Holey moley heavens to Betsy, Picasso sure was popular with the ladies. But before I dive into this, perhaps I should channel my inner Sound of Music Julie Andrews and take a step back to, “start at the very beginning, A very good place to start.”
This summer I’ve had the privilege of visiting the Pierre Gianadda Foundation art museum in Martigny, Switzerland. The foundation is world renowned for its exceptional temporary exhibitions, which center around select artists and a single theme each year. In the past it has featured Degas to Picasso, Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo, Paul Gaugin, van Gogh, Kandinsky and Russia, Paul Signac, Portraits from the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and more.
Last year I viewed Matisse en son temps/ Matisse in his time, which focused on Henri Matisse (okay duh) and his contemporaries, but more specifically the love-hate relationship between Matisse and Picasso. When you think Matisse and Picasso, think hardcore frenemies.
Picasso considered Matisse his “master” or guide in painting, yet nonetheless interjected critiques on his work. He once compared Matisse’s designs for a chapel to those fit for a bathroom. So sassy. Françoise Gilot, Picasso’s girlfriend at the time, acknowledges the artists’ oddly loving rivalry: “In their meetings, the active side was Pablo; the passive, Matisse. Pablo always sought to charm Matisse, like a dancer, but in the end it was Matisse who conquered Pablo.”
When Matisse died, Picasso sunk into deep depression declaring that he had to paint for the both of them now. Their works were displayed side by side, allowing us to visualize the strong link between styles and subject matters. Walking along their works was moving, because I’d been let into a very personal, very sentimental relationship between the artists that I never knew existed.
This year I insisted on returning to see Hommage à Jacqueline/ A Tribute to Jacqueline, an exhibition dedicated to displaying Picasso’s works in the final years of his life while he was in the company of his last wife and muse, Jacqueline. She is in many of his later works, manifested in all shapes, colors, and poses. Jacqueline reclining on a sofa, listening to the guitar. Jacqueline sitting on a rocking chair, knees drawn up to her chin. Jacqueline looking out at her balcony view absent-mindedly. Then, Jacqueline sitting squarely, gazing directly out of the frame and at the viewer. (You can click on the images below for more detail and full captions).
Apart from her, the exhibition displayed three main themes that Picasso focused on, producing multiple pieces of the same subject: Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe/Luncheon on the Grass, Les Femmes d’Alger/ Women of Algieres, and Le Peintre et son modèle/ Painter and Model.
Paying tribute to Édouard Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe/ Luncheon on the Grass, Picasso produced multitudes of paintings that mimicked the original’s subject matter, yet in his own style.
He did this also with his series Les Femmes d’Alger, inspired by Eugène Delacroix’s Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement/ The Women of Algiers in their Apartment.
Picasso often painted the theme depicting a painter working and his model.
But enough about that. Remember when I said Picasso was popular with the ladies? I meant it! The exhibition shows a film comprised of interviews by his close friends, children, and lovers who provide accounts of the detailed intimacies of his life.
From what I learned in the video, Picasso was a rather confident man, especially when it came to love life. He had no issue waltzing over to two lady strangers’ table and inviting them to his studio (while he was still in a relationship). One of these strangers would later turn out to be his new girlfriend, Françoise Gilot.
Of all the women he was with, I admire Françoise the most; she was one of the few to leave Picasso, and not be left. When she discovered that he was having an affair with 17 year old Genevieve Laporte, she warned that she would leave him if he continued. Picasso responded with, “You cannot. A woman does not leave a man like me” and continued. So she left him! You go girl.
Picasso had eight -often overlapping- serious lovers throughout his life. He definitely had a coeur d’artichaut. The French idiom translates to artichoke heart, and is used to describe someone who falls in love easily and frequently, possibly with several people at the same time. His lovers were also his muses and models, thanks to whom he was able to be inspired and paint hundreds of portraits. Photographs of Picasso’s lovers next to their portraits show some glimmers of resemblance, if you can overlook the sausage fingers and boob-in-the-armpit look.
Geez, what would the world come to without us women.
My past two visits to the Pierre Gianadda Foundation have taught me a lot about Picasso: juicy details, the lowdown, the inside scoop. I will definitely be coming back next year for a new exhibition with high expectations.
Header image: Pablo Picasso, Reclining Nude (1932)