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  • Writer's pictureelletennyson

repainting the muses / picasso's muses

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

For our second edition of re-painting the muses, we explore the women who inspired one of the greatest and most famous artists. Love, sex, passion, anger and death were themes that were intertwined so deeply within the work of Pablo Picasso, making his relationships with his muses such an integral part of his artistic progress.

A series of beautiful faces carried him through each period of his ever-changing artistic styles. Before his first marriage to the dancer Olga Khokhlova, he had already begun to explore Cubism with Eva Gouel, his mistress who had stolen him from her former friend, Fernande Olivier whom he collaborated with for seven years on his rose period and who modelled his early masterpiece “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”. She in turn, had saved him from his wallowing blue period brought on by the deadly love affair between his dearest friend and his unrequited love Germaine Gargollo.

Picasso was very particular about his models, sometimes struggling to paint those whose looks did not match his aesthetic at the time. Even after eighty or ninety sittings, he could not deliver a satisfying portrait of his patron Gertrude Stein. It was only after months apart that he was finally able to find a style in which to capture her, taking inspiration from the primitive Iberian masks he had encountered. He worked best from memory, like a camera he could record their every curve, line and imperfection with his scrupulous eye without ever forgetting a detail. He declined portrait commissions, even during his penniless years, instead carefully selecting a muse intriguing enough to fit his vision perfectly.

He loved women, but was also terrified of them and their influence over him and the dependency that he had on them to fuel his work. Out of fear he would stifle and try to dominate them. His lover Françoise Gilot noted that he loved to put his muse high on a pedestal allow others to bathe in her lover's undivided attention, but eventually push her off and show her slow descent until she finally crashes to the earth below. His sadist flair was inspired directly by the writings of its debauched creator, the Marquis de Sade, whose books Picasso would give to his girlfriends, a warning that his carnal and artistic desires were not entirely consumed by romance. Whether his lover complied with his fantasies is unknown, it seems such matters have remained private, but on the canvas each was subjected to the horrors of jealousy and anguish as well as the rewards of his adoration and love.

His muses were required to sacrifice themselves to his altar, serving the rights to their image and livelihood which at any moment could suddenly be pulled from underneath them. His own self portrait faded from his paintings early on, shying away from scrutiny, replaced with the mythological minotaur who pursued terrified virgins, a phallic shaped shadow shaped resting on the face of a sleeping woman, a stationary Spanish bull that has been pumped with rage and passion before its inevitable demise in the ring, or even just simply a rusty old teapot sat between pretty vases. Without his true form on display to be critiqued he became heavily reliant on his muses to defy the art world, and to take the thrashes of disapproval that were initially thrust by the public, who would refer to them as whores but eventually call the painter, a genius.


ink portrait of Olga Khokhlova

Escaping the first throes of the Russian Revolution, a young Olga Khokhlova travelled from her native Ukraine to Paris to join impresario Sergei Diaghilev's ballet company “Ballet Russes” as a dancer. The self-proclaimed charlatan yet scrupulous patron and business man, Diaghilev had a pendant of not only collecting the most talented ballerinas but young women of affluent families with means of financially supporting his ventures. Olga fit into the latter category as the daughter of a Tsarist colonel, though her skills impressed enough to earn her a place by a panel that included the ballet star Vaslav Nijinsky. It was in 1917, while the company was rehearsing in Rome, that Olga caught the wandering eye of Pablo Picasso. Picasso, who at that point had left Paris, escaping a trail of broken love affairs and two marriage rejections, had come to design the set and costumes for Diaghilev’s new production “Parade” in his renowned Cubist style. The lustful artist was captivated by the charming ballerina who he obsessively courted even though she had vowed to remain chaste during their initial unmarried partnership.

At 35, Picasso was keen to experience married life, and was enamoured with the idea of having a son. Olga seemed an ideal prospect, even though friends questioned their compatibility. She was serious, proud and materialistic having come from an aristocratic background and curbed his sexual advances, attributes that differed greatly from his carefree impoverished friends and previous bohemian lovers. Picasso, however was enamoured by her allure and took pleasure in showing off his glamorous companion, parading proudly her down the streets though careful not to bump into his friends whom she considered vulgar. It was possible that Picasso was further enticed to Olga given that she became depend on him, having lost ties to her country which was being ravaged by revolution, which satisfied his possessiveness and given him his much desired control over the relationship.

As the tour was leaving Barcelona for South Africa, Olga determined that the life of a ballerina would not support her ambitions of grandeur and fine living, in light of her family’s depleting funds. She dropped out of the company, quitting her dancing profession to remain with Picasso, now her fiancé, and his family. His mother Maria and sister Lola were not best pleased with his Russian conquest at first, with Maria warning Olga of her son’s selfishness. Olga did not heed her warning, and Picasso began painting her, her initial portraits were a focus on her perfectly symmetrical face, once framed in a traditional Spanish mantilla, no doubt an object of Picasso's longing to make her his bride and cement her identity with his.

