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I'm sure there are many, many paintings drawn by Pablo Picasso. How do you refer to one of those paintings?

First, here's what I know is a correct way of doing so:

a. I saw a Picasso at a museum. b. I saw the Picasso at a museum.

But I'd like to use the word 'painting' in both a. and b. Now, I think I cannot say either of these:

c. *I saw a Picasso's painting at a museum. d. *I saw the Picasso's painting at a museum.

Am I right that c. and d. don't work?

If so, how can I express a. and b. while still using the word 'painting'?

Here are some examples I can think of:

e. I saw a painting of Picasso at a museum. f. I saw the painting of Picasso at a museum.

OR

g. I saw a painting of Picasso's at a museum. h. I saw the painting of Picasso's at a museum.

OR

i. I saw one of Picasso's paintings at a museum. j. I saw the one of Picasso's paintings at a museum.

Do e.-j. work as alternatives to a. and b.?

Also, if there are any other suggestions, please let me know.

  • I would not call example B correct unless you changed it to "I saw the Picasso at the museum." As it is, you have not specified which museum you went to, which then further implies that there is only one Picasso painting in existence in all the museums, which is clearly not true. Specifying the museum with "the" now just states that there is only one Picasso at that museum. – Darrel Hoffman Mar 18 at 12:29
  • @DarrelHoffman I hope you're not a native speaker of English. Just because you have not specified the museum in which you saw the Picasso doesn't mean there is only one Picasso in the world. Say, you were looking for a specific Picasso all over the world, and you did find that Picasso in a museum, but you don't want to let the listener know anything about the museum. In that scenario, you could easily say (b). – listeneva Mar 18 at 13:00
  • I am a native English speaker, and that sentence just sounds really awkward to me. Sure, it's grammatically correct, and it works with your context added in, but by itself the sentence gives the unintended meaning that there is only one Picasso. – Darrel Hoffman Mar 18 at 13:04
  • @DarrelHoffman When you're talking about none other than "Picasso", who on Earth would possibly interpret b. to mean that there is only one Picasso? – listeneva Mar 18 at 13:26
  • That's exactly my point, and the reason the sentence feels wrong to me. It implies that there is only one of a thing which everyone knows there are many of. Without your context of looking for a specific painting, the sentence reads false by itself. It would work if it was describing something which is actually unique - "I saw the Mona Lisa at a museum", for example. But not for something of which there are many. – Darrel Hoffman Mar 18 at 13:30
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  • Your use of the possessive in both c and d is incorrect.
  • E and f are grammatical, but they mean that Picasso was the subject of the painting, not that he was the artist. (Unless it was a self portrait.)
  • G through i are also all fine—and they mean the same thing as a and b.
  • J is ungrammatical. If there is only one of his paintings at the museum, you can simply say, I saw Picasso's painting at a museum. Or, if you want to maintain the same use of only as in i, you could say I saw the only one of Picasso's paintings at a museum.

The simplest way to add painting to a and b is to just add it after Picasso and forget about the possessive:

I saw a Picasso painting at a museum.
I saw the Picasso painting at a museum.

In this construction, Picasso is used as an attribute noun, acting adjectivally to qualify painting. You are talking about a Picasso painting as opposed to a Renoir painting.

This is the same as:

I dined at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant.
I filled the tank of my car at an Esso gas station.
I have a Babe Ruth trading card in my collection.

  • Thanks for letting me know example j. doesn't work. Since j. doesn't work, is I saw Picasso's painting at a museum. example i.'s counterpart? If not, is there any other "definite" construction particularly corresponding to example i.? Also, what do you think is the reason for example j. being ungrammatical? – listeneva Mar 18 at 7:23
  • @listeneva Yes, I just updated my answer. You can use the only one. – Jason Bassford Mar 18 at 7:28
  • Thanks. But 'only' adds an additional meaning to it. Can I perhaps say something like I saw the one painting by Picasso in a museum? as a "definite" counterpart to example i.? – listeneva Mar 18 at 7:44
  • @listeneva Sure, that sentence is fine. But it doesn't parallel the use of the possessive that i uses. So, I wouldn't say it's a counterpart. – Jason Bassford Mar 18 at 7:57
  • you could say "I saw the only one of Picasso's paintings at a museum" I would say that "I saw Picasso's only painting" is much more idiomatic in this case, while still retaining the "only". – Flater Mar 18 at 9:57
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All sentences are grammatically correct, except:

  • d - which cannot be salvaged.
  • c - I am not sure if it is correct (probably not), but it sounds very unnatural. I would never use it.

Of Picasso means that Picasso was the model for the painting (as well as Mona Lisa was the model for another painting).

By Picasso means that Picasso was the painter.

"Picasso's painting" is ambiguous and can mean anything:

  • Picasso is the painter;
  • Picasso is the model;
  • Picasso is the owner of the painting (as in: "Mona Lisa" is now Picasso's painting.)

"painting of Picasso's" means a painting representing Picasso's something (maybe Picasso's apartment).


To answer the main question:

How do you refer to one of those paintings?

one should say:

I saw one of Picasso's paintings at a museum.

or: (to remove ambiguity):

I saw a painting by Picasso at a museum.

If you know the painting's name, you can say:

I saw [painting name] by Picasso at a museum.


Good comment from @MartinBonner

Both c and d can be rescued by changing "Picasso's" to "Picasso".

  • I'm surprised that you think c. is "grammatically correct." If so, then is it also correct to say I saw a his painting at a museum.? – listeneva Mar 18 at 6:22
  • @listeneva: noted. Tnx. – virolino Mar 18 at 6:25
  • A possible phrase is "One of Picasso's paintings". Or consider using the paintings name if it is definiti: "I saw Guernica" – James K Mar 18 at 6:31
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    @JamesK But that phrase is in example "i." – listeneva Mar 18 at 6:37
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    c is wrong. Both c and d can be rescued by changing "Picasso's" to "Picasso". – Martin Bonner Mar 18 at 8:47

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