Woody Allen to ‘Toy Story’: Pop Culture’s Greatest Homages to Picasso

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For a man who passed away 40 years ago, Pablo Picasso has had little trouble getting his name out these days. This week, his masterpiece Guernica, which depicted the bombing of a Basque village during the Spanish Civil War, will be welcomed as a source of inspiration in the conflict-weary National Center for Modern Art in Tunisia. Earlier this month, the apartment where Picasso painted Guernica became an object of dispute when the Chambre des Huissiers de Justice, which donated the space to a local arts group, decided the apartment was too valuable to give away, and sought to reclaim it. And yesterday, a Picasso painting worth $11.5 million was seized by US authorities in New York. According to the Associated Press, it will be held for the Italian government indefinitely, pending the outcome of criminal proceedings in an Italian court against the collector Gabriella Amati, who stands accused of smuggling.

Stories like these will add complexity to our understanding of Pablo Picasso, who has really lived two lives in the popular imagination: one as Picasso the painter, the other as a Picasso the character, the brooding flat-nosed Spaniard who was always loved and never understood. Movies, television, and cartoons have given us great opportunities to either affirm, complicate, or mock this reputation. Here are a few of our favorites.

Animaniacs

Nothing bespeaks reverence for a great master artist like letting some cartoon animals point out Pablo Picasso’s initials on his apron.

Wakko: Do you know there’s “P.P.” on your smock? Dot: That’s disgusting!

Surviving Picasso (1996)

Natascha McElhone plays Francois Gilot, said to be the only lover who could withstand the slings and arrows of couplehood with Picasso. Try to disregard Anthony Hopkins’s overacting and his stylized mop of a hairdo; this is actually a pretty accurate and not-too-melodramatic portrayal of one of the most famous aspects of Picasso’s personal life. And Arianna Huffington wrote the book that inspired the screenplay! That should make you curious enough to check it out, right?

Toy Story (1995)

Mr. Potato Head (the voice of the incomparable Don Rickles) tries to enrich the other toys with a little art history by rearranging the plug-and-connect objects that make up his face. It doesn’t quite work out.

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Picasso, played by Marcial Di Fonzo Bo, argues back and forth with Gertrude Stein, the intellectual giant played by Kathy Bates. Owen Wilson, portraying wistful writer from the present day who’s suffering a spat of hallucinatory nostalgia, later reports what he learns from the meeting to his girlfriend. Not surprisingly, she asks him what he’s been smoking.

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: “Barcelona, May 1917” (1992)

Played by Danny Webb, Picasso actually appears twice in the Young Indiana Jones series. First, he turns up in the Barcelona episode, where he helps Indy sneak into a spot in the Ballet Russe, before surfacing again in Paris, as something of a romantic rival. Somehow, Norman Rockwell also makes an appearance, which can only be attributed to George Lucas’s lifelong devotion to the American sentimentalist’s painting.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile (1993)

This understated bit of dramatic erudition, authored by Steve Martin, was based on an imaginary meeting between Picasso and Albert Einstein, two men who Martin explained were “equally ahead of their time.” The show had a successful opening in New York in 1995 and has had successful runs all over the country since.

Paul Noth

Paul Noth, The New Yorker (June 2012)

Nothing like a good New Yorker cartoon to take something dry and sophisticated and make it slightly dirty (but still dry and sophisticated).

Modigliani (2004)

Taking a schmaltzy level of creative license, this film lent extra tension to the rivalry between Picasso and the painter Amedeo Modigliani (Andy Garcia), in a duel that reminded many viewers of the Mozart-vs.-Salieri match-up in Amadeus. Unfortunately, neither film was really a successful depiction of the artists’ lives.

Caption reads: “I must say his stuff seems to grow on one.”

Emmwood, Daily Mail (July 1960)

Whereas Picasso already had a formidable fan base in the 1940s, in the United Kingdom, his art was only broadly appreciated after World War II — so much that it eventually became a sign of au courant cultural literacy.

33 días (2014)

This still-in-production adaptation will feature Antonio Banderas as Picasso, opposite Gwyneth Paltrow as Dora Maar, the artist who was Picasso’s partner while Guernica was in progress. Maar’s photography series documenting Guernica‘s creation is widely regarded as a great work of art in its own right, and was included in an exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum in 2010.