"Nine exhibitions: it's unheard of," was Picasso's first reaction on being told about this American tribute to him. "C'est une blague . . . You must be joking . . . It's difficult enough to get two galleries to work together, let alone nine." But it did not take long to persuade him that the "triple troika" which the Public Education Association had devised was well on the way to being a reality. The last traces of Picasso's scepticism faded when he started looking through the photographs of each individual exhibition, for photographs of his own works console him in much the same way that photographs of an absent child console a parent. Picasso actively misses pictures that have left his studio: "Now I know where they all go," he said, "to America. I suppose I ought to go after them and see how they are doing . . . Your exhibition gives me an excellent excuse. But you know me, I'll never go. I can do all the traveling I want in my head." Picasso spent a long time poring over every work, examining each one as if he had never seen it before, almost as if it were by someone else. Every so often he would make polite, detached comments: "Not bad that one," or "I own one rather like that myself," or "I like the way the pigeon is painted;" and then, half to himself, "C'est pas si mal la peinture--better than going to the movies." As usual his highest compliment was to say that a picture was "vrai;" when Picasso uses this word, it conveys the quintessence of reality.
As the stacks of photographs which he was looking at diminished, so did Picasso's euphoria. "But it's terrible," he said, "is that all you've got to show me? Start work on another nine exhibitions . . . Meanwhile let's go through them all again." And he insisted on having a second look at things that had particularly interested him, sometimes in order to identify the subject of a portrait, sometimes to decipher the letters in a cubist still life, sometimes to study a particular group: the pictures of the classical phase, for example, which he enjoyed seeing in isolation. "Pas si mal," he repeated, "pas si mal . . ."
What never fails to astonish one is the clarity of Picasso's memory. When things interest him, he has almost total recall. For instance, of the first picture in the whole exhibition he said, "The sitter wanted to be taken for an Arab, but he didn't have a burnoose, so I made him wear a terrycloth robe. I was only fourteen when I painted it." Of the Bullfight (Knoedler, No. 6): "Don't imagine that I painted this after going to a corrida. I did it the day before and sold it so as to have enough money to buy a ticket." Of The Blue Room (Knoedler, No. 11): "Uhde got that out of me for thirty francs, the wretch!" Of the Absinthe Drinker (Knoedler, No. 18): "Angel de Soto was my best friend in Barcelona. His one desire in life was to please me. You can't imagine how loyal and good-hearted he was . . . But he had a horror of work and never did anything except maybe hire a tail-coat and . . .