When her French visa was finally accepted the couple moved to Paris, and after some delay caused by an old ballet injury, they were married in 1918. Their marriage coincided with a rise in Picasso’s fame and fortune aided by Paul Rosenberg, an art dealer who bought and exhibited much of his work. To keep Picasso working, Rosenberg installed the newlyweds in a fashionable apartment in the art district of Paris. When Olga had recovered she was no longer able to dance, so she dedicated all her energy in keeping an impeccable household. She was in her element as Madame Picasso, delighted by her husband’s celebrity, she hosted lavish dinners with the Parisian avant-garde elite including fashion designer Coco Chanel and composer Igor Stravinsky. Her husband's style of dress and lifestyle changed under her influence. The modest artisan style he usually adopted converted into that of an English gentleman, wearing the suits and bowler hats from Saville Row and was chauffeur driven between studios and fancy dress parties and dined on caviar and champagne. She disapproved of Picasso’s gaggle of friends, who she considered as bad influences, driving wedges between him and most notably the poets Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacob.

studies of how Picasso depicted Olga throughout their marriage, from the young ballerina, to the affectionate mother to the dancer in 'The Three Dancers'

Olga had not been a fan of his practices in cubism, once lamenting “I want to recognise my own face”. To satisfy his new wife’s requests, Picasso redefined his style to create full bodied forms inspired by classical roman and greek art. Olga was a proud sitter for his new artistic phase dubbed his “Classical period.” Dressed in her finest fur-trimmed coats and embroidered shawls, and was conveyed the beautiful and sophisticated woman she had always wanted to be, but many of her portraits were infused with sense of melancholy, her expression grave as she poured over her letters. She had after all been cut off from her family, who had either died or dispersed on account of the war. Her heritage lay in tatters, her body confined to chairs and wheelchairs many months after her wedding, unable to indulge in her love of dance. Her marriage and lifestyle were her only outlet and comfort in a world she felt lost in. In 1921, Olga gave birth to Picasso's long awaited son Paulo. The couple were overjoyed and the baby was put to work straightway by his father, appearing in portraits alongside Olga. From the countless photos of Olga and Paolo, the mother seemed utterly devoted, a love that was recreated in Picasso's work, which depicted his wife as an idyllic maternal figure, verging on the Madonna, tenderly embracing and entertaining her infant.

Their bubble slowly dissolved over the following years, as Olga had been suffering from other health issues which aggravated her husband. Picasso was never sympathetic to a woman’s suffering. It was his custom to seek another muse in such a time when his current one needed him the most. He had done so with his previous muses Fernande Olivier and Eva Gouel, the latter left dying in hospital while he romanced his neighbour. His infidelities did not help Olga’s health, and she began to suffer from neurotic fits wrought with jealousy. To ease the tension, her husband bought a large country home Château de Boisgeloup so he could work and serve as a quiet haven for Olga, away from the bustling Paris, which she would return to each weekend while Picasso remained to work. He would reject her earlier attempts at smartening him up, reverting back to his unpretentious wardrobe of striped cotton tops and workmen trousers and began filling their beautiful home with an accumulation of rubbish and found objects, that he would collect to use in his sculpture.

No longer seeking to please Olga, Picasso converted to a new period of Surrealism, morphing her elegant lines into a vile and violent unrecognisable forms of torment and anger. After the death of his old friend Ramon Pichot, he produced ‘The Three Dancers’ inspired by the deadly love triangle he had witnessed years before between Pichot, their troubled friend Carlos Casagemas and Pichot’s future wife Germaine Gargallo, who unsurprisingly was also briefly involved with Picasso as well. Following her humiliating rejection of Casagemas, he attempted to shoot her and on failing to do so, shot himself. The painting, however, depicts only one man where there should be two. Though the scandal predated his meeting of Olga in Rome, he nevertheless tied her to the guilty Germaine as two dancers enticing a wayward man into their primitive dance that connotes their savagery, bringing forth the man’s doom, as though part of a ritual sacrifice. It is clear who Picasso blamed for his friend’s demise as well as his own feelings about his wife, as though she too was leading him into an artistic demise, which would only be saved by a new source of inspiration, in form of a new muse.

ink sketch from Picasso's 'Two Women running on along the Beach'

Olga's life after the depletion of her marriage is not very well documented, a common theme among Picasso's other muses, disappearing in life once their features are rubbed out and replaced by the next. Distraught by her husband's abandonment as well as the embarrassment of the affair, Olga lived in limbo as his legal wife but was never able to recreate the domestic family life with Picasso that she still craved. She lived in various hotels in Paris and followed him when he relocated to the south of France. Her many desperate letters to her husband were ignored, even when she lay bed ridden, dying from cancer. Her son Paolo, was in hospital recovering from surgery, and was unable to see her. Picasso visited neither of them, and Olga died alone.

Picasso ordained each woman as a goddess, though Olga seemed the ideal fit as Hera, the queen of the gods, the mother goddess who would watch over his children and seethed with envy over his hidden lovers, she likens more to the gorgon Medusa. Once admired for her beauty and sought after by a god, only to be turned into a hideous creature, writhing in jealously, desperation and madness, unable to utter her own truth without turning her critics into stone.

