Behind every successful man, there is a woman. But in Pablo Picasso’s life, there wasn’t just one, but several women who played a positive and central role in influencing his creativity as an artist. In his formative years, he was dominated by his mother, Maria Lopez Picasso so much so that when he grew up, he kept his mother’s surname, dropping his father’s which was ‘Ruiz’.
Picasso was born in 1881 to Jose Ruiz and Maria. Jose was an unemployed artist whose wife always disparaged his work. Pablo disliked his father right from childhood and spent time with his mother and two sisters, Concepcion and Lola. At 16, he went to Barcelona for studies, dropping his surname Ruiz at 20 and taking his mother’s, which was to become world famous and synonymous with modern art. At 29, he was a successful artist and had a string of love affairs – even in the midst of his serious relationships.
Throughout his life, Picasso was strongly influenced by his women, right from his mother and sisters who dominated him, to his various subjects, muses and flings whom he dominated. At 92, when he died, he left a rich legacy of over 25,000 art-works, scores of girlfriends, dozens of lovers and four children through three women. Not surprising, since he had lost his virginity at 16 to a girl and to keep him away from her, his mother had sent him off to Barcelona where he had complete freedom.
At 19, Picasso with the help of his friend Carlo Casagemas held his first one-man exhibition which was a sell-out and because of that, he was invited to exhibit at the Paris Exposition that year. In Paris, he fell in love with Germaine, who was to marry Casagemas. They had a torrid and secret love-affair which ended in tragedy. When Casagemas came to know of this, he was heartbroken and shot himself after getting drunk in a Paris cafe.
His best friend’s death threw Picasso in deep mental depression and terrible guilt which heralded the dominant blue colours in his paintings which we now call his ‘Blue Period’. In 1904, he met an extremely attractive woman, Fernande, whose husband was mad. She cooked, did laundry and offered sexual favours to pay for her husband’s treatment. Picasso hired her for cleaning and cooking his food. Nevertheless, within a week, he was completely fascinated by her good manners, sexual zest and education. She taught Picasso to read and write in French.
They became lovers but she flirted outrageously with his friends so he stopped inviting men home and hid all her shoes so she could never go out. He became jealous and she, more flirtatious. He started using warmer, brighter colours instead of shades of blue and this period was later known as his ‘Rose Period’ during which most of his paintings were portraits of Fernande.
Emotionally generous, Picasso was financially mean, giving a small allowance to Fernande to run the house though he was doing very well and all his work was sold out. She begged him to leave the shabby cramped studio and when she gave an ultimatum, he asked her to leave ending the relationship. In a few weeks, they were reunited by his friend. They finally moved in to a grand apartment where Fernande spent evenings with Matisse, another great painter and weekends with Gertrude Stein. Romantic frictions grew and making matters worse, Picasso was caught in bed with one of his models who never returned for sittings as Fernande threatened her with a knife.
In 1910, he read Shelly and Keats and experimented with Cubism. Fernande resented her disjointed appearance in them (the Cubic series) and introduced him to an art critic called Eva Marcelle. This was a cardinal error on her part because Picasso painted nude portraits of Eva, had a passionate love affair with her and wrote the words Ma Jolie (my pretty) – a pet name for Eva! The two women came to blows and Fernande was replaced with Eva who was sharp-tongued, jealous and suspicious of his models. Unfortunately, she developed cancer and was sent by him to a ‘home’ where she died soon. Picasso moved on to another affair with a dancer called Olga who bore him a son, Paolo in 1921. In 1928, he fell in love with Marie Therese Walter, 30 years younger than him and drew nude portraits of her, depicting Olga as an octopus in them.
After vandalism of Picasso’s works and two suicide attempts, Olga was put away in a ‘home’ by Picasso while Marie bore him a daughter, Maia. Soon he met Dora who spoke fluent Spanish (his mother-tongue). She taught him photography and they lived in a rented studio where Dora and Olga once wrestled on the floor to decide who his ‘real’ wife was.
During the Second World War, Picasso fell in love with his son’s girlfriend Francois and threw Dora out. In 1949, daughter Paloma (Spanish for Dove) was born but soon, Picasso became obsessed with young girls, embarking on a series of well-publicised affairs of which, the one with Jacqueline ended in marriage.
The year 1964 was a bad one for Picasso. Two of his close friends died. Francoise’s book. ‘My Life with Picasso’, was published, with unsavoury extracts printed in the daily ‘Paris Match’. He had a gall bladder operation, lost a court case against ‘Paris Match’ and his son Claude started court action to decide how his father’s wealth should be apportioned. He went through his life in a morose manner, saying that he was being treated badly by everyone.
He held a major exhibition of his works after a few years and celebrated the exhibition’s success by donating childhood artefacts to the ‘Museo Picasso’ in Barcelona. He spent a lot of time at his farmhouse in Mougins which he had bought in 1961. Ironically, this was the house in which he was to die. The house was redecorated in 1971 for his 90th birthday and invitations extended to all his friends. He was in fine health and good cheer when he commented to the press that, though he had given up sex and smoking since his 90th birthday, he was still thinking about them all day.
In the next two years, he painted 300 works, several drawings and carved a few engravings. In 1972, he went deaf and on April 8, 1973, he died of a heart attack. His wish was to be buried under the steps in front of his house. On Jacqueline’s orders, Francois and her children, as well as his previous girlfriends, wives, lovers and (mostly illegitimate) children were excluded from the funeral.
A few years later, his ex-wife Marie Therese hanged herself while Jacqueline committed suicide. Dora lived as a recluse till she died in 1997, leaving behind a treasure-trove of Picasso’s paintings which were later auctioned. Francois re-married the inventor of the polio vaccine, Dr. Jonas Salk and remained married to him till his death in 1995. She was a successful artist and refused to participate in the making of the film, ‘Surviving Picasso’ and distanced herself from the book by Arienna Huffington called ‘Picasso, Creator and Destroyer’.
Every woman of his, lives through his paintings today. Pablo Picasso is one of the world’s most interesting artists and nothing influenced his work more than his women!