Picasso's Original Don Quixote

One of Picasso's most recognizable works was his depiction of Don Quixote. The image is widely recognized as one of the most prominent depictions of the legendary figure, but the story behind the image is not well known.

In 1955, Picasso made an Indian Ink drawing of the Don Quixote which was printed in a magazine and then later reproduced in a wide variety of forms. Today - the iconic image can be found on posters, t-shirts, and even tattoos. But the origins of the drawing have not been as widely distributed.

Although the story behind the Don Quixote has been published several times - 1994 and 2007, there has been a controversy between scientific proof and art experts' opinions as to the validity of the original oil painting depicting Don Quixote, painted by Picasso in 1947.

Chronology of the Original Don Quixote by Picasso

  • Owner of Original Don Quixote Painting

    Pilot meets Picasso and delivers satchel to his dying mother.

    During the Spanish Civil War a fighter pilot for the Spanish Republic was introduced to Picasso by the Spanish Ambassador in Paris. Picasso asked the fighter pilot if he would personally deliver a package to his dying mother. The pilot agreed and Mr. Picasso handed him a leather satchel to deliver.

    The pilot flew back to his assigned base near Barcelona, and delivered the package to Mr. Picasso’s mother. The pilot visited Picasso on similar mission several more times until Picasso's mother passed away. 

  • Original Don Quixote Oil Painting 1947

    Picasso paints the Don Quixote as a gift to the pilot.

    Mr. Picasso presented the pilot with a gift in appreciation for the favor that the pilot had done for Mr. Picasso in 1938. The gift was an oil on canvas painting of Don Quijote de la Mancha, dedicated to the pilot and his wife with their names inserted within the painting...

    Picasso’s explanation for the subject matter was that he had selected the subject of Don Quijote as personification of the great struggle, especially in the air, that the pilot had been engaged in, against impossible odds.

    Picasso told the pilot that “No one can ever deny that I painted this for you - as I have made your names part of the painting itself”...Picasso had incorporated the wife's name (Ann), the pilot's name, and the family's last name (underlined) scrolling across the bottom of the painting just above Picasso's signature and date.

    Picasso gave the family two more oil paintings and the pilot bought an additional painting before they left.

  • Magazine Reproduction of Don Quixote

    Reproduction of Don Quixote print made for magazine

    On August 10, 1955, Picasso was at his residence in La Californie (Cannes), where he received the visit of his friend and biographer Pierre Daix who mentioned to Picasso that the weekly Les Lettres Françaises wanted to reproduce one of his pieces in recognition of the 350th anniversary of “Don Quijote de la Mancha”. The outcome of this conversation was Don Quijote y Sancho which was published on the 18th of August, in the 581st edition of Les Lettres.

  • Sotheby's New York

    Letters to Sotheby's

    The pilot for personal reasons, decided to sell his painting and contacted Sotheby’s in order to have the painting offered for auction, but the auction house disregarded his letter immediately - stipulating that he had a fake.

    December 8, 1979 - Letter from Sotheby's was a very short response stating that "Apparently the prints are copies after the prints by Picasso…”

    December 12, 1979 - The pilot sent a follow up letter to the Head of Oil Paintings Department for Sotheby explaining how he came into possession of the painting.

    January 17, 1980 - The pilot brought the painting to Sotheby's New York office for personal inspection. At this meeting, the painting was determined in her opinion to be “painted-over-print”, and furthermore that Picasso “was not creating this type of work in 1947”.

    February 1, 1980 - The Senior Vice President of Sotheby’s wrote the pilot asking him to provide additional third party proof to provide as evidence as to the authenticity of the painting.

  • Letters with Pierre Daix

    Letters with Pierre Daix

    April 15, 1981 - The pilot hired an attorney to assist him with authentication. The lawyer wrote to Mr. Pierre Daix and sent the pilot’s testimony along with pictures of the painting.