Her greatest feat was being a ballerina which was squandered by injury, money difficulties, marriage and motherhood. Many of her portraits have her sitting, but Picasso would sometimes indulge her fantasy, by painting her as a classical beauty bounding down the beach, her arms lifted up high and her head lulled back as a though in the midst of a dance.


ink portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter

Olga’s paranoia and jealousy during their marriage was not unfounded. Picasso was a renowned philanderer and enjoyed numerous affairs and flirtations. In 1927, he became infatuated with the young Marie-Thérèse Walter. The seventeen year old was a far cry from his raven haired, lithe and sophisticated wife. The teen was curvaceous and muscular, with short waxen blonde hair, her face dominated by a heavy nose and small but piercing blue eyes. Unbeknownst to her, she had been spied on through the windows of a department store by the forty-seven year old artist, who approached her with an offer to paint her portrait, declaring “I am Picasso.” Marie-Thérèse didn’t have a clue who he was, probably because she lived modestly on the outskirts of Paris with her single mother and sisters, unaware of.the Paris' distinguished artists and their sordid reputations. The absence of a father figure may have contributed to her acceptance of an older man's interest so willingly as well as being struck by his notable charm.

Their romantic liaisons were kept secret, particularly as it began when she was under the age of consent. There was however, no hiding the fact that Picasso had replaced his old muse for a newer version. At first, it was her initials that made it on to his canvas as disguised frets on a guitar but soon grew into large clay busts that filled his studio. By many accounts, Marie-Thérèse’s was a young woman who loved to exercise and swim, having no grand ambitions for herself. She seemed to be satisfied with her role as the primary muse to one of the greatest painters and endured sharing him with his wife without complaint. Marie-Thérèse was completely submissive to Picasso’s demands, her demeanour was relaxed and in complete ease to her lover’s ardent gaze, void of struggle that seemed to permeate Olga’s portraits of the time. On the canvas he transformed the reserved teenager into his surrealist goddess painted in dreamy pastel hues, her eyes shut in sleep, her naked body laid out provocatively for Picasso to do as he will.

Their courtship was documented through surrealist and cubist forms. To him she was Aphrodite, the embodiment of femininity and sensuality, calm in the face of Olga's raging and suspicious Hera. The artist enacting his fantasies on his canvas, which included his wife walking in on a naked Marie-Thérèse at Boisgeloup, which she frequented when Olga was not there. Fuelled by his intense lust for her, he had one of his most productive years amassing a large quantity of works and curating his own retrospective exhibition in 1932. The exhibition exposed the existence of Picasso’s new muse, an unknown with short blonde hair, strong nose whose voluptuous naked body was repeated obsessively on canvas, paper or sculpture. She was his work, a vital necessity to not only satisfy his sexual needs but to charge his professional motivation that was seemingly pent up during the years it was confined by his marriage.

studies of how Marie-Thérèse was depicted by Picasso in 'Femme avec Livre'

Even her absence during her obligatory visits to participate in Mass, holy days and Lent, drove the artist to work, producing his ‘Crucifixion’ drawings, casting an absent Marie-Thérèse in the role of a dancing Mary Magdalene. Events in her life as well as her beliefs, influenced his work. When she suffered a near death experience by drowning in a river, Picasso took to his canvas to paint a series of naked swimmers frolicking on the beach, some of whom are seen drowning only to be rescued by a swarm of nymphs and in later paintings by the mythical minotaur. The minotaur was a symbol that Picasso reverted back to many times during his career and at times was modelled on himself, using its guise to ravish women in her image.

Understandably, Olga’s nerves suffered greatly on seeing her rival plastered all over her husband’s work, but she would not discover her identity until 1935, when a friend finally revealed the lover’s name, and that she was pregnant by Picasso. Their marriage was over, and the couple separated but a divorce was never granted, as it would require Picasso to split his wealth and valuable paintings with Olga, which he was not prepared to do. Olga, would therefore remain his legal wife for the rest of her life, keeping her coveted title of Madame Picasso which was never to be bestowed on to the smitten Marie-Thérèse.

Picasso’s first daughter Maya arrived the same year, much to his delight. She was the spitting image of her mother, and like Paolo before she modelled for her father, her blonde hair often in little pigtails, clutching and fawning over her toys that he would have made her. Her mother’s image dominated his work for many years, but the artist was always on the look out for a fresh idea that only a new woman could provide, and the birth of a child did not deter his desire for another conquest.

ink sketch from Picasso's ' Nude Green Leaves and Bust'

Marie-Thérèse would be counted as his longest standing muse, given that she remained a prominent fixture his life and in his work for many years, through many other women, even though she was never given a status higher than a mistress. Picasso indulged himself with her unyielding devotion and took advantage of her eagerness to please. His control over her was tangible, easily moulding her as he did in sculpture and in paint, compressing her into a bust that would sit silently on a side table, awaiting her maker's return.

Marie-Thérèse brought up her daughter by herself, with his financial aid and regular visits. Maya grew up believing his absence from their family was due to his heavy workload, completely unaware that he was spending his free time with a lover and later another family. It was only upon the insistence of his partner Françoise Gilot, that Maya met her half-siblings including Paolo. Marie-Thérèse was a plaything, a past-time that Picasso enjoyed, often teasing his current lover with her letters begging him to visit her.

