Romany de Villiers ponders Picasso at Tate Gallery, 1960

Left: Five-year-old Romany de Villiers ponders Picasso’s Las Meninas (Isabel de Velasco, María Bárbola and Nicolasito Pertusato) 1957 at the Picasso exhibition at Tate Gallery, 1960

Right: Romany adds the finishing touches to his Picasso-inspired painting

Keystone Press / Alamy Stock Photo

In the summer of 1960, Tate Gallery presented the most comprehensive Picasso exhibition ever staged in the country. Within days of opening it was being described as the ‘exhibition of the century’. The Daily Express called it ‘the most vigorous, entertaining, interesting merry-goround of art that London has ever seen’, while Tatler magazine coined the term ‘art blockbuster’ after seeing it. Picassomania was born.

Among the many visitors was fiveyear- old Romany de Villiers. Despite his age, he was no stranger to art. At the age of three he had attracted press attention from across the globe after selling his first painting at the London Embankment Art Exhibition for five guineas (over £100 today). He was soon dubbed ‘the second Picasso’ and by the time of the Tate exhibition, he was, by all accounts, an old hand with his brush and paints.

Romany’s father was the Hampstead based South African artist Pierre de Villiers, who, according to press stories of the time, was greatly impressed by his son’s blossoming talent. Romany was also having more success with his art: Pierre had apparently not sold a painting for eight years.