    Pierre Daix immediately responds on April 24th, and replied (translated) as follows:

    Dear Sir: I have well received your letter and accompanying photographs. The original design of Don Quixote was made for the newspaper which I was manager, in my presence, on the 10th of August 1955, on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the book of Cervantes. This design was presented to the Museum of St. Denis France. There do not exist any other edition printed of this design other than the original number of copies printed. This design has also been used in reproductions, notably on ceramics. During the course of his long life, I do not know of any instance that Picasso ever copied one of his works."

  • Dr. Preisner - Penn State University Art Museum

    The pilot sent the painting to the Curator of the Penn State University Art Museum for evaluation.

    The pilot reached out to Dr. Olga Preisner - the Curator of the Penn State University Art Museum on August 24, 1981 to perform tests on pigments and canvas using X-Ray photography. After performing a series of tests and performing a signature evaluation, she determined the painting to be - authentic without doubt.

    Dr. Preisner provided the pilot with additional contacts for experts who could assist him with appraisals and additional authentication.

  • Picasso Museum

    Picasso Museum

    The pilot sent a letter to the Picasso Museum in Paris with photos of the painting along with his testimony, and requested information about the drawing from 1955 that Pierre Daix had written about.

    The Picasso Museum in Paris wrote back to the pilot on September 28, 1981 stating that the original Picasso drawing was done in Indian Ink - dimensions 43cm x 35cm (16 15/16” x13 9/32”) - was executed in 1955 and preserved in the Art and History Museum of San Denis.

  • Musee d’ Art et d’Histoire in Saint-Denis

    The pilot sent a letter to the Musee d’ Art et d’Histoire in Saint-Denis, France on October 20, 1981 asking if the museum would be kind enough to inform him of the materials used by Picasso, the dimensions of the original, if it is a painting, drawing, or sketch, the year it was presented to the Museum, and who presented it.

  • Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

    The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

    The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston sent a letter to the pilot with the services available and the fees for each service. In the letter the museum expressed that these results may not be either complete or conclusive.

    The museum further expressed - "With regard to the dating of your painting, I am afraid that there are no scientific techniques for the absolute dating of a paint layer. Sometimes conclusions as to date may be drawn from the presence of certain pigments for the use of some of which terminal dates are known. I do not see however, how that would be applicable to a painting executed as recently as 1945, especially where the painting in question is done in a quite limited palette.

  • St. Denis Museum

    2nd letter requesting information from the Museum in St. Denis

    By December 31, 1981, the pilot had not received a response from his first letter requesting information, so he wrote again, asking the museum if they had any information about the drawing.

  • St. Denis Museum

    Musee d’ Art et d’Histoire in Saint-Denis

    On January 22, 1982, the pilot received a response from the Museum in St. Denis. In this letter the Museum stated that the design is in Indian Ink on white paper measuring 65cm x 60cm (25.5906” x 23.622”). The letter also stated that the work was donated by Picasso on November 28, 1955.

    There seems to be a discrepancy as to the size of this original. The Picasso Museum stipulates - 43 cm x 35 cm while the Museum in St. Denis states it is 65 cm x 60 cm.

    The Musee d’ Art et d’Histoire in Saint-Denis did not open until 1981, and there is no mention of the drawing on their website, nor any exhibit of the drawing having ever been displayed there.

  • Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

    Boston Museum of Fine Arts

    The pilot with his son - took the painting to Boston in January for evaluation. In February, the report came back with the determination that the painting was a forgery. The opinion of the examiner was that the painting was "virtually identical to the well-known and often reproduced lithograph by Picasso, with only a few very small differences. Of major importance among these is the difference in the date, which, coincidentally, differs only in the year, being identical as to month and day."

    Although the Boston Report - after future examinations and evaluations had been performed - has zero validity - it is why the pilot had to fight until his death - to prove that this report was wrong.

  • Sworn Affidavit of Testimony

    Sworn affidavit

    By July 1982, the pilot was facing the fact that he was dying and would not live long enough to redeem his name or integrity. He went before the court and did a sworn affidavit of his story and his claim of authenticity of the painting by Picasso.