After years of her pleading him for him to divorce, her scuffles with his other women and her devout loyalty to him, it must have been a surprise to him that she declined his offer of marriage upon Olga's death, decades after their encounter. Sadly, this bout of courage did not signify she had moved on from his influence. Four years after Picasso's death, Marie-Thérèse committed suicide, leaving Maya and her three grandchildren, all of who would make sure that her loyalty to Picasso was honoured by making sure her image is celebrated as much as any other of his muses.

Picasso's paintings of Marie-Thérèse are some of his most famous works, with 'La Reve' being his second most expensive painting to date. Marie-Thérèse was the woman of his dreams, delicate and submissive, full of sensuality and passion that only he would enjoy. His own personal Venus. Her nudes are some of his best, as his sitter seems the most comfortable in a scene where most people would feel their most vulnerable.


ink portrait of Dora Maar

Marie-Thérèse was to suffer the same fate as her predecessor when she happened upon the surrealist photographer Dora Maar in Picasso’s studio. Dora had been given special access to photograph Picasso working on his famous piece “Guernica” having become his latest mistress some years prior. Dora was a different breed of muse that Picasso was used to.She offered a collaborative partnership, swapping her modelling duties for hours spent in the darkroom, teaching Picasso photographic techniques and engaging his otherwise dormant political stance, all contributing factors in creating the masterpiece itself.

Guernica’s monochrome colour scheme may have also been influenced by her black and white photographs. She was an established commercial photographer, taking fashion and advertising commissions while also exhibiting her politically fuelled street photography and her more experimental photo montages in Surrealist exhibitions. She socialised with the likes of photographers Brassaï, Man Ray and Cecil Beaton, and was an avid member of the Surrealist group, not only a fan of their artistic practices, but their left-wing politics, joining them in political meetings and debates. The surrealists were more inclusive, boasting a number of female members including Lee Miller, Man Ray's American lover and muse, the swiss Méret Oppenheim and Nusch Éluard, wife of one of the surrealist founders Paul, and Dora, all of whom felt welcomed and were active members.

Dora was a very accomplished and promising twenty-eight year old artist when she met Picasso in 1935. She had caught his attention on purpose, positioning herself in his eye-line at one of his frequented bars. She staged a knife game, were she stabbed between her gloved fingers with a blade, blood seeped onto the table cloth, her expression unflinching. Picasso was impressed, and approached her, requesting to keep her bloody gloves. The rather disturbing yet theatrical introduction intrigued Picasso, and their relationship began despite being mere months after the birth of Maya.

Though Dora considered herself a modern woman, independent professionally as well of societal restraints generally expected of women of that time, she was however willing to make the essential sacrifices and offerings needed to ascend Picasso's level. Before Picasso, she was involved with the surrealist thinker Georges Bataille, another avid follower of the Marquis de Sade who had a fascination with erotism and sadism. Their involvement gave Dora the essential education in handling Picasso's desires and understanding his creed. At the height of the love affair, Dora was required to be available to Picasso whenever he wished, sometimes waiting for him in his studio for hours incase he needed her. Friends would invite her to dinner but she would not be able to accept until she was sure Picasso wouldn't show up. She began to take up painting still-lifes, neglecting her talent of highly regarded photography, under much persuasion of her lover. He believed every photographer wished to paint but resorted to the easier medium. He incidentally was not strong with a camera, and most likely jealous of Dora's skill, and he preferred having the upper hand.

During World War II, Dora and Picasso holed up together in a dusty attic studio, shrouded in darkness, with only Dora’s photographic spotlights illuminating their canvases. She swapped her camera for the paintbrush, concentrating on creating cubist and abstract pieces, no doubt guided by the experienced Picasso. They each painted in a dark and solemn colour palette. Dora’s image was at the forefront of his work, forever immortalised as his wartime muse, her body tortured and her face crippled with worry and sadness. She was dubbed 'The Weeping Woman', an impression she despised and could never shake off.

Dora had much to fear when Germany occupied Paris. She was among those whose Jewish paternity threatened their safety, as a result many of her friends had fled Paris in fear of being caught and subjected to the horrors of concentration camps. Picasso too was in a precarious situation given he was open about his anti-facist views, and his etchings satirising Francisco Franco. He was constantly bothered by the Gestapo who visited his studio. A looming threat always hanging above his head, every time they inspected his work, which they had banned him from exhibiting. The courageous couple remained in Paris, unyielded by their tormentors, they continued to produce artwork, even with materials like bronze that had been smuggled in by the French Resistance.

sketches of Dora Maar as depicted by Picasso 'Weeping Woman' and 'Portrait of Dora Maar'

Where as Marie-Thérèse had been kept secret from all but a handful of close friends during his marriage, his relationship with Dora was very public. They were seen at cafes and bars, challenging the latest political campaigns, encouraging the poets to recite their latest work. Like Olga, he regarded her as a trophy, not only fashionable but interesting and creative, another avenue of admiration that will lead many others back to Picasso.

