Pablo's dog days

UNITED KINGDOM -- Picasso's art was as populated with animals and birds as his life. He adored animals and even during his desperately poor days in Paris, when a few francs made the difference between hunger and dinner, he always kept at least one canine companion. Their importance to him can be seen in his Self-portrait With A Dog (1902) in which, dressed in a dwarfing overcoat, Picasso and his friend face a hostile world together.

Success gave Picasso the physical space he needed to surround himself with living creatures. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than at his house, La Californie, just outside Cannes. Heaps of paintings, ceramics and sculptures created a veritable forest of art within which Picasso's animal friends played and loved. Pigeons and doves occupied his upstairs studio, multiplying in a year from two to 40, while an owl kept watch in his downstairs atelier. Jan, the adored, smiling boxer of Woman Playing With A Dog (1953), slept in a downstairs hall, with books, paints and packing cases for company, while Cabra, Picasso's beloved goat, slept in a straw-filled packing case outside his bedroom, her droppings considered delicious treats by Jan and Lump the dachshund.

Lump came to La Californie as a guest but stayed a lifetime. David Duncan, the photographer, had bought the imploring creature from a kennel garden in Stuttgart when he was eight weeks old and the pair had lived happily in Duncan's apartment in Rome. So things might have remained if Duncan had not taken Lump with him on a visit to Picasso. Lump bounded out of Duncan's car into dog paradise, a wondrous profusion of objects, crannies and creatures to sniff and play with. According to Duncan, ''He dumped me for Picasso.''

Lump soon dominated La Californie. He slept among the tumble of Jacqueline Roque and Picasso's sheets; he ate at a table with his own dinner plate—a ceramic created for him by Picasso; and used the seven-foot-high bronze L'homme au Mutton, which surveyed the gardens, as his personal pissoir. Picasso judged Lump, a dog of unique character, thus: ''Lump is not a dog, not a man—he really is someone else.''

The only part of La Californie to which Lump was denied access was Picasso's second-floor studio and pigeon retreat (he would no doubt have killed the birds), but it was there that Lump was to be immortalised.

In 1957, Picasso became obsessed by reinterpreting Velázquez's masterpiece, Las Meninas. Mentally embattled, he retired to his studio for increasingly long hours to struggle with his furies and be inspired by his muses. Finally, after a symbolic visit by a huge wild owl, Picasso's Las Meninas was born. Naturally it is Lump who replaces Velázquez's noble mastiff in this extraordinary, parodical royal assemblage.

It is, however, in The Pianist, one of Picasso's 58 variations on Las Meninas, that Lump is seen to best advantage. In Velázquez's original, the mastiff's rest is disturbed by the minor figure of the child-jester Nicolasito Pertusato, who prods him with his foot.

Pertusato's hands appear to be trembling—which, according to Ronald Penrose in his book Picasso: His Life And Work, made Picasso imagine he could have been playing an invisible piano, while Penrose interpreted the black line of the original which was in the panelling behind Pertusato's neck as a cord ''by which the young pianist was hanged like a helpless marionette''.