“There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence transform a yellow spot into a sun.” Pablo Picasso.
Referencing Picasso's earlier Proto-Cubist work, the Surrealist writer and poet Andre Breton declared in a 1925 article that Picasso was “one of ours.” Picasso had largely sublimated eroticism and psychically charged ideas in his art since 1909, when he moved on to Cubism and Neoclassic art. After things began to go sour with his wife Olga, these themes started to return to his work. Although he retained the spacial relationships of Cubism, he seems to have rediscovered the primitivism and eroticism of his earlier works. Picasso's work during the last half of his career did not vary in style as drastically as it did during the first half. Still, there are subtle differences to be found. Picasso's work during the second half of his life is often categorized by the woman he happened to be in love with at the time . . . and there were a lot of women.
“Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art.” Pablo Picasso.
“The chief enemy of creativity is 'good' sense.” Pablo Picasso.
Perhaps this new found primitivism and eroticism was due to the influence of Picasso's new mistress, the blond and athletic Marie-Therese Walter. Pablo Picasso met Marie in 1927, as she lived across the street from the Picasso family. Their relationship began when she was 17; Picasso was 45. Marie, with her telling blond hair, became a model for many of Picasso's paintings. Picasso managed to keep his affair with Marie a secret from his wife Olga until 1935, when someone informed Olga that Picasso had gotten Marie pregnant. Olga and Picasso separated. He refused to divorce Olga, to prevent her from acquiring half of his wealth, and they remained legally married until her death in 1955. Meanwhile, Marie gave birth to a daughter, Maya Widmaier-Picasso. Picasso, not wanting to settle down with a family, moved on from Marie in 1936.
"What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has nothing but eyes if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician . . .? Quite the contrary, he is at the same time a political being, constantly aware of what goes on in the world, whether it be harrowing, bitter, or sweet, and he cannot help but be shaped by it . . . No, painting is not interior decoration. It is an instrument of war for attack and defense against the enemy."
In January of 1937, Picasso was commissioned by the Republican government of Spain for a mural to be displayed at the World's Fair in Paris. By this time, there was already a Nationalist Fascist uprising being led by General Francisco Franco, which threatened to collapse the democratically elected Republican government. On the 26th of April, 1937, Hitler showed his support of Franco by sending his Condor Legion of Luftwaffe warplanes to bomb and strafe the Basque town of Guernica. The bombing is considered the first raid on a civilian population by a modern air-force.
Picasso had already started working on his commissioned mural, but on learning the news of Guernica, he scrapped his original plan and began work on a new painting. The completed work, Guernica, would become a Modern Art masterpiece, and is often heralded as one of the best anti-war works of art ever created. For many people, Picasso's Guernica is to art what Beethoven's 9th Symphony is to music. Following the World's Fair in Paris, Guernica embarked on a world tour, fostering international awareness for the plight of Spanish refugees following the Fascist Nationalist victory in the Spanish Civil War. Guernica was eventually entrusted to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Picasso stipulated that Guernica was not to return to Spain until liberty and democracy had been restored. While living in Nazi-occupied Paris during the Second World War, one German officer, upon looking at a photograph of Guernica in Picasso's apartment, allegedly asked him, “Did you do that?” Picasso replied, “No, you did.” Francisco Franco died in 1975, and Guernica was returned to Spain in 1981.
Like Spain, Picasso's personal life while creating Guernica was also in disorder. His mistress Marie-Therese Walter had given birth to their daughter, Maya Widmaier-Picasso, but Picasso had already moved on to his next mistress, the photographer and painter Dora Maar. Dora had met Picasso in 1936, and was documenting his painting of Guernica. Marie became jealous when Picasso fell in love with Dora. Marie and Dora once accidentally met in Picasso's studio while he was painting Guernica. When asked about it later in life, Picasso said that the two women demanded that he choose between them. He told Marie and Dora that they had to fight it out amongst themselves, at which point the two women began to wrestle. Picasso described it “as one of his choicest memories.” Picasso left Marie for Dora, though he continued to support Marie and their daughter, Maya, for the rest of his life. In 1977, Marie chose to end her life by hanging. With Marie out of the way, Dora became Picasso's constant companion, and the subject of many of his paintings. While Marie is often shown as blond and bright, Dora is often shown as being sad, dark, and in pain.
“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Pablo Picasso.
“It takes a long time to become young.” Pablo Picasso.
Dora Maar stayed with Picasso for the nine years. She wanted to have children with Picasso, but was often sad because she was sterile. Dora was introspective, and Picasso called her his “private muse.” She was his “woman in tears.” Nevertheless, the always restless Picasso found a new mistress in 1943, Francoise Gilot. When the relationship was revealed in 1944, the long suffering Dora entered treatment with the famous psychiatrist, Jacques Lacan. Dora would return to art after Picasso, painting, taking photographs, and writing poetry, though she would die a recluse, poor and alone.