Picasso refused to leave Marie-Thérèse, however and enjoyed pitting the two women against each other. During their first encounter in his studio, he refused Marie-Thérèse request that he ask Dora to leave, which ended with both women scuffling on the floor. Since his separation with Olga, Marie-Thérèse assumed she would take in the role and respect of a wife and mother of his child, but his relationship with Dora reduced her position as the other woman yet again. Dora was well-connected, social and ambitious which meant it would be harder to conceal her in favour of the rather shy and private Marie-Thérèse, who could easily be hidden away. Marie-Thérèse was given a Parisian flat and country home similar Madame Picasso’s Boisgeloup, where she could bring up Maya and entertain Picasso on his breaks from Dora. He continued to paint both of them, sometimes in the same setting to truly set them apart, highlighting each woman’s attributes and faults to one another. He cast Dora as the ‘weeping woman’, her portraits dissolving into perpetual tears from a constant unknown inner turmoil, while Marie-Thérèse remained the serene and peaceful model she had always been.

His painting ‘Birds in a Cage’ transformed the dark haired Dora into a raven, wild and ferocious pouncing on the innocent white dove that represented Marie-Thérèse, who was bowed down protecting her baby pink eggs, having been forced to occupy the same small cage. A keen painter herself, Dora would paint a portrait of Marie-Thérèse and herself in a piece called ‘The Conversation’, in which the two women sit face to face at a table, their forms highlighted by the lamp above them, that has a striking resemblance to the one in the Guernica. Dora’s back to the viewer, seemingly engaged in a tense exchange, living with the mutual frustrations of having to share their lover.

By 1943, Picasso's eight-year relationship with Dora was waning, coinciding with struggles with her mental health, which was terribly affected by their tumultuous bond as well as the deaths of her mother and her close friend Nusch Eluard. He never told Dora that their relationship had terminated that year, instead she gathered from his burgeoning relationship with a young self assured painter, that she had been replaced. A collectors last impression of his muse was of a tormented shadow, shrinking more and more into the dusty armchair, that she had once occupied with confidence, her sharp manicured nails fanned over her direct stare reminiscent to a knife thrower teasing her audience before she makes her first strike.

Twice she was found looking dazed and dishevelled convinced that she had been attacked in the street by a man, the first time taking her beloved Maltese dog, the other time her bike. When her bike had been found where she claimed to have been attacked, Picasso and their friends expressed concern for her mental health, and she was referred to Picasso’s doctor, Jacques Lacan. She attended his clinic and underwent electroshock therapy which was administered illegally. Picasso spoke of his fear of her madness, who conveyed her dark mood in his last portraits of her.

sketch of Picasso's 'Guernica'

After various psychiatric treatments, Dora converted to catholicism despite having been an atheist her whole life. Considered manically devout, she remained in Paris as a recluse, only accepting several friends into her home, where Picasso's portraits of her were hung alongside her own variety of work. The former couple continued to correspond, exchanging an array of disturbing gifts of rope and steel rods. A signet ring with a spike concealed on the inside was found among Picasso's belongs when he died, packaged and labelled 'To Dora'.

His influence killed her successful career as a photographer, having coaxed her into the medium of painting, of which she could never compare to his mastery. Photography was the greatest threat against painting. With each new lens and mechanicism, an amateur artist could wield the skill of greatest realist painter with just a click of a button. She was a true talent among the surrealists, until reality became darker and more absurd than the fantasy. What Picasso could not take from her, the war did. Friendships were lost, her security and sanity compromised, and she was forced to suppress her beliefs and identity in order to survive.

Many attribute her to the weeping woman in the 'Guernica', her arms flailing as the floor below her collapses. I, however see Dora in the light bulb, revealing the darkest recesses of her lover's imagination. You can imagine that the old ceiling light buzzes and blinks, casting everything into darkness for just a second at a time, threatening to turn off completely, rendering the canvas blank. That was the hold a muse of Picasso had over him.


ink portrait of Françoise Gilot

If juggling two women were not enough, Picasso added a third to the mix, in the form of the 21 year old upcoming French artist Françoise Gilot. She had first encountered him a cafe in german occupied Paris in 1943. She recognised him upon entry, as well as his companion Dora, whose image she had seen appear continuously in his recent paintings. He approached her group, and on hearing she and her friend Genevieve were artists invited them to his studio. There, she admired above all paintings by his longtime friends Georges Braque and Henri Matisse, painters who inspired her work which she was already exhibiting.

Françoise was wary that Picasso's art at the time showed in interest in duality, constantly painting two contrasting women, the dark moody figure of Dora and the light softness of Marie-Thérèse. She was convinced that Picasso had only noticed her because she had been sat beside another. Their lunch companion had even introduced her and Genevieve as ‘the intelligent one’ and ‘the beautiful one’. After a visit to their joint exhibition and subsequent visits to his studio, it became clear, after various studio visits, that Picasso was only interested in ‘the intelligent one’.

Françoise's association with Picasso inspired her to give up her studies in law and to become an artist, straining her relationship with her domineering father, who threatened to have her sanctioned and violently kicked out of her family home. A logical man but prone to anger, he warned his daughter, if she wanted to be a painter, she would have to be a great one or nothing, better to be a lawyer or a doctor and get away with being half decent. Françoise was able to find refuge with her grandmother, freeing herself from the restraints keeping her from practicing her art full-time. Though her father opposed her lifestyle, she credited him for her strength and intellect that would give her the confidence to challenge and seek equality, even with the most dominant of partners. It gave her the edge over her predecessors, she refused to be submissive and challenged her admirer on his specialist subjects of art and love. “Lions mate with lions. They don’t mate with mice” was how she put it, she would made it clear even at her young age, that she would not be a doormat or be moulded into a decorative bust.

