Sunday, September 18, 2011
CREATIVE PREDATOR: PICASSO’S WOMEN AND HIS ART
Most of Picasso’s women could not recover from the intensity of their encounter with him. "When I die," Picasso had prophesied, "it will be a shipwreck, and as when a huge ship sinks, many people all around will be sucked down with it."
Picasso’s defining influence on 20th century painting is evident from the impact his experimentation had on all areas of the art world. His monumental talent, absence of definite theory of art, continuous reinvention and very long life led in the fast lane of emotional upheavals have created myth replete with conquests both as an artist and as a seducer. His prolific output amply reflects the presence of countless women in his life as lovers, enchantresses, wives or simply art dealers. These are intense encounters, their portrayal is relentlessly real, unabashed and invariably creative. No wonder the most expensive work of art in the history is a Picasso. "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust", was sold to a telephone buyer at Christie's New York auction for $106.5m. The 1932 work was a portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, his mistress during one of his most creative phases.
Picasso’s myth is basically a masculine saga of creativity. He had an amazing capacity to translate his feelings on the canvas. His execution of his vision was resolute assured and quick. Succession of women was central to his life and his work. Earthy and sensuous Oliver, delicate Eva, his ballerina wife Olga, beautiful Marie-Thérèse, photographer Dora Maar, companion who ‘survived Picasso’ Françoise Gilot and his wife during the last three decades of his life - Jacqueline provided enduring themes to his painting and acted as a muse to trigger his talents.
Known as “la belle Fernande” Fernande Oliver was the artists’ first real love and her presence is often credited with bringing out Picasso from the melancholy of ‘Blue Period’ to ‘Rose Period’. She was his muse during the heady days of birth of Cubism and continued her reign till 1910 they broke up finally in 1912.
She stormed in Picasso’s life on the afternoon of August, 04, 1904, when he blocked her way to a shelter where she was running to escape from an unexpected thunder storm. Drenched to the skin she was offered a kitten, which was saved by Picasso from the storm. She could not escape his laughter and magnetic black eyes, he was besotted by her statuesque charms. She was four months older to Picasso and had a history of two failed major relationships. Gertrude Stein, Picasso’s major buyer for a long time has written " For good or for bad, everything was natural in Fernande." She has been described as naturally beautiful, naturally intelligent, naturally creative, and naturally lazy. In the same naturally lazy way she naturally surrendered to possessive passions of Picasso. It was an encounter of a worldly-wise woman and a creative genius whose sexual horizons were limited to traditional initiations in the local whorehouses. He took some time to adjust to challenge of adult sexuality and an enduring relationship. He was a jealous lover and did not allow her to go out alone. She was satisfied in her Bohamian settings and her lethargy and unbridled sexuality suited Picasso’s requirements admirably. Her exuberant beauty and robust figure had a positive impact. The vitality of companionship kept depression away from her pampered lover. Her memoir gives a glimpse of Picasso before he became the demigod of modern art. Due to her influence he achieved a level of maturity where “he could take delight in sadness without sympathising with it”. She left Picasso for the Futurist painter - Ubaldo Oppi. Picasso, the master of regeneration seduced Eva (Mercelle Humbert) from her Polish painter-lover within 24 hours. His devastation at the loss of first real love of life is evident from what he wrote to Braque, the co-founder of Cubisun, “Fernande left yesterday with a Futurist painter... What will I do about the dog?”
Fernandes’ place was gradually taken over by Eva. Eva & Fernandes were a study in contrast. Eva was a delicate being in need of protection, while Fernandes was a natural survivor. To demonstrate how precious Marcelle was to him, Picasso renamed her Eva.
Eva was deeply loved by Picasso but that did not stop him from flirting with Gaby Lespinasse a beautiful twenty-seven-year-old Parisian during hospitalisation of Eva and coming out with sensual paintings of naked Gaby. Eva’s poor health proved fatal. On December 14 1915, Eva died. "My poor Eva is dead," he wrote to Gertrude Stein. "It was a great sorrow . . . she was always so good to me”
Picasso met Olga Khokhlova, his first wife when Jean Cocteau, the “frivolous prince” and Picasso’s passport to the high society, took him to design costumes and stage sets for Sergie Diaghilev’s new ballet –Parade. Olga was one of sixty dancers in Diaghilev’s troupe. Her restrained manners, traditional beauty coupled with hint of nobility of descent caught Picasso’s attention. Her normalcy was a positive attraction for Picasso who had led a life abnormal romantic encounters, a life which at the time was not proving to be very happy one for him. Olga saw a safe prospect in the painter who was important enough for being given a substantial position in the production of Diaghilev. For Picasso it was an escape to “luxurious ordinariness”. They got married on 12 July 1918, first at a civil ceremony than in elaborate Russian Orthodox Church marriage. She ruled his paintings from 1917 to throughout 20’s. In this period, neoclassical images were challenged by Cubist abstractions. During the beginning of their relationship, Olga's portraits were marked by tenderness and sacred esteem with which Picasso treated her. However. by the end of their marriage, these classically inspired portraits are gone. Now, Olga has a skull-like head with jaws; her image emerges from mechanical and animal forms as in ‘Seated Bather’ of 1930. A savage distortion of human form was all too evident. Olga marks a clear-cut break from the bohemian lifestyle of Picasso’s previous incarnation and introduced him to the life of traditional respectability. Her lethargic but obsessive resolve to keep her marriage alive, could not stop Picasso from moving towards new relationships.
