Although I never met Picasso, I
did know two people quite well who were close to him. The first, museum
director Gerald Nordland,
who recently curated a Picasso show in Houston, Texas, spent a good deal
of time with the artist and was the first person to exhibit his erotic
etchings in the United States. I also knew Francoise
Gilot, mother of Paloma Picasso, and the only woman who ever left him. I met her as Mrs. Jonas
Salk and spent several summers enjoying her company in La Jolla, and that
of her husband, the Nobel laureate inventor of the polio vaccine.
Gerry Nordland believed Picasso
loved women, but obsessively so, a condition which does not imply longevity. Obsessions
cool, and once Picasso developed a new one, his existing partner stood
in his way, and he quite simply wanted to remove the obstacle. He could
not control his passionate nature any more than he could control his
talent. "Falling in love inspires
my art," he once said. Gerry was fond of quoting the
artist, his favorite being, "When I was a child my mother said
to me, 'If you become a soldier, you'll be a general; if you become
a monk, you'll end up as the pope. Instead I became a painter and wound
up as Picasso."
"You can't imagine a talent like Picasso being modest," Gerry
said, and added, "he took what he wanted because he could.
However, he gave his art one hundred percent. He once said, 'give me
a museum, and I'll fill it.' He always tried to push forward. 'Success
in dangerous,' he once said. One begins to copy oneself, and
to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to
This dread of repetition and lassitude, loss of creative power haunted
him and made it impossible for him to stay with one woman indefinitely,
as his erotic inspiration and his artistic output were so interconnected.
Picasso is not the only man who got rid of one woman
because he fell for another. Guess what? Sometimes
girls do it too. Let's face it: the
reactions are always the same with serial lovers: initial euphoria and
idolization followed by an insidious disillusionment, a feeling of claustrophobia,
a perception of loving gestures from the partner as assaults.
strong>Francoise Gilot wrote a fascinating book, "My Life with Picasso," which
is still in print and a marvelous read, although it was originally
published in 1964. A brilliant woman and excellent artist herself,
she had to free herself from his influence to find her own creative
Picasso found her book insulting, in fact was deeply pained by it, as
he felt she portrayed him as a man who seduced a young girl and then
manipulated and betrayed her. Apart from his belief that she portrayed
him as a sadist, the artist was outraged by her revelation that she left
him for an artist her own age.
At the age of 23, she was a beautiful, self-possessed art student living
in Paris. One night she met Picasso, and he invited her to his studio,
after which she became, for ten years, his love and his muse. Associating
with the creative giant brought passion and excitement, but anguish and
frustration soon began to emerge, though she does not entirely blame
him for these feelings. For ten years, she struggled
to survive as an individual while at the same time dealing with a man she loved but found
demanding, domineering, mercurial, and unfaithful, though, like British
princes, he did not expect her to take lovers.
Francoise was actually the artist's fifth major
mistress. The first important one, historians agree, was Fernande
His mistress throughout his early, impoverished years during the Rose
Period and early Cubism, he called her "the first of
my muses”. In her memoir, "Loving
Picasso: The Private Journal of Fernande Olivier," she describes
him as a workaholic, an impulsive buyer, and a "jealous lover
who often kept me locked up when he went out."
But she wrote all this after he ditched her for Eva
Gouel, a woman he
adored, though sadly she died of tuberculosis.
While designing the set and costumes for the ballet "Parade" in
1914, Picasso first met dancer Olga Koklova. He fell madly, truly, and
deeply in love, married her, and abandoned his former bohemian friends
to join the bourgeois mainstream with his wife. He produced many dedication
pieces to her and their son, Paul, but after a while, Picasso's attentions
began to wander. As the marriage slowly disintegrated, he began to paint
tormented images whose color and configurations screamed anxiety. For
instance, "Three Dancers," 1925, expresses a sense of Crucifixion
and the dancers, presumably Olga, reflect his despair over his marriage.
Though I for one do not blame Picasso, Olga began
of madness," and divorce became inevitable. She had a complete mental
breakdown after the divorce, and continuously stalked him and his mistresses
in a manner reminiscent of the movie "Fatal Attraction."
Next came Marie-Therese Walther, who presumably
lured him away from Olga, though scholars agree that Olga's disturbed
nature had driven him away from her. A great deal of speculation
surrounds this relationship, as Marie-Therese was as reticent as his
other women were verbose. She never said a word against him, and often
quoted his words, "Art
washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
Thought quiet, she must have been a woman of deep feelings. Eventually,
in fact decades after her relationship with Picasso ended, she hanged
herself later in the garage of her home.
Picasso agreed with Freud that there
are no accidents. "Accidents
-- try to change them," the artist said; "it's impossible.
The accidental reveals the man." One day, quite by accident, or
not, depending on how you choose to view it, he saw photographer
Dora Maar walking down the street, introduced himself, and
told her they would have an adventure. Indeed, she became his mistress
and his muse for seven years, all the while photographing him at work
or relaxing, alone or with friends. In 1937, she captured the agonizing
process of painting "Guernica," his
powerful protest against the Spanish Civil War. Dora's own features
appear in the painting, as well as in many others of Picasso's during
However, he eventually tired of her and said, "I
still think she's beautiful, but her little habits are driving me crazy."
She outlived him by a quarter of a century, spending
much of her life as a religious recluse, painting, writing poetry,
and guarding her privacy. She owned dozens of Picasso paintings and
drawings, sometimes realistic portraits, others, cubist works. She's
often seen weeping, which brings to mind one of
the artist's most unendearing quotes, "Women are
I think it was that quote that set
off Stassinopolis. The truth probably
lies in the fact that he was drawn to passionate, vulnerable women. Intensity
has its down side, both in women and in men. Dora and Picasso split,
and she spent a couple of years in an institution that dealt with depression.
Then she went on with her life, though she gave creative types a wide
Jacqueline Roque was his last mistress, living with him until he died
in 1973. She dominated his last 20 years of work, and also devoted herself
to every aspect of his life, cooking his favorite meals, keeping his
finances straight, driving, and finally nursing him. She turned her creative
self over to him.
Considering that he lived to be over ninety, Picasso had a fairly reasonable
number of women in his life. He wasn't a Lothario who whirled from bed
to bed with dozens of women every year. He and Jacqueline isolated themselves
in the south of France, and he obsessively painted images of women, which
reflected his artist-muse relationship with her.
Picasso was everything to Jacqueline, and after he died, she shot herself.
Picasso: genius, artist, angel,
devil. How could an ordinary man paint
the masterpieces he did? And women? Perhaps if he were attracted to jolly
little cheerleaders, he wouldn't be considered so misogynistic by some
people. The little cheerleaders would have put in their time, and after
the inevitable split, sold his paintings and gone shopping.