Picasso began painting Françoise after a studio visit to introduce her to the great Matisse. The elder artist who was recovering from surgery and in the midst of creating his famous cut-out pieces, was taken with Françoise, and declared should he ever paint her, he would make her skin blue and her hair green. Astonished by Matisse's nerve, the ever competitive Picasso painted Françoise as a flower with blue form and green leaves for hair in a series of works know as ‘La Femme Fleur’. Blue and green would become recurrent colours used to convey Françoise over the course of their relationship, as though to cement her inspiration as his alone, disabling Matisse from ever turning her into his own colourful muse. He painted and drew her extensively, her finely arched inquisitive brows, long graceful neck and subtle beauty spot on her left cheek were features that were most clear in his lithographs, also translated in paint and sculpture.

Paris was liberated in 1944, and though Picasso chose to celebrate such a moment with Marie-Thérèse and Maya, Françoise would come to define his years of freedom and celebration after years of uncertainty, fear and confinement. Like Picasso, Françoise's work had been affected by the war with the use of muted colours and severe lines, but now their canvases were injected with colour, and the tortured souls of war were banished by lively spirits. His painting 'Joie de Vivre', which was created to parody Matisse's work yet again, is a beautiful representation of his new found peace and happiness he felt in the south of France with Françoise. She dances naked in the centre of a beach, her thick hair being carried away by the sea breeze, her joyous movements reacting to the sound of pipes, played by mythological centaurs.

The new couple moved to a humble villa, La Galloise in Vallauris in the south of France, so they could both focus on work. Having become a communist, Picasso was keen to live a working man’s life, a startling contrast from his upper class one with Olga. He bought a nearby factory to house and monopolise his work and regularly visited the local pottery where he started to produce ceramic pieces such as plates and woman shaped vases, revolutionising ceramic art and re-establishing Vallauris' reputation as a refined pottery town. He was as playful and productive with his work as he had ever been, spurred on by the creative mind of his partner. Their collaboration served Françoise too, who took note of his work ethic, and applied the same vigour and ambition to her own work and career.

sketches of Françoise Gilot as depicted by Picasso, from his line lithographs and 'La Femme Fleur'.

Their union was not only fruitful of work and inspiration. Françoise gave birth to Picasso's second son Claude in 1947 closely followed by a daughter Paloma, the Spanish word for dove. At the time of her birth, Picasso who was a well known pacifist, had been recruited by the international congress for peace as a spokesperson. From his collection of lithographs, they selected his drawing of a pigeon, re-branding it as a dove as their symbol of peace.

Françoise suffered from the complications of not being the only love of Picasso’s life. She was haunted by his former line-up of muses, some of whom where more like poltergeists than mere ghosts from his past. She endured lunches in Paris with a cold and intimidating Dora forced upon by Picasso to prove to her that their romance was truly over, at the expense of both the women’s pride and comfort. A constant stream of letters were sent to their home from Olga and Marie-Thérèse seeking Picasso’s attention, the former accosting the couple in the streets and following them to Vallauris. Olga sought Françoise as she played with her children on the local beach, purposely stepping on her hands with her high heels. Not to take the abuse lying down, Françoise grabbed the older woman by the ankles, bringing her crashing down into the sand.

Marie-Thérèse was adamant that she was still Picasso's leading woman, even though her face and form had faded from his freshly painted works and she had clearly been sidelined again by another. She proved to be a passive opponent, and the two women were able to be civil. Desiring a stable family unit for her own children, Françoise encouraged her and Maya to visit along with the wayward Paolo. Picasso adored children but beyond pubescence he lost interest in his progeny, leaving his eldest children desperate to please him. Paolo proved to be rather troublesome, and having grown to dislike his own mother sought constant recognition from his absent father, who was quick to criticise him for his lack of ambition and talent, and hired him as his chauffeur.

After all her great lengths to accommodate his past, it was understandable that Françoise began planning her departure after discovering Picasso had a new girlfriend, twenty-four year old Geneviève Laporte. Some of the last paintings of Françoise showed her as a knight in full armour adorned with spikes riding a decorated horse, as she had done during a corrida in Vallauris. He painted her as a naked swimmer, desperately squeezing her long hair of the salty water, and as the aggressor as she wrestles a figure of their boxer dog on the ground, wearing her signature green. He even seemed to use his visions of little Paloma to convey her distance and moodiness compared to the excitable Claude. These images were far cry from the thornless flower from the early days of their romance. He referred to her as “The Woman Who Says No” to Claude, frustrated that the young twenty-one year old was now a woman approaching thirty, and everyday was strengthening her own plans of how she wished to live her life, no longer wanting to follow his schedule and demands.

