Picasso arrived an unknown painter and died a millionaire who was known around the world. His story in Paris is the story of success. He could show anger or jealousy. He could act like a child-like clown. Some said he was too sexist or chauvinistic and others said he was too modern. But he has been called revolutionary too. I call him a genius.
When he arrived in Paris after the turn of the century, he lived in poverty in a tiny studio at the Bateau Lavoire, 13, rue Ravignan. There he befriended the poet Max Jacob, and soon a Picasso Gang formed. They were pranksters and they struggled until they either succeeded, as Picasso did, or failed. His group of friends included such giants as Modigliani, Braque, Derain and Van Dongen. Add his benefactors Leo and Gertrude Stein, and a long list of women ready to put up with his little ways for a while. He was well known at the Lapin Agile in Montmartre and soon throughout Paris.
The first studio was so damp and cold that Fernande, his first great love, had to stay warm by staying in bed; they had a candle for light but no heat. One night an unfinished cup of tea froze. He and Max shared a hat and sometimes shared shoes, like beggars. From these humble beginnings he moved, first into a more modern apartment and finally into a series of villas and château s in the south of France. While he died at Mougins, he was buried in front of his Château Vauvenargues in the shadow of Cézanne’s mountain, near Aix-en-Provence.
He saw himself as he was. “I come like a thief in the night,” he said. “I steal from everyone. My greatest fear is that someday I will steal from myself.” His imagination was without frontiers. Cézanne was the beginning. He found force in Cézanne and spent years studying his pictures. “In art,” he said, “Cézanne was our father or a mother who protects her children.” He learned to deal with nature by the cylinder, the sphere and the cone. It was Cézanne’s construction that he used for Les Demoiselles. It gave him a new feeling abou t composition./admin/story/story/18150/ Gertrude Stein said that cubism was purely a complicated Spanish conception but it was not meant to be pretty.
He said, “The man who creates something new is forced to create something ugly. Those who follow can make of this thing something beautiful because they know (in advance) what they are doing.”
Like Hemingway, who started a new book with each woman who came into his life, so too did Picasso change his relationships. He was married twice but had many mistresses and four different children. After Fernande he fell in love with Eva Guel, who he called Ma Jolie. In fact, the words Ma Jolie appear in many of his cubist collages. Eva died very soon into their relationship.
His friend Jean Cocteau asked him to do the costumes and sets for a Parade that he was staging in Italy. There he met a Czarist general’s daughter, ballerina Olga Koklova. Soon afterwards, in 1918, they were married. In 1921 Olga gave birth to a son, whom the couple named Paulo. In Paris, Picasso did many paintings of his wife and son. But they soon separated and Picasso began seeing Marie-Thérèse, a blond, athletic woman who gave birth to a daughter named Maya in 1935. Picasso was technically still married to Olga and wouldn’t be able to remarry until Olga died.
His next lover was Dora Maar, a talented photographer and painter who was beside Picasso through the years before and during his painting of Guernica. During WW II (1943) he met a young art student, Françoise Gilot. “I want you to come and live with me,“ he said. She replied, “I live with my grandmother. She is very old and needs me.” Picasso replied. “I am older than your grandmother and I need you too.” They moved in together.
Picasso was more successful now and doing ceramics and sculpture in the south of France. He and Françoise had two children, Claude and Paloma (1949). But Picasso and Françoise argued, and she left him. Soon afterwards Picasso was living with Jacqueline Roque. When Olga died, he was free, and in 1961 he and Jacqueline were married.
Picasso remained in Paris during both wars. In the forties, German officers visited him at his rue des Grands-Augustins studio. He handed out postcards of Guernica and worried that the invaders would destroy or steal his work. One officer looked at the card. “Did you do this?” he asked. “No”, Picasso retorted. “You did!”
Picasso was anti Fascist because of the Franco regime and the bombing of the Basque village of Guernica. He even joined the Communist party to show opposition to the Fascists. Later he was often regarded as “That Fascist painter” and for a while his paintings were more difficult to sell.
I find it interesting to visit the homes and studios of the man they called “Le Petit Goya”. Here are some of them:
57, rue de Seine (During his blue period)
59, rue de Saints-Pères
13, rue Ravignan (with Fernande Olivier)
11 Boul. de Clichy 1910-11
5 bis, rue Schoelcher
242 Boul. Raspail (Eva)
Rue La Boetie 1918 (Hotel Lutetia honeymoon with Olga)
7 rue des Grands Augustins (Guernica…studio)
Boisgeloupe 1930-1 (Marie-Thérèse Walter)
Villa La Californie (Cannes)
Mougins 1957 (Notre-Dame de Vie)
Château Vauvenargues (Near Aix-en-P)
Picasso died April 1973.
Gilot, Françoise, and Carlton Lake, Life with Picasso. McGraw Hill Co., New York, 1964
Parmelin, Helene, Picasso Dit… Editions Goutier, Paris, 1966
O’Brian, Patrick, Picasso. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1976