    Later in 1985, the pilot gave a full detailed video deposition of his testimony before his death in 1986.

  • Claude Picasso

    Claude Picasso

    The pilot's representatives sent a complete package of information to Claude Picasso - including the pilot's testimony, video deposition, and photos of the paintings owned by the pilot. The letter also asked if it would be possible for Claude to check with Francois Gilot (Claude's mother) to see if she had any information about the paintings since she was living with Picasso during that time. The letter expressed great urgency explaining that the pilot was near death and wanted to have his affairs in order before he passed.

  • Pierre Daix book - Picasso: Life and Art

    "Picasso: Life and Art" by Pierre Daix

    In the book "Picasso: Life and Art" by Pierre Daix published in Paris -1987, Pierre Daix's testimony of the events surrounding the Don Quixote contradict his previous letter to the pilot's lawyer.

    In his book - Pierre Daix not only says that he was not actually with Picasso when Picasso did the drawing - but he also quotes Picasso as referring to the Don Quixote as a painting (not a drawing).

    Pierre Daix states that it was made for the 400th Anniversary of Cervantes. The publication in the magazine clearly states that it was done for the 350th anniversary of the publishing of the book by Cervantes. The only person who ever questioned the 350th anniversary was the pilot, who made an argument that 1955 would more closely be the 400th anniversary of the character Don Quixote.

    The pilot was the only one to make this argument. For Pierre Daix to write that it was done for the 400th anniversary shows that Pierre Daix was not only unsure about his recollection in his book - but that he was unsure enough about the testimony of the pilot - that he cross referenced the pilot's story into his retelling of the events.

  • Maurice Jardot

    Picasso Committee

    The pilot's representatives continued working for the pilot's family after the pilot passed away to obtain authentication for the painting. They reached out to members of the Picasso Committee and sent letters, photos, and the video deposition of the pilot to the Committee for their review.

  • International Foundation for Art Research

    The family's representatives reached out to the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) in efforts to assist the family in authenticating the oil painting of Don Quixote by Picasso in 1947.

  • Francoise Gilot

    One of the representatives wrote to the pilot's son in regards to her attempt to communicate with Francoise Gilot. She wrote "I went to Los Angeles a couple of months ago and arranged a meeting with the owner of the gallery that has been exhibiting paintings by Francoise Gilot. She was impressed with the material that I brought with me (our file), to the extent that she wanted a copy of the videtape to show Gilot. She was away with her husband (Jonas Salk) and did not return to California until late August . Meantime, I had a copy made of the VTR and sent it.

    Bottom-line, is that Gilot wouldn't even look at the material or the tape . Very disappointing. She simply stated that she does not authenticate any Picasso paintings. We explained that we didn't anticipate her authentication, but rather, perhaps a remembrance of one of the paintings, or the camera ... or anything from that point in time? But, she was plainly adamant. I imagine that this is some agreement she must have with her children, Claude and Paloma, who form two of the members of the Comite in Paris."

  • Photo shows painting before 1955

    The pilot's son sent Kodak slides that he found in 1991 for analysis to Dr. William J. Croft - a research chemist - for examination. The slides were a series of photos taken by the pilot in 1954 and were pictures taken when the son was a young boy. In the background of one of the slides a glimpse of the painting can be seen in the background. The examination of the slides prompted Dr. Croft to send a letter to John Richardson (a Picasso expert) to inform him of the existence of the painting before 1955.

  • Dr. Walter C. McCrone

    McCrone Research Institute confirmed the painting dated before 1950.

    In 1993, the findings of the evaluation from the McCrone Research Institute were confirmed that the painting was made before the Indian Ink Drawing created in 1955.

    Among the scientific tests that the McCrone Research Institute performed to make this determination were pigment testing, carbon dating, and evaluation of the Kodak slides.

    Dr. Walter C. McCrone

    Dr. Walter C. McCrone (1916 – 2002) is often referred to as the Father of Modern Microscopy because his work revolutionized the use of, and understanding of, the light microscope for materials analysis.

