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At Home and Abroad

Garcon a la pipe Picasso by Ann Seymour
When Pablo Picasso's Garçon à la pipe sold at Sothebys for $105 million earlier this year, I was reminded of the not shy and blushing Arianna Stassinopolis's Conclusion about the artist in her poorly researched biography: he was misogynistic, and, as a bad man, he is ergo a bad artist. The book was basically a clip and paste job by a woman who, to put it mildly, lacked expertise in art criticism. Once she finished the less than original biography, she decided to put her personal stamp on it by calling him a jerk and a second-rate artist, so I assume she was not among the bidders at the auction. How she found the bravado to attack the twentieth century's greatest is a mystery to many, but I think maybe she simply took her clue from a quote of his, "Everything you can imagine is real."

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 sterility' "

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 center.

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 Olivier. 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 showing "signs 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 those years.

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 suffering machines."

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 berth.

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.


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