Monday, March 7, 2011

On Picasso's Other Scary Legacy

Pablo Picasso: Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust (1932)
Photo Credit

The painting at left, a portrait of Picasso's mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, has been in a private collection since 1951 and exhibited only once, on the occasion of Picasso's 80th birthday in 1961. It recently sold at auction for a whopping $106.5 million. In this economy, that's pretty astounding. Apparently, it's the highest auction price ever recorded for a painting.

But back to the painting's subject: Marie-Thérèse Walter, Picasso's submissive mistress. (He actually refers to her as such, and paints her ever in submissive, swooning, and dreaming positions.) I first read about her in Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington's biography Picasso: Creator and Destroyer, which portrayed Picasso as a sadistic megalomaniac. The only resilient female figure in his life seemed to be Francois Gilot, mother to Paloma and Claude and an artist in her own right. She managed to escape Picasso's manipulation and reclaim her life, as well as secure the Ruiz-Picasso name for her children--despite Picasso's attempts to prevent her from using it. (Q: Ruiz-what? A: "Ruiz" was Picasso's real surname; "Picasso" was his mother's maiden name.) Important to note is that Gilot was the only woman to leave Picasso. He liked being abandoned no more than the women to whom he'd done the same thing. Later, when Gilot attempted to publish her book Life with Picasso, the artist worked to halt publication. His efforts were frustrated and the book was released soon afterward.

Life with PicassoGilot was one of the lucky ones. The lovely French-born Croatian (and, of course, Surrealist photographer and poet) Dora Maar, who supplanted Marie-Thérèse, was eventually supplanted by Gilot, and it appeared to devastate Maar mentally for a long time. She herself had wrestled the fragile Marie-Thérèse in front of the unfinished Guernica canvas, when the two women accidentally met in Picasso's studio and demanded he choose between them. Picasso's answer: you fight it out. And so they did. Picasso apparently considered it one of the finest moments of his life. Not a particularly sensitive or upright critter, eh?

Devestation followed in Picasso's wake. Pablito, Picasso's grandson (to work this all out for you...because I had to untangle it myself: Pablito's father was Paulo, who was Picasso's son to first wife Olga, a Russian ballerina), suffered from severe depression and killed himself by drinking bleach following Picasso's death in 1973, when the family was barred from Picasso's funeral by his widow Jacqueline. Marie-Thérèse hanged herself in 1977. And the aforementioned Jacqueline--the lover who followed Francois' departure and became Picasso's second wife and, eventually, widow--shot herself in 1986, although her specific motivations for this act are unclear. So along with his many artworks, Picasso, it seems, has offered another, much scarier legacy: a little trail of suicide follows his own death. Coincidence? Perhaps. Frightening? You bet. 

But now, onward and upward, let's switch gears: in other excellent news, the peacock painting is finished and listed on Etsy. This morning, the wonderful shop PuffinsonLemons included it in her "Avian Leaders of the Revolution" treasury. Check out the treasury here.

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