Portrait of a Woman 1910, by Pablo Picasso on display at the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, is just one in many portraits of beautiful women painted by the artist. Image: MFA
In continuation of our examination of Pablo Picasso’s life and his contribution to 20th-century art, we take a look at his relationship with women. Many of Picasso’s works were influenced by his many lovers. But while they showed him love, he treated them with cruelty. As Dora Maar, one of his many lovers said: ‘As an artist you may be extraordinary, but morally speaking you are worthless.’ Here is our third and final part of our series on Pablo Picasso. You can follow the series: Top 20 Pablo Picasso Insightful Quotes on Art and Life. Pablo Picasso: Restless Soul in Search of Creative Success.
Picasso was no doubt one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century. Beyond his genius as an artist, however, his personal life remains a point of fascination. Picasso was an irredeemable womanizer and his infidelity is legendary. During his lifetime, he had numerous lovers, girlfriends, mistresses, muses and prostitutes. For Picasso, ‘There are only two types of women-goddesses and doormats.’ It was, therefore, not surprising that he was always in search of a woman to satisfy his insatiable sexual orgy. His irrepressible sexual appetite kept him constantly on the prowl for beautiful young women.
Picasso’s relationship with women was filled with twists and sharp turns. On July 12, 1918, Pablo Picasso married a Ukrainian ballerina named Olga Khokhlova. They met in Rome where the Ballets Russes was touring. Picasso had been persuaded to travel to Rome by the poet Jean Cocteau to paint scenery for the ballet. It was also a way of getting Picasso out of his depression after the death of his friend Carlos Casagemas. Picasso and Olga settled in Paris, and had a son together, Paulo. Paulo inspired a series of paintings called Maternité. The series depicts women nursing their babies.
Soon after the birth of Paulo, the relationship between Picasso and Khokhlova deteriorated. Devastated by the usurping of her power by servants employed by the now wealthy Picasso, Olga became extremely bitter and sort revenge. She gave up social life and everything else ‘to make her husband’s existence unbearable.’ To make matters worse, Olga found out that Picasso was seeing another woman.
While still married to Olga, Picasso met Marie-Thérèse Walter on a Parisian street in 1927. Marie-Thérèse was at the Galerie Lafayette, a departmental store when Picasso got a glimpse of her. She was beautiful and irresistible. Picasso could not endure the allure. He told her she had a beautiful face and he would like to paint her portrait. In less than a week, Picasso and the beautiful 17- year-old blond began a long-term relationship. Picasso was 46 and Marie-Thérèse under the age of consent. Marie-Thérèse bore him a daughter, Maya.
Picasso’s infidelities drove Olga to the verge of a nervous breakdown. She was so upset by Picasso’s unfaithfulness that she packed her things and moved to South of France with their son. There, she filed for divorce. Picasso would not hear of it. Unwilling to divide his property evenly with his wife as stipulated by French laws, Picasso refused to sign the divorce papers. Consequently, Picasso and Olga remained legally married until her death in 1955.
While Olga wallowed in the South of France, Picasso continued enjoying his own life and relationship with other women. In 1935, he met Dora Maar while on the set of Jean Renoir’s film Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (released in 1936). The half French, half Yugoslavian artist and photographer was an intellectual, gifted and beautiful. At 29, she was nearly half Picasso’s age. Picasso invited her to his studio to take photographs of his work. Soon, Picasso and Dora were engaged in a romantic and professional relationship that lasted for more than a decade. The relationship was, however, a roller coaster ride.
Picasso made every effort to keep his two mistresses apart. One day, however, Dora and Marie-Thérèse met by accident in Picasso’s studio. It was a disquieting experience which Picasso relished with unreserved glee. He recalled the encounter thus: ‘Marie-Thérèse turned to me and said: “Make up your mind. Which one of us goes?” I was satisfied with things as they were. I told them they’d have to fight it out for themselves. So they began to wrestle. It’s one of my choicest memories.’ Picasso immortalized the encounter in the painting Birds In A Cage 1937. It has a black dove (Dora) fighting a white dove (Marie-Thérèse).
