Pablo, in a photo taken as a child.
Pablo Picasso: the baby everyone thought was dead

Pablo Picasso: the baby everyone thought was dead

The artist's family and some biographers have revealed a dramatic moment when the baby was born; he surivived thanks to his uncle's cigar smoke


Friday, 6 September 2019, 08:21


The history of art considers him one of the greatest artists of all times, but something occurred in Pablo Ruiz Picasso's life that could have made that very different. It was a near-tragedy which occurred on 25 October 1881 when his mother, María Picasso López, gave birth to her first child, at home.

The family of Picasso today, and some of his biographers, say there was an extremely tense moment in the room where the midwife was assisting María as she gave birth to little Pablo. The baby arrived but hardly reacted and, showed no vital signs. The midwife tried to revive him, but without success, so she placed him on a nearby table and focused her attentions on the mother.

Revived by smoke

The family and the midwife believed the baby was dead, but José's brother, Salvador Ruiz Blasco, was also there and he was a doctor. He decided to make one final attempt to revive the baby by doing something which would be absolutely unthinkable during a birth today, but was considered normal at the end of the 19th century, when births usually took place at home: the young doctor happened to be smoking a cigar at the time, and he went up to the baby and blew a huge puff of smoke into its nostrils to make its lungs react. And they did. Little Pablo started to cry and, a few minutes after being given up for dead, he revived. That was the start of a life whose other details are known all around the world.

The anecdote is featured in some books such as Norman Mailer's biography Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man, and also on digital portals like that of the Fundación Picasso-Casa Natal. In his biography of the artist, the American author tells how a dramatic and almost fatal mistake marked his birth, explaining that the midwife believed him dead and left him on a table, but his uncle, a doctor who smoked cigars, revived him with a puff of air (although it was full of smoke) into his lungs.

"The doctor saved his life thanks to the smoke from his cigar," says the website of the municipal institution which showcases the legacy of the genius artist who was born in Malaga. That action by young Salvador not only brought indescribable joy to the family; it also gave the history of art one of its most famous and controversial figures.

Seventeen days after that scare, on 10 November 1881, little Pablo was christened in the nearby Santiago church, in Calle Granada. Curiously, the family decided to give the baby not one or two but seven names: Pablo, Diego, José, Francisco de Paula, Juan Nepomuceno, Crispiniano and De la Santísima Trinidad.

The first of these names, Pablo, was in the memory of an uncle who had been a priest and had died two years earlier. However, the Fundación Picasso website tells us that during the christening ceremony some changes took place: another name was added (María de los Remedios, after his godmother María de los Remedios Alarcón, who was married to José Ruiz Blasco's cousin, Juan Nepomuceno Blasco) and instead of Crispiniano the priest made a mistake and wrote Cipriano. The rest of little Pablo's life is now history.

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