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Picasso's Women

Collecting art has been a passion of mine since the age of 15 when I acquired my first work of fine art.

Picasso and Jacqueline in a dance routine.

Picasso and Jacqueline in a dance routine.

The Women Who Inspired Picasso

Behind the 20th century's most revered artist is a story of passion, romance, and heartbreak.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind that a large portion of these descriptions of events cannot be corroborated and do not necessarily have a primary source. Of course, only Picasso himself knows how he felt and what happened.

Fernande Olivier, Picasso's lover from 1904-1912

Fernande Olivier, Picasso's lover from 1904-1912

Fernande Olivier

In 1904, the voluptuous green-eyed, auburn-haired Fernande Olivier was possibly Picasso's first love. According to Olivier, they met on a dark and stormy night. She was going home when Picasso blocked her path and handed her a kitten.

Their relationship lasted until 1912, riddled with infidelity and jealousy, as described in Oliver's memoir, Picasso and His Friends.

Her influence on Picasso: Olivier is credited with bringing Picasso from his Blue Period (1901-1904) to his Rose Period (1904-1906). She was also the model for many of his works, including his famous Head of a Woman (1909), currently at the Tate Museum in London, widely considered Picasso's first Cubist sculpture.

Eva Gouel, Picasso's lover from 1912-1915.

Eva Gouel, Picasso's lover from 1912-1915.

Eva Gouel

Olivier's close friend, the frail and slender Italian artist Eva Gouel, was his next love in 1912. She is the most elusive of Picasso's women with few photos and even fewer descriptions of her or their relationship. Picasso supposedly wanted to retaliate after Fernande left him – which he did by beginning an affair with Eva. In possibly his most overt signs of affection, he painted the word 'Ma Jolie' (my lovely/ my pretty one) in several works. He was devastated by her death from tuberculosis in 1916.

During the time of Gouel's death, Picasso was carrying on another relationship with one Gaby Depeyre.

Her influence on Picasso: He made many portraits of her, including the famous Nude, I love Eva (1912).

Picasso and Koklova.

Picasso and Koklova.

Olga Koklova

After Eva's death in 1915, Picasso traveled to Rome to paint the scenery for a ballet and soon fell in love with Olga Koklova, a Russian ballerina with green eyes and auburn hair. And she had no interest in Picasso's Cubism. Picasso's portrayal of her renewed his interest in the naturalistic human forms of his Neoclassical period.

Koklova became Picasso's first wife when they married in 1918. They had one son, Paulo. Picasso's infidelity once again broke down their relationship. In 1927, Picasso began his affair with seventeen-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter. Koklova learned of the affair in 1935, and that the mistress was pregnant with Picasso's child. She attempted to divorce Picasso, but he refused because that would cost him a large portion of his art collection in the settlement. Their battle lasted until her death from cancer in 1955.

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Her influence on Picasso: Koklova is often represented as a horse being gored by a minotaur or Spanish bull, possibly representing Picasso, which is seen in works such as The Minotaurmachy (1935) and Bullfight: Death of the Torero (1935).

Marie-Thérèse Walter

Marie-Thérèse Walter

Marie-Thérèse Walter

The beautiful mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter was only 17 when she met the 46-year-old Picasso in 1927. She became his lover and possibly the most enduring love of his life. Her full figure suited Picasso's pictorial and sculptural sensibilities. She was his ideal muse and model for his Surrealist period where he explored the human figure with imaginary distortions.

Marie-Thérèse gave birth to Picasso's first daughter, Maya, in 1935. A year later she left him due to his affairs with other women, including the beautiful 29-year-old Dora Maar.

Although she declined his proposal for marriage, Marie-Thérèse Walter remained in love with Picasso through his affairs. Four years after Picasso's death, she hanged herself. A statue of Marie-Thérèse Walter was placed over his grave, symbolizing his eternal love for her.

Her influence on Picasso: Marie-Thérèse was the inspiration for many of Picasso's Vollard Suite etchings and his famous work Sleeping Nude (1932). She is clearly defined in his works by her thin features, blond hair, and striking nose.

Portrait of Dora Maar 1936 by Man Ray  Source: Unknown

Portrait of Dora Maar 1936 by Man Ray Source: Unknown

Dora Maar

A successful photographer and painter, Dora Maar met Picasso at Les Deux Magots in St. Germaine-des-Pres in 1936 when she was 29 and he was 54. She became his constant companion and lover for seven years, capturing the step-by-step creation of Guernica (1937). She suffered from mental health problems and Picasso’s philandering ways did nothing to help her. After Picasso left her for a young art student Françoise Gilot, Maar went back to creating art but in later years became a recluse, dying poor and alone. Picasso referred to Dora as his "private muse".

Her influence on Picasso: Maar is usually portrayed as a weeping woman by Picasso as is seen in such works as Weeping Woman (1937) and Head of a Woman (1938). She was also used as the main figurative model for Guernica (1937), Picasso's most famous and influential work which is in the collection of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

Françoise Gilot par Rozsda 1943. Paris

Françoise Gilot par Rozsda 1943. Paris

Françoise Gilot

The art student Françoise Gilot caught Picasso’s attention in 1942 while he was still seeing Dora Maar and after a year, the 22-year-old Françoise became the 62-year-old’s lover and constant companion. Their son Claude was born in 1947 and daughter Paloma in 1949. It is during this time that Picasso appeared to embrace family and domesticity, with it being one of his most creatively rich. He began to get into painting pottery and making small clay sculptures of women. He also explored lithography in depth, mainly in the form of black-and-white portraits of Gilot.

Gilot however grew frustrated with Picasso's relationships with other women, his lack of supportiveness, and his abusive nature, and left him in 1953. Picasso was furious, often depicting her in the aftermath as a monster in his artworks, and Gilot's book "Life with Picasso" was published 11 years after their separation depicting Picasso in a rather negative light. Gilot went on to become an artist in her own right and married an American physician-researcher Jonas Salk.

Her influence on Picasso: There is a rare evolution of Françoise Gilot and their relationship that is seen in Picasso’s works. She is portrayed as regal and beautiful in works such as Femme au Fauteuil N. 1 (d’Après le Rouge) (1949) and Head of Woman (1946) and comical with Femme Nue Sur Fond Bleu (1946), which is what you would expect from someone so young. Then with the birth of their children, she is matronly in works Maternite, October 30 (1948) and Drawing woman surrounded by her children (1950). As their relationship ends, she is a monster with Torse de femme (1953) and Head of a Woman (1956).

It is also important to note that Picasso created numerous images of his children during this period, which was quite rare for him up until that point as emotional nuance was not Picasso’s strength.

© 2014 Alex Adelman

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