Pigcasso, the famous painting pig who took the world by storm with her jaw-dropping expressionist works, has died at eight years old, her caretaker Joanne Lefson said this week.

“Your life made a difference in the world. You not only challenged the art fraternity Pigcasso, you also inspired millions of people to acknowledge farmed animals as the sentient individuals that they are–each one worthy of our empathy and compassion,” Lefson, an animal rights activist, said in an Instagram post on Thursday.

Pigcasso had been suffering from arthritis in recent years and began rapidly deteriorating in 2023, Lefson said in a press release. By October, her back legs had become lame due to the calcification of her lower spine caused by the arthritis.

Lefson rescued Pigcasso from a South African intensive factory farm, a farming approach where animals are confined to small spaces in order to house as many as possible, when she was just a piglet. Animals in factory farms typically never see sunlight or fresh air. According to Lefson, Pigcasso was just weeks away from being sent to a slaughterhouse when she was rescued. Pigcasso’s health problems later in life were a direct result of how she was treated when she was at the factory farm, Lefson said.

Lefson took Pigcasso to the sanctuary she runs, Farm Sanctuary SA, which provides shelter for rescued farm animals in Franschhoek, South Africa. Once Pigcasso got to her new stall at the sanctuary, things started to get interesting.

As told by Lefson, Pigcasso ate or destroyed everything that caretakers put in her stall except for one thing: a paintbrush.

“Pigs are very smart animals and so when I brought Pigcasso here to the barn, I thought, ‘How do I keep her entertained?’” Lefson told Reuters in an interview in 2019. “We threw in some soccer balls, rugby balls and of course, there were some paintbrushes lying around because the barn was newly built… She basically ate or destroyed everything except these paintbrushes… she loved them so much.”

A photo of Pigcasso painting on a canvas with a paintbrush.

Pigcasso’s paintings sold for tens of thousands of dollars. The pig painter signed her work with her snout.
Photo: Kristin Palitza / picture alliance (Getty Images)

The untouched paintbrush fascinated Lefson, who decided to try something wild and see if the pig was interested in painting. She modified the paintbrush so it could fit Pigcasso’s mouth and soon found out that her hunch was correct: The pig wanted to paint. Lefson proceeded to teach Pigcasso how to paint using positive reinforcement techniques, such as feeding her grapes and giving her “one-on-one lessons involving me on my hands and knees crawling around her barn with a brush in my mouth,” the human rights activist said in her book.

Human and pig went on to work together to create art, with Lefson choosing the colors and Pigcasso taking the brush into her mouth and moving it across the canvas while her caretaker watched from nearby. Sometimes Lefson stepped in and stopped the animal artist when she saw the pig creating an “interesting form developing that is relatable to the human eye,” according to Pigcasso’s website. Pigcasso signed every artwork by dipping her snout in beetroot ink and sticking it to the canvas. Given her role in creating the art, the paintings also feature Lefson’s signature.

Can Animals Be Creative? Pigcasso the Painting Pig is Making Her Case | Nat Geo Wild

Over the years, Pigcasso’s art gained an international following, turning the pig into a star online and off. Pigcasso became the first animal artist to host a solo exhibition at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa, going on to host exhibitions in the Netherlands, Germany, France, and the U.K. The painting pig created hundreds of artworks, which could sell for thousands of dollars. The funds from the sales went to support the sanctuary where she lived and other animal charities.

In 2021, Pigcasso broke the Guinness World Record for the “most expensive painting by an animal,” selling a painting titled “Wild and Free” for $26,898.

News of Pigcasso’s death prompted a wave of condolences from her fans online. On Instagram, where Pigcasso has more than 111,000 followers, users lamented the pig’s passing and thanked her for showing the world what animals can do and advocating for kinder treatment of them. Lefson told Gizmodo that she was taken aback by and deeply grateful for the kind messages she’s received from Pigcasso’s fans across the world.

“These are testament to her originality, creativity, and the meaningful purpose behind her masterpieces,” Lefson said in an email. “Her art and legacy lives on, as does my gratitude to all those that support our mission and for being fortunate enough for having collaborated alongside such an extraordinary being.”

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