The couple were reaching a decade together, when her estranged father called. He had sensed his daughter's unhappiness, having heard from various sources that her relationship was deteriorating. Though initially defensive, Françoise realised that her father still knew her too well despite their differences. He was her mirror and her reflection was telling her it was time to leave. Picasso was aghast by her decision, 'no one leaves a man like me' he proclaimed. 'Watch me' was her curt response. His ego convinced him she would never be able to shake off his fame and control, like Olga and Marie-Thérèse, but Françoise took the children to their nearest train station, and departed her old life for a more promising and independent future.

sketch of Picasso's lithograph

Françoise not only survived her separation from Picasso, she thrived. Though Picasso threw obstacles from afar, blacklisting her from dealers, galleries and bad-mouthing her to his influential friends and patrons, she did not falter, and set up her own successful studio in Paris. She was married two years later to a fellow French painter Luc Simon, who also inevitably painted her portrait. She would work in London commissioned by the Tate, in LA were she met her second husband the renowned virologist Jonas Salk and in New York were she resides now and still works to this day.

So much of her life is well documented while his other muses' history past their liaisons with Picasso are diminished to almost nothing. Françoise joked that she was the seventh wife of Bluebeard, the only wife to flee the tyrannical grasp of a murderous husband unscathed, her life ahead full of promise and with a sense of defiance. She was able to carve out her own legacy through her art, but not before she fully shed her former partner's opinion and vision of her. She opened the lid on the her 'Life with Picasso' in a tell all book, revealing that the man behind the curtain was not a god or wizard of mythical proportions, but a man with faults, prone to temper tantrums and petty jealousy, rendering him mortal like any other. Mortality was Picasso's great weakness, and she was keen to remind him of it. Françoise ultimately wrote the book for her children. Claude and Paloma who were not legally entitled to their father's legacy due to their illegitimacy, so Françoise had to collect funds from her book sales to help them challenge and win rights over his estate and works when he died.

Though her daughter Paloma is associated with his dove, Françoise had been his symbol of peace. After the stresses of war, time with her on the beach, attending his beloved bullfights, talking about art in their studios and playing with their children, were some of the happiest years of his life. Her presence was sorely missed, but he had tempted her with freedom, and she flew away never to be caught again.


ink portrait of Jacqueline Roque

Lonely in his empty home in Vallauris surrounded by his portraits of Françoise, his invitation for Geneviève to move in, rejected, Picasso sought companionship from Jacqueline Roque. Jacqueline was working as an assistant at the ceramic workshop Madoura Pottery owned by her cousin Madame Ramie, where Picasso had been producing work for years. It took him six months to persuade the 26 year old divorcee to go out with him, drawing his iconic white dove in chalk on her home and delivering a rose everyday until she agreed. She soon took Françoise’s place, moving into La Galloise as it’s new mistress with freshly painted portraits of her covering the walls.

Jacqueline's exotic features reminded him of a woman he had long admired that was painted into Eugene Delacroix's 'Women of Algiers'. As part of his period in which he recreated variants on old classics, he painted fifteen paintings that focused on Delacroix's masterpiece, casting Jacqueline as her beguiling doppelgänger. He would often paint her in Turkish dress, emphasising her classical features and strong profile, likening her to the mythical sphinx with thick eyebrows and high cheekbones. Like Marie-Thérèse she is often painted lounging, though she often sits cross-legged or curled up her arms hugging her knees, her body more rigid and alert, her thick dark hair often combed back by her signature thick hairband or scarf. One of his many dogs, an Afghan hound named Kaboul was a constant companion of hers in various portraits most notably in ‘Femme au Chien’.

Jacqueline was burdened with the mammoth task of managing the chaos of paintings, sculptures and menagerie of animals that filled the house. Jacqueline’s role was at times servile, referring to her lover formally as ‘Monseigneur’ when they had guests. She ran a tight ship as both his lover and carer, and was credited for his late artistic phase which was productive, a great feat given his advancing age.

In 1961, Jacqueline became the second Madame Picasso. Olga had succumbed to cancer several years earlier, leaving Picasso free to marry his last muse. It was rumoured that he had actually proposed to Marie-Thérèse over the phone, seeing as she was the one he should have married after his first separation, but she uncharacteristically refused him. Jacqueline had taken a similar role Marie-Thérèse, being completely devoted to him and his work, sacrificing her livelihood to accommodate his every demand with little complaint. Over time, the new Madame Picasso adopted qualities attributed to the former, showcasing great pride in being the legal companion of the great artist and managing his estate with a firm hand. She even took up photography, though never fully realised or practiced to the brilliance of Dora. Her husband’s work always took precedence over everything.

Keen to move out of La Galloise, Jacqueline and Picasso occupied a new home ‘La Californie’ in Cannes. Jacqueline striped La Galloise bare, so that when it’s joint owner Françoise returned, she found her home completely empty of her previous life and belongings. The couple extended their property portfolio by purchasing two more large homes, a villa in Mougins known as Notre Dame de Vie and a large manor house Château of Vauvenargues. As well as wife, Jacqueline occupied the role of Picasso's former secretary and faithful friend Jaime Sabartés by scheduling his visits and managing his thousands of works that streamed in from their many estates and bank vaults in Paris to finally rest together in Vauvenargues. His collection did not only consist of his own work but included an array of work by Matisse, Auguste Renoir, Amadeo Modigliani and Paul Cezanne.

sketches of Jacqueline Roque as depicted by Picasso in 'Jacqueline in Turkish Costume' and 'Women of Algiers'

Three years into their marriage, Françoise published a book exploring her years with the famed artist called “Life with Picasso”. Her book painted an honest portrait of her former lover, highlighting his difficult nature, jealousy and control, hinting that he no longer served as a great revolutionary painter in the midst of the American boom that dominated the art market. Artists like Jackson Pollock, Robert were producing groundbreaking modern art while Picasso was currently obsessively repainting old classics by Velazquez, Delacroix and Manet as though empty of new ideas.

