Picasso and Lump: A Dachshund’s Odyssey.” It is available from Bulfinch Press.

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