Picasso never seemed entirely content with just one muse or, perhaps more to the point, just one lover. A succession of the artist’s models, mistresses, and wives were immortalized in his life’s work, reflecting Picasso’s own complicated desires, anxieties, and dreams.
In the midst of a looming Picasso-mania, with major shows at the Museum of Modern Art (until September 6), the Philadelphia Museum of Art (through April 25), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (April 27 to August 1), the Marlborough Gallery has mounted its own impressive exhibition with more than 200 works focusing on women in Picasso’s prints (through May 1).
The exhibition offers a refresher course on some of the key women in Picasso’s life, and the stylistic inventions and portraiture that they inspired.In brief, here is a (re)introduction to the artist's major muses.
Fernande Olivier (1881-1966)
The young French artist first met Olivier in Montmartre's Le Bateau-Lavoir, a cluster of tenements where artists and writers including Max Jacob, Guillaume Apollinaire, Amedeo Modigliani, and Jean Cocteau had taken up residence. She moved in with Picasso in 1905 and inspired works during his Blue and Rose periods, as well as his early experiments with Cubism. In 1933, she published her first series of memoirs, Picasso et ses amis, recording the life and times of the Bateau-Lavoir circle and earning the ire of her former lover. A second series of memoirs, posthumously published as Souvenirs intimes — and later reissued with the far sexier title Loving Picasso: The Private Journal of Fernande Olivier — recount their bohemian lives, opium smoke and all.
Olga Khokhlova (1891-1955)
A dancer in Sergei Diaghilevs Ballet Russes and the daughter of a Czarist military officer, Khokhlova met Picasso in 1917 while he was attending the troupe’s rehearsals of Parade, for which he had designed the sets and costumes. They were married in the Russian Orthodox Church in Paris the following year, and gave birth to a son named Paulo in 1921. During these years, Picasso began experimenting with neoclassicism, using Khokhlova as a model for his monumental, carefully studied figures. Their marriage disintegrated when Khokhlova learned of the pregnancy of his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter. Picasso would leave Khokhlova for Walter in 1935, though the two remained legally married until her death in 1955.
Marie-Thérèse Walter (1909-1977)
Walter began a clandestine relationship with Picasso in 1927 at the age of 17 while the 45-year-old artist was living with his Russian wife. The curvaceous and shy French teenager figures in numerous erotic narratives depicted by Picasso, shown in guises including a female bullfighter and a mythological creature. Walter is also the subject of such famous works as La Reve, 1932, which made headlines in 2006 when Las Vegas casino developer Steve Wynn punctured a hole in its canvas with his elbow. In 1935 Marie-Thérèse gave birth to their daughter Maya Picasso, and shortly thereafter the artist took up with a new mistress, Dora Maar. Marie-Thérèse committed suicide in October 1977, four years after Picasso’s death.
Dora Maar (1907-1997)
Photographer and painter Maar was a recognized figure in Surrealist circles when she met Picasso in 1936 at the café Les Deux Magots in the St.-Germain-Des-Prés section of Paris. During their nine-year affair she became the inspiration for several of Picasso’s weeping-women portraits. Following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Maar documented the making of Picasso’s antiwar magnum opus, Guernica, 1937. Preliminary sketches for the work render Maar as a shrieking and grief-stricken visage. In May 2006, Picasso’s 1941 Dora Maar Au Chat sold to a Russian collector for $95 million at Sotheby’s, the second most expensive painting in auction history at the time.
Françoise Gilot (b. 1921)
Françoise Gilot trained as a lawyer to placate her autocratic father, but abandoned her career during the German occupation of Paris to pursue her true passion, painting. She met Picasso in 1943 as a 21-year-old art student and agreed to move in with the artist, 40 years her senior, in 1946. Their circle of friends at the time included such luminaries as Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Gertrude Stein, and Joan Miró. Though critics have often tied Gilot’s art to Picasso, she maintains that Matisse is her true kindred spirit. The couple had two children, Claude (b. 1947) and Paloma (b. 1949), before Gilot left him in 1953, earning the reputation as the first and only woman to ever leave Picasso. After their separation, Gilot wrote Life with Picasso, which documents his numerous infidelities and his controlling behavior. In retaliation, Picasso refused to ever see their children again. In 1970, Gilot married Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine, and today lives in New York City and Paris and continues to exhibit her work internationally.
Jacqueline Roque (1926 -1986)
Roque met Picasso in 1952 in Vallauris in the south of France while working at Madoura Pottery, where the artist was developing ceramic works. She became his second wife in 1961, and they lived together at Notre Dame de Vie, a medieval mountaintop castle in the village of Mougins overlooking Cannes. Her image dominates Picasso’s late work, and forms his largest group of portraits, demonstrating the greatest stylistic variety with the widest range of materials. Following Picasso’s death in 1973, Roque battled with Picasso’s children over his estate, eventually agreeing to found the Musée Picasso in Paris, which opened to the public in 1985. Roque committed suicide in 1986.