Picasso launched three failed lawsuits to block Françoise's publication. His allies composing a manifesto to have her book banned, outraged that she dare comment on their master’s character when he had judged and revealed hers on countless canvases. By now he was 83 years old, with increasing health problems but was still insistent on remaining the greatest artist. Determined to help Picasso achieve his aspirations, the once very social Picasso shut himself up, refusing to entertain visitors as he strived to beat the ever lingering sense of death. His lines and shapes became cruder and his colour palette began to fade, as did his once insatiable appetite for sex.

Jacqueline barred his children and friends from visiting him. Paolo and his two young children were made to wait two or three hours outside the house before they were let in to see him, on which occasion Paolo would drink heavily to pass the time. A multi-millionaire during his life time, Picasso was stringent when asked to fund his children, with Paolo having to suffer the humiliation of begging so that his family would not live in poverty. Jacqueline showed no sympathy in their plights, her vision was focused purely on Picasso, as though the world around him was blurred, only visible as shadows that moved in to distracted her master’s work, that needed to be shut out.

With their increased isolation from the world, Picasso's images of minotaurs reverted back to his own image, now an old balding man grasping at his last years of life. His painting 'The Kiss' depicts himself, his eyes wide open as though fearful of what lies ahead, and a protective Jacqueline, their grey faces compressed together as they kiss, her eyes fixed worryingly on her lover as though desperately trying to comfort him. The painting is tender and he seems to convey his appreciation for Jacqueline's presence and dedication, void of the erotism of Gustav Klimt's artwork of the same name, as well many of his own previous depictions of his former lovers. Through the likeness to Klimt's work, he cements their union as being just as striking and meaningful, though the golden glow of lust and youth has faded, what remains is a couple at arms, resilient to the next inevitable stage that will tear them apart.

After twenty years together, Picasso died on 8th April 1973 from heart failure while the couple entertained guests at their home in Mougins and was buried at Château of Vauvenargues. Jacqueline rather insensitively only allowed Paolo to attend his private funeral, greatly upsetting the rest of the family. Paolo’s son Pablito, who had greatly admired his grandfather, drank a bottle of bleach in his despair and died several months later from complications. Having always feared his inevitable demise, Picasso failed to leave a will, which caused Jacqueline to suffer the legal blows dealt by Picasso’s illegitimate children Maya, Claude and Paloma, who had to fight for their share of their deserved inheritance. Together with Paolo, she paid off her husband’s inheritance tax by giving the French government nearly 400 paintings, sculpture and thousands of his drawings and preliminary sketches, establishing the Musee National Picasso in Paris. She would go to donate and loan a great many paintings to galleries and museums free of charge, only wishing to keep Picasso’s legacy alive.

ink sketch of one of Picasso's pottery pieces

Though Jacqueline had been painted by Picasso more times than any of his other lovers, she suffered the quiet humiliation of not being one of his greatest loves. He never hid his wish to reconcile with Françoise during their courtship and her being his second choice for a wife after Marie-Thérèse, even though they were living together at the time. Though despised by his family for her possessiveness and overbearing protection of Picasso, she had made it her life's mission to preserve his reputation and oversee that his last wishes were carried out. His paintings have been distributed around the world to be seen in person by millions. One of his greatest masterpieces, Guernica, which had been toured extensively by MoMA, was finally able to rest in Madrid following the death of Franco, as Picasso had hoped.

Years of organising his estate and living with his indomitable presence that still loomed in every frame and corner of their house, must have sometimes seemed a comfort to the grieving widow, but also a great burden of which there is no escape. In 1986, Jacqueline shot herself in her bed in Mougins, in the place she had lost Picasso thirteen years earlier. Both Jacqueline and Marie-Thérèse suffered the same ailment of being devoted to a man who carved out a large hole into their lives, that when he finally left, they did not have the strength to heal and move on.

The relationship between Picasso and his muses was much like his lifelong love of bullfighting. His father had taken him to the corridas in Spain as a young boy, and taught his to admire the matador for his control over the bull, and watched as the bull is expertly beguiled into an obsessive dance of danger. Maybe he took more notice of this ritual, than to just draw the bull and it's fighter. His unsuspecting muses were drawn into an arena of his own creation, a seemingly innocent studio, turns into a stage on which the artist can play with her feelings and dictate her actions without a care for her wellbeing. Her moves and decisions carefully monitored, her weaknesses used against her, all documented on paper and canvas for all to see. To Picasso and the crowds of cheering spectators, the blood and the suffering of the bull is in the name of art, for others it is an act of cruelty. Though the bull fights back, it is under the complete control of the matador, and the bull has no choice but to succumb to the fighter's threats, exhausted by the motions and the pain. In the end, only Françoise, was able to leave the ring unscathed, her image and mind still intact, saved to paint on her own canvas on her own terms, her own paintbrush decidedly untainted by anyone else's suffering.


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