Picasso and Chagall, two of the greatest painters of the last century, were friends until a dinner at Chagall’s place in 1964. “When are you going back to Russia?” Picasso asked his host. They were both expatriots living in France. Chagall was Russian and Picasso was Spanish. “After you,” said Chagall with a smile. “I hear you are greatly loved there [Picasso was a Communist] but not your work. You try to make it there and I’ll wait and see how you do.”
Pablo Picasso in 1962 (public domain photo)
Jacqueline by Pablo Picasso (from Art Market Monitor, 1954)
Picasso didn’t like that answer much. It was after dinner, he was feeling his wine, and his guard was down. “I guess with you it’s a question of business,” he told Chagall. “You won’t go unless there’s money in it.”
Marc Chagall in 1941 (public domain photo by Carl Van Vechten)
Calvary by Chagall, 1912 (Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Françoise Gilot, who was at the table, says Chagall grinned at that remark but burned inside ever after. That was the end of the friendship.
Both those Titans had severe commercial temptations in old age. Each suspected or believed the other was a sinner.
But what did they think of each other’s painting?
Picasso told Françoise: “When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is. I’m not crazy about his roosters and asses and flying violinists, and all the folklore, but his canvases are really painted, not just thrown together. Some of the last things he’s done in Vence convince me that there’s never been anybody since Renoir who has the feeling for light that Chagall has.”
And Chagall told her: “What a genius, that Picasso. It’s a pity he doesn’t paint.”