Picasso’s Muses

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Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is arguably the most recognized artist that has ever lived. He was notorious for always having a beautiful woman by his side. They were not only his lovers, but also his muses that greatly inspired his artwork during their time together. The six main women in Picasso’s life were all beautiful, and each shared a unique experience with him. But who were they; and how did they influence his artwork?

Photograph of Olivier next to a painting of her done by Picasso

The first great love of Picasso’s life was a curvy, green-eyed, auburn-haired woman named Fernande Olivier (1881–1966). They met in the Montmartre district of Paris in 1904; shortly after Olivier fled her abusive arranged marriage to become an artist’s model. Picasso and Olivier were regularly smoking Opium together and were repeatedly unfaithful to one another. She is recognized as the inspiration for Picasso’s transition from his gloomy Blue Period to his lighter and more cheerful Rose Period. The couple separated in 1912 after seven senseless years together. In 1933, she published a memoir, Picasso and His Friends, that was said to have angered the artist with the intimate details it revealed.

Photograph of Khokhlova next to a painting of her done by Picasso
Photograph of Khokhlova next to a painting of her done by Picasso

Olga Stepanova Khokhlova (1891–1954) was a Ukranian-Russian Ballets Russes dancer that ironically had green eyes and auburn hair, just like Olivier. She met Picasso in 1917 after her performance in Parade. Shortly after, she retired from dancing and traveled to Spain with Picasso to meet his family. In 1918, the two were married in Paris; and three years later they had a son named Paulo. Khokhlova’s ballerina body personified the women in Picasso’s Neoclassical Period. Khokhlova craved an upper-class lifestyle full of materialistic items that did not interest Picasso much. She also refused to be portrayed in his cubist styled paintings and only wanted to be shown in a flattering style. As problems arose within their marriage, Picasso started an affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter (1909–1977). In 1935, Walter became pregnant with Picasso’s baby; this lead to the separation between him and Khokhlova. She dealt with many physical and psychological illnesses before dying in 1954 of cancer.

Photograph of Walter next to a painting of her done by Picasso
Photograph of Walter next to a painting of her done by Picasso

Marie-Thérèse Walter met Picasso at the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris in 1927; she was 17, he was 45. She was curvy with blue eyes and blonde hair. The first words he spoke to her were: “You have an interesting face. I would like to do a portrait of you. I feel we are going to do great things together. I am Picasso.” Walter became Picasso’s mistress and, arguably, the greatest love of his life. She served as the muse for some of his more exquisite and sexual pieces. She was around during his Surrealist period, and was the perfect model because her passive behavior eagerness to please him. They had a daughter in 1935 named Maya. After Khokhlova passed away in 1955, Picasso proposed and surprisingly Walter declined. Four years after Picasso’s death, Walter hung herself.

Photograph of Maar next to a painting of her done by Picasso
Photograph of Maar next to a painting of her done by Picasso

Picasso was introduced to Dora Maar (1907–1997) in 1935 at a café in Paris. She was a tall, unique beauty that was a talented painter, poet and photographer. Dora Maar was mentally and emotionally demanding (the complete opposite of Walter). Maar’s was very involved in left-wing politics and likely encouraged Picasso to paint Guernica. This famous painting depicts the tragedy that became of the bombing from Nazi Germany on the town of Guernica. She even added a few of her own touches to the piece. After they split, Maar’s psychological issues became worse and she underwent treatment from the well-known psychiatrist Jacques Lacan. In 1997, she passed away from natural causes.

Photograph of Gilot next to a painting of her done by Picasso
Photograph of Gilot next to a painting of her done by Picasso

Françoise Gilot (1921-) was Picasso’s muse and lover from 1944 to 1953. She was born at Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. In 1943, Picasso met Gilot in Paris. She was a 21 years old, confident, strong-willed aspiring artist. When she first visited his studio, Gilot stood out from the rest of the women by not resisting any of his advances. This was new and unpleasant to Picasso; however, she soon replaced Maar as his main mistress. Most of the works Picasso created during his years with Gilot indicate that the couple experience a lot of happiness together. They had two children together; Claude (1947-) and Paloma (1949-). Eventually, Gilot grew tired of Picasso’s unfaithfulness and they split in 1953. In 1964, she wrote Life with Picasso, which sold over a million copies. Gilot currently lives between New York and Paris and continues to paint professionally.

Photograph of Roque next to a painting of her done by Picasso
Photograph of Roque next to a painting of her done by Picasso

Jacqueline Roque (1926–1986) worked as a secretary, married  an engineer, and lived in West Africa with their daughter. After she divorced him, in 1953, Roque was working as a sales assistant at Madoura Pottery in Vallauris in France where Picasso created his ceramics. She was 27 years old and had big, dark eyes and long, black hair. Her features reminded Picasso of a girl from a Delacroix painting; which inspired him to produce a series based off of Delacroix’s work. During this time, Picasso was steadily courting Roque by bringing her a red rose every day, writing her poems, and even drew a large dove in white chalk in her house. Roque was hesitant at first to commit because of Picasso’s reputation; however, they ended up marrying in secret in 1961. Roque served as Picasso’s lover, muse, and loyal assistant until the day he died. The night he was buried, she slept outside in the snow lying over his grave. Roque fought to preserve and promote Picasso’s work and even helped to establish the Musée Picasso in Paris. In 1986, she committed suicide by shooting herself.

These women probably did not realize the impact they had on him during their life. However, he would not have produced all of the well-known works we admire today if he had not encountered these six muses. Baterby’s Art Gallery is proud to carry works by this influential master. Currently, our gallery has 7 of his works hanging on the walls; one happens to be a reclining image of his last wife and muse, Jacqueline Roque!

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