Picasso picked Dora the winner of the fight, and she moved in with him. As for Marie-Thérèse, Picasso moved her and her daughter into a nearby apartment. Even as Picasso shuttled between the two mistresses, his wandering eyes were transfixed on a new lover. At the height of Nazi occupation of Paris in 1943, Picasso met two pretty young girls in a Café. He invited them to his studio and one of them captivated him. 21- year-old Françoise Gilot, a law student and aspiring painter, was Picasso’s next mistress. He wooed her and she succumbed months later, surrendering her virginity to him. He was still seeing Dora even as he engaged Françoise.
Dora was heartbroken by the news of the affair between Picasso and Françoise. She became depressed and sick but Picasso did not care. Instead of compassion, Picasso in his usual tradition moved her to another apartment, where she had to wait for his call to visit the studio. In 1945, her depression developed into a total mental collapse. Picasso sent her to a nursing home to recover and Françoise moved in with Picasso. Dora was so disenchanted that she never married or took another lover. For her, Picasso was the all -in- all. ‘After Picasso, God,’ she said.
While Dora lust for Picasso’s affection, he was enjoying his life with Françoise. They traveled to the Mediterranean resort Antibes to spend time together. The relationship blossomed for several years and they had two children, a son Claude, and a daughter, Paloma. As Picasso’s relationship with Françoise flourished, Olga, his mentally unstable rejected wife, would not let go. Many times she broke into their home and attacked Françoise with hope causing irreparable damage.
The challenge of motherhood created the first crack in the relationship between Picasso and Françoise. She felt overburdened nurturing their children and serving Picasso at the same time. She was not just the home keeper, it was also her duty to light the stove in Picasso’s studios at dawn every day. Françoise hated it! Adding salt to injury was Picasso’s philandering, which made her very unhappy. Françoise’s fleeting happiness made Picasso so depressed that he contemplated killing himself.
Picasso came out of his depression after meeting yet another beautiful woman-Geneviève Laporte. Picasso first met Geneviève, a poet, when she was still a schoolgirl in war-time Paris. In 1951, more than a decade after their first meeting, she became his lover. Picasso was 70 and she 24 when their relationship started. It was a hush-hush relationship as Picasso, who was already an international celebrity, was trying to avoid any scandal. In any case, the relationship was a road to nowhere and it ended in 1953.
Picasso was miserable when Geneviève left and he did his best to locate her. He went to nightclubs on the Cote d’ Azur in his effort to find her. He was unsuccessful. To make matters worse, Françoise also left him the same year and went on to marry scientist Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine.
Wretched and rejected, Picasso resigned to fate. He poured his heart and soul into his work and the result was amazing. His favorite model was Jacqueline Roque. The exotic-looking 27-year- old adored and worshiped Picasso. She called him her ‘god’ and did everything to please him.
In 1961, six years after Olga’s death — she died in 1955— Picasso married his second wife Jacqueline Roque. He was 79 years old. Winning Jacqueline Roque’s heart took great effort. To make her go on a date with him, Picasso drew a dove in chalk on her house and brought her one rose a day until she agreed to date him six months later. Picasso and Jacqueline got married in Vallauris on March 2, 1961. The marriage lasted for 11 years. Jacqueline was Picasso’s most cherished muse and he painted over 400 portraits of her, more than any of his other lovers. When Picasso died on April 1973 at the age of 92, Jacqueline was beside him.
Picasso’s love life was as intriguing as his art career. He was very apt when he noted that “To make oneself hated is more difficult than to make oneself loved.” Many of his women loved him but Picasso successfully turned their love to hate. Patrick O’Brian, one of Picasso’s biographers puts Picasso’s relationship with women succinctly: “Picasso’s feeling for women oscillated between extreme tenderness on the one hand and violent hatred on the other, the mid-point being dislike — if not contempt.”
In addition to fathering four children by different women, two of Picasso’s lovers were driven to mental breakdown and two committed suicide. When Picasso was buried, a statute of Marie-Thérèse was placed over his grave. For four years, Marie-Thérèse lamented his death. Unable to bear the loss, she killed herself four years after his death. Like Marie-Thérèse, Jacqueline was distraught by Picasso’s passing. First, she took to drinking and when that did not help deal with the death of her ‘god’, she shot herself.