In 1927 he saw athletic blond, beautiful and almost thirty year younger than him- Marie- Thérèse. She wrote later “ he simply grabbed me by the arm and said ‘I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together….I resisted for six months but you don’t resist Picasso. You have ……understood me a woman does not resist Picasso.” It was a great sexual odyssey unfettered by age, taboo and responsibility. Marie- Thérèse’s appeal lay in her submissiveness and willingness to fulfill any whimsical or sadistic demand of Picasso. He used to see in her proof of his power and sexual magnetism. He experienced the thrill of a forbidden relationship as she was too young and he kept Olga in dark about her existence. Marie-Thérèse the secret companion is depicted soft, round and youthful. Her laughter appears unburdened and she exudes lightness of carefree spirit. Yet, years later, in the dusk of their relationship, she confessed that Picasso did not want her to laugh and was always telling her to "be serious." In his later works of the 1920s all of Picasso's visual references of Marie- Thérèse were veiled, a decade later it seems that he no longer wanted to be secretive about his new lover. It is through Marie-Thérèse's image we get most explicit depiction of Picasso’s sexuality, reflection of a boundary less unrestrained relationship between the Master and his willing sexual and emotional slave. Her several portraits such as The Mirror (1932), Sleeping Nude (1932),Girl Before a Mirror (l932) and Nude Asleep in a Landscape (1934) allude to highly passionate nature of their relationship.
In 1935 Olga left him, Marie-Thérèse gave birth to a girl and Picasso met Dora Maar. Dora Maar was a model, photographer and a reasonably talented painter herself. She was an intellectual companion who even co produced a painting, signed ‘Picamaar’. It was a period when he had a wife, a concubine and an official mistress. Dora photo-documented the creation of ‘Guernica’, Picasso’s most celebrated painting and arguably the most potent anti-war piece of art ever created. There was reportedly one incident During the period when ‘Guernica’ was being painted, when Marie-Thérèse and Dora Maar came to blows while quarrelling over Picasso. All this time Picasso calmly went on creating his greatest statement against human conflict. It is said that Picasso enjoyed having power over people by setting them in competition with each other. By the time Second World War entered its second year Marie-Thérèse was reduced to an emotional pulp quivering in anticipation of Picasso’s next dose of physical and emotional solace. Even Dora was brutalized. In his painting there was once again, complete transformation of womanhood. He painted dog-faced portraits of Dora Maar while turning her into a servile animal in real life also.
In 1943 he met the woman who “survived Picasso” Françoise Gilot was young enough to be his granddaughter but she was a perfect match for the wiles of the monstrous sexual predator. Picasso’s seduction of her was a game between two evenly matched players. An outwitted Picasso found himself loving a precocious young lady who had fallen in love with him with her eyes wide open. Dora Maar, smug in her intellectual superiority, refused to believe that she could be replaced by a new young thing in Picassso’s life, “may be in bed but never on table” she once remarked. Very soon she was falling apart and developed neurotic craving for regaining Picasso’s attention. Whereas Picasso’s relationship with Françoise fell into a pattern where he avoided her when she softened while ran after her when she neglected him. She left him twice to come back She bore him two children. Françoise was intelligent and independent enough to wanting to escape from Picasso. Despite her emotional miseries she kept her talent alive and by the end of forties, a time came when she was being feted for her costume designs and other artistic works, while Picasso waited for her. She also had relationships with other men. Françoise Gilot’s controversial l964 book, ‘My Life with Picasso’ became a source of inspiration for several feminist writings on the artist's misogynist personality. Her relationship with the icon was theme of successful movie “surviving Picasso” Academy Award winner Sir Anthony Hopkins played Picasso with remarkable verve and authenticity. In 1953 she finally left Picasso in 1953.
From 1954 onwards begins "l'époque Jacqueline" Jacqueline was his second wife and final companion. It was after a season of violent artistic creations, loneliness and endless womanizing, in the wake of Françoise’s desertion, Picasso allowed Jacqueline to realize her infinite devotion. She was fiercely protective of and fanatically devoted to Picasso, his health, his peace, his need to remain productive were supreme for her. Françoise Gilot had pointed out that Picasso's women started as goddesses and ended as doormats. Jacqueline reversed the process. Her association with Picasso was the longest among the main feminine influences in the master’s life. Her patient nursing kept him productive till the ninety-second year of his life. Her longevity made her the most widely used model who was explored more deeply than perhaps any model in the history of art. It is her vulnerability that gives a new intensity to the combination of cruelty and tenderness that endows Picasso's paintings of women with their pathos and their strength. The dedications on the countless drawings reveal that Picasso became more and more besotted as he became more and more reliant on Jacqueline. She developed the most varied skills, acting in turn as secretary, interpreter, agent, cook, poet, driver, nurse, photographer, model, and trouble-shooter. She gave Picasso his space and kept herself busy with other things while he worked. Her contribution is evident from the last coherent words of dying Picasso to his doctor, he said “You are wrong not to be married. It is useful”.
Most of his women could not recover from the intensity of their encounter with Picasso. "When I die," Picasso had prophesied, "it will be a shipwreck, and as when a huge ship sinks, many people all around will be sucked down with it." On October 20, 1977, in the year of the fiftieth anniversary of their meeting, Marie-Thérèse hanged herself in the garage of her house in Juan-les-Pins. “She couldn't bear the thought of him alone, his grave surrounded by people who could not possibly give him what she had given him."
Just after midnight on October 15, 1986, Jacqueline shot herself in the temple. She had left behind a list of everyone she wanted at her funeral.