“Women are machines for suffering,” Picasso told his mistress Françoise Gilot in 1943. Indeed, as they embarked on their nine-year affair, the 61-year-old artist warned the 21-year-old student: “For me there are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats”.
There were seven the most important women in Picasso’s life, two killed themselves and two went mad. Another died of natural causes only four years into their relationship. Yet while Picasso had affairs with dozens, perhaps hundreds of women, and was true to none of them – except possibly the last – each of these seven women shine out as a crucial catalyst in his development as an artist. Each stands for a different period in his career, representing a complementary or opposing ideal that inspired the evolution of a new visual language.
Fernande Olivier, “Woman with pears” (1909)
Artist model Fernande Olivier (1881-1966) was Picasso’s first long term relation and subject of many of Picasso’s Rose Period paintings (1905-07). Picasso met her after settling in Paris in 1904. Although Fernande was married, she stayed with Picasso for 7 years. Fernande modeled for other artists between 1900 and 1905 after which she moved in with “the Spanish artist”, Picasso, who then prevented her from modeling for others. Fernande’s having published selections from the memoirs of her life with Picasso infuriated the artist but eventually, at age 70, Picasso paid the ailing and bedridden Fernande a small pension. The full memoir was not published until 1988, “Loving Picasso”. In early 2004 the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. had an exhibition of 60 portraits of Fernande that Picasso painted in a few months of 1909.
Marcelle Humbert (Eva Gouel), “Woman in an armchair” (1913)
Fernande left Picasso in 1912, months after Picasso took an interest in Marcelle Humbert, known as Eva Gouel (1885-1915). Picasso was devastated by her early death due to tuberculosis or cancer in 1915. Picasso professed his love to Eva by painting “I Love Eva” in some of his paintings. Still, during Eva’s sickness Picasso managed a relationship with Gaby Lespinasse. (Picasso’s father died in May, 1913 at the time that Eva moved in with him.)
Olga Khokhlova, “Bust of a woman” (1929)
In 1917 ballerina Olga Khokhlova (1891-1955) met Picasso while the artist was designing the ballet “Parade” in Rome, to be performed by the Ballet Russe. They married in the Russian Orthodox church in Paris in 1918 and lived a life of conflict. She was of high society and enjoyed formal events while Picasso was more bohemian in his interests and pursuits. Their son Paulo (Paul) was born in 1921 (and died in 1975), influencing Picasso’s imagery to turn to mother and child themes. Paul’s three children are Pablito (1949-1973), Marina (born in 1951), and Bernard (1959). Some of the Picassos in this Saper Galleries exhibition are from Marina and Bernard’s personal Picasso collection.
Marie-Thérèse Walter, “Naked Woman Lying Down” (1932)
In 1927 Picasso met Marie-Thérèse Walter (1909-1977), a 17 year old who Picasso then lived with in a flat across the street from his marital home (while still married to Olga). Marie-Thérèse and Picasso had a daughter, Maya (Maria de la Concepcion) on October 5, 1935. (Picasso and Olga later separated although they remained married so Olga would not receive half of Picasso’s wealth — until she died in 1955. ) Picasso’s relation with Marie was kept from Olga until Olga was told of Marie’s pregnancy. Marie understandably became jealous when Picasso started to fall in love with Dora Maar in 1936, a year after Maya was born. It was Marie-Thérèse who was the inspiration for many of Picasso’s famous Vollard Suite etchings. Marie-Thérèse died by hanging herself in 1977, four years after Picasso died. Maya’s son, Olivier Widmaier wrote “Picasso: The Real Family Story” about his artist grandfather, in 2004.
Dora Maar, “Dora Maar with cat” (1941)
In 1936 54-year old Picasso met Yugoslavian Dora Maar (1907 -1997), the photographer who documented Picasso’s painting of Guernica, the 1937 painting of Picasso’s depiction of the German’s having bombed the Basque city of Guernica, Spain during the Spanish Civil War. She became Picasso’s constant companion and lover from 1936 through April, 1944. Maar went back to painting and exhibited in Paris soon after Picasso left her for Françoise. Picasso referred to Dora as his “private muse”. In later years she became a recluse, dying poor and alone.
Françoise Gilot, “Woman-Flower” (1946)
In 1943 Picasso (age 62) then kept company with young art student Françoise Gilot (born in 1921). Their two children were Claude (1947) andPaloma (1949) who was named for the dove of peace that Picasso painted in support of the peace movement post World War II. Gilot, frustrated with Picasso’s relationships with other woman and his abusive nature left him in 1953. Gilot’s book “Life with Picasso” was published 11 years after their separation. In 1970 she married American physician-researcher Jonas Salk (who later died in 1995).
Jacqueline Roque, “Jacqueline with Flowers” (1954)
Dejected and alone, in 1953 Picasso met Jacqueline Roque (1926 -1986) at the Madoura Pottery where Picasso created his ceramics. In 1961 (when Picasso was 79) she became his second wife. Picasso created more works of art based on Jacqueline than any of his other loves, in one year painting over 70 portraits of her.
When Picasso died on April 8, 1973, Jacqueline, who had been with Picasso for 20 years, prevented Picasso’s children Claude and Paloma from attending his funeral. Jacqueline died from shooting herself in 1986.
Images © Picasso