    Dr. McCrone trained thousands of students worldwide in the use of microscopy, wrote hundreds of articles and books, gave thousands of presentations and lectures on microscopy, and developed numerous accessories, techniques, and methodologies to push the state-of-the-art in microscopy.

  • Claude Picasso

    Claude Picasso responded to IFAR's letters requesting Claude to look at the testimony of the pilot and the photographs of the painting. Claude Picasso responded by saying that "As you know, this image was reproduced many times from the original in the Musee at Saint- Denis, as you have yourself discovered. I therefore confirm that in my opinion, the work you submitted must be a forgery . Incidentally , there exist to my knowledge scores of fakes of this image which I have dully cataloged. Yours is a fresh addition to my file."

    IFAR wrote back to Claude and asked him if there were any other depictions of the image submitted to him that had the date 10-3-47 - to which he responded..."Should you need a complete list of the file, I do not feel at liberty to divulge the exact figures involved as they seem to me to be in the domain of private correspondence and not a public access file.

    The gist of the information is enough. The fact is that the original is on display at the Museum of Saint Denis and what you have been examining is a fake period."

  • Pierre Daix> 
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    IFAR confronts Pierre Daix

    IFAR confronted Pierre Daix about the discrepancies in his testimony to the pilot compared to his account of the events published in his book.

    Pierre Daix admits that he was not actually present when the drawing was made, but that when he was called back over by Picasso, he watched Picasso add the date and a few details, and then waited for the ink to dry before taking it to the magazine for publishing.

  • IFAR's Investigation of the Don Quixote> 
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    IFAR's complete investigation

    IFAR did a complete investigation on the painting and had the scientific studies sent to their own experts for confirmation, to which the scientific examination was determined to have been done properly. IFAR also had the painting examined my John Richardson, as well as contacting Daix and Claude Picasso. These art experts would not comment on the scientific proof, but only concluded that the painting had to be a forgery.

  • IFAR's publication in March 1994

    In March of 1994, IFAR featured their investigation of the painting and questioned the validity of the art experts claim that the painting was a forgery given the scientific testings that confirmed its authenticity. IFAR's final verdict was that they did not know how it was a forgery - but that at this time, it was a story that would have to be left unexplained.

  • A Physicist Remembers - Richard J. Weiss

    In 2007, Richard J. Weiss took a look at the information about the oil painting, and performed his own investigation of the Picasso painting. After reviewing all of the information complied by the pilot and the pilot's son, he thoroughly examined all of the documents and testimony before performing his own investigation as to the validity of the painting's authenticity. In his opinion, the painting was authentic, and he wrote the details of his investigation which was published in 2007 in - "A Physicist Remembers."

  • Pilot's son reaching out

    After 36 years of making every effort to obtain authentication for the original "Don Quixote" oil painting by Picasso given to his father, the son is hoping that by making his father's story public, that he can reach people who can help him prove the authenticity of the painting, and to ultimately redeem the integrity and honor that his father rightly deserves.

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Versions of Picasso's Don Quixote

Original Don Quixote by Picasso in 1947

Oil Painting

Oil Painting by Picasso personally given to pilot as gift of gratitude for a favor that the pilot did for Picasso during the Spanish Civil War - with inscription - signed and dated March 3, 1947.

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Don Quixote Indian Ink Drawing in 1955

Published Drawing

Print reproduction of drawing featured on the August 18–24 issue of the French weekly journal Les Lettres Françaises in celebration of the 350th anniversary of the first part of Cervantes’s Don Quixote. Dated August 10, 1955

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Indian Ink Drawing in St. Denis

Indian Ink Drawing

Original Indian ink drawing on white paper said to be located at the Museum in St. Denis. Dimensions 65 cm x 60 cm. Donated by Picasso to the Museum of Art and History of the Village of Saint-Denis, on November 28, 1955.

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Don Quixote Poster

Printed Poster

This is a printed reproduction that is currently widely distributed - Posters depicting this image can be purchased from retail stores such as this one being sold at Target.

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