“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Pablo Picasso.
“To draw you must close your eyes and sing.” Pablo Picasso.
Picasso met the young art student Francoise Gilot in 1943. She was 21, Picasso 62. They would spend ten years together. Francoise wrote in her diary that Picasso once took her to see an old woman, Germaine Pichot. Germaine was Picasso's love interest in 1901, and the girl who had earlier spurned Picasso's best friend, Carlos Casagemas, leading to his suicide. Picasso said to Francoise, “I want you to learn about life . . . That woman's name is Germaine Pichot. She is old and toothless and poor and unfortunate now. But when she was young, she was very pretty and she made a painter friend of mine suffer so much that he committed suicide . . . She turned a lot of heads. Now look at her.”
Picasso would have two children with Francoise, Claude, born in 1947, and Paloma, born in 1949. During this time, Francoise reported that she was frequently harassed by Picasso's legal wife (he was still married), Olga Khokhlova. Francoise grew tired of Picasso's many infidelities, and left him in 1953. Eleven years later, Francoise published her book, “Life with Picasso.” Picasso tried to stop the book from being published, unsuccessfully. The book was printed in over a dozen languages and sold over a million copies. Afterward, Picasso would refuse to see his children by her, Claude and Paloma, ever again.
“Art is not the application of a canon of beauty but what the instinct and the brain can conceive beyond any canon. When we love a woman we don't start measuring her limbs.” Pablo Picasso.
“There are only two types of women - goddesses and doormats.” Pablo Picasso.
Picasso began seeing the 24 year old Genevieve Laporte while still in a relationship with Francoise Gilot, in 1951. Genevieve was a former French resistance fighter, writer, and model, and had met Picasso for the first time at age 17 in 1944, while conducting an interview for a school newspaper. Picasso would dedicate some of his paintings to Genevieve, and when Francoise Gilot left Picasso in 1953, he asked her to move in with him. Genevieve, aware of Picasso's reputation, refused, and shortly afterward, also left him.
“Every positive value has its price in negative terms... the genius of Einstein leads to Hiroshima.” Pablo Picasso.
“Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.” Pablo Picasso.
1953 found Picasso dejected and alone for the first time in many years. And while his work was still in high demand, the art world's attention had shifted away from Paris and Picasso, and toward New York and the Abstract Expressionists. The ever optimistic Picasso soon rebounded, however, and later that year he met Jacqueline Roque, at the pottery where he created his ceramics. She was 27, he was 72.
Picasso romanced Jacqueline by drawing a dove on her house in chalk, and by bringing her a single rose everyday until she agreed to date him, six months later. When Picasso's first wife, Olga Khokhlova died of cancer in 1955, he was free to marry. Picasso and Jacqueline married in March of 1961. He would paint over 400 portraits of her (160 of which were created in 1963 alone), more than any of his other loves. She is recognized by her elongated neck, high cheekbones, and classical features. They were together for 20 years, until Picasso's death in 1973. Jacqueline prevented Claude and Paloma, Picasso's children by Francoise Gilot, from attending the funeral, and she entered legal entanglements with Francoise Gilot concerning the distribution of Picasso's estate. In 1986, at age 59, Jacqueline Picasso killed herself by gunshot.
“It means nothing to me. I have no opinion about it, and I don't care.” Pablo Picasso on what he thought about the first moon landing, quoted in The New York Times, (7/21/1969).
Toward the end of his life, Picasso's relevance had waned. Some critics thought his later work was not as strong as his earlier work. Many thought his style had changed little since the 1930's, while others detected subtle differences in his work each time he fell in love with another woman. Late in his career, however, he began making interpretations of paintings by other famous artists. These later works are now seen as being more expressionistic than his earlier surrealistic work, prefiguring the Neo-Expressionist wave of the 1980's. Once again, Picasso was ahead of the curve.
It seems so strange that Picasso, perhaps the 20th century's best known and greatest artist, can wreck such havoc on the lives of the many women whom he loved. It is an irony that he was so cruel and insensitive to all those around him, yet he could produce such loving, and, at times, even sensitive art. Picasso might have been a bastard in life to those around him, but he did great things for art and because of that, I believe it is alright to celebrate Picasso today. Pioneers are the first to explore new territory, and Picasso was a pioneer. Picasso was also a master, producing some of the 20th century's best known art. After all he has done for art, how can we begrudge Picasso for his personal life problems? We can't, we must take it all together in stride. Certainly, we shouldn't gloss it over, but we should accept Picasso as a flawed human being and an artist.
“Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.” Pablo Picasso.