Love Story

Pablo Picasso and His Women

Pola Otterstein 25 October 2021 min Read

Pablo Picasso, perhaps the most influential and recognizable painter of the 20th century, is well known for his deep love and appreciation for women. Picasso did not have an easy relationship with them – he only loved them – but, in some cases, he was abusive.

Although he had many lovers throughout his life, only eight of them became his muses– the women we can still admire in his paintings today. What is the real story behind the well-known euphemism, “Pablo Picasso and his women”?

Pablo Picasso, La Galloise, Vallauris, France, 1954, Arnold Newman, Pablo Picasso and his Women
Pablo Picasso, La Galloise, Vallauris, France, 1954. Photographed by Arnold Newman.

The first of Picasso’s muses was Fernande Olivier who was also his first long-time partner. She is depicted in many pieces from his Rose Period. The painter met this striking beauty in Paris and was smitten by her red hair and gorgeous eyes. As the years passed, however, Picasso, unfortunately, became very possessive with his lover, and in the end, she had no choice but to leave him.

Fernande Olivier, photographed by Pablo Picasso, Pablo Picasso and his Women
Fernande Olivier. Photographed by Pablo Picasso.
Portrait of Fernande Olivier, Pablo Picasso, 1909, Städel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany, Pablo Picasso and his Women
Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Fernande Olivier, 1909, Städel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany.

The second of his muses was Eva Gouel (Marcelle Humbert) who was one of Fernande’s friends. Once she and Picasso became a couple, they stayed together for three years. Eva is often called the “queen of his Cubist works” as she appeared in a series of his Cubist artworks. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and Picasso quickly began an affair with a woman named Gaby.

Following Eva’s death, the painter left France and moved to Italy, falling in love with Olga Khokhlova, a Russian ballerina. She became his first wife and a major opponent to Cubism he was developing at the time. She demanded to be painted in a completely different style. The couple had a son, Paulo, who inspired Picasso to begin a series of paintings entitled Maternité. Due to Picasso’s flirtatious character and his refusal to stop having extra-marital affairs, his wife eventually experienced a breakdown. In the end, she left with their son and moved to the South of France, but never got over her obsession with her husband.

Woman with child, Pablo Picasso, 1921, Art Institute, Chicago, Pablo Picasso and his Women
Pablo Picasso, Woman with Child, 1921, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.
Pablo Picasso and Olga Khokhlova, 1919, Pablo Picasso and His Women
Pablo Picasso and Olga Khokhlova, 1919.
Olga, Pablo, Paulo Picasso, 1923, Pablo Picasso and his Women
Olga, Pablo, and Paulo Picasso, 1923.

The fourth of Picasso’s muses was Marie-Thérèse Walter, who was only 17 when – as a victim of Picasso’s love for women – she became pregnant with his child while he was still married to Olga. Even though the age difference was very significant – 29 years – the delicate young girl was probably the only woman Picasso was truly happy with. She had the perfect look and character to model for his Surrealistic pieces, and Picasso manipulated her with ease. Although they had a daughter named Maya together, they eventually grew apart because of the artist’s unfaithful ways.

The Dream, Pablo Picasso, 1932, Private Collection, Pablo Picasso and his Women
Pablo Picasso, The Dream, 1932, private collection. Pinterest.

The woman he began having an affair with while still with Marie-Thérèse Walter was Dora Maar. She had similar passions towards him. She was a photographer and a painter and was known to be very intelligent. Dora was witness to him creating his masterpiece Guernica.

Dora Maar, 1936, Pablo Picasso and his Women
Dora Maar in 1936.

She suffered a total breakdown after finding out about his affair with Françoise Gilot in 1945 and, once said to Picasso, “as an artist you may be extraordinary, but morally speaking you are worthless.”

Head of Woman (Dora Maar), Pablo Picasso, 1939, Guggenheim Museum, Pablo Picasso and his Women
Pablo Picasso, Head of Woman (Dora Maar), 1939, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, USA.

With Françoise Gilot, a 21-year-old aspiring painter and law student, he had two children named Claude and Paloma. She was deeply in love with the painter, but even that ardor was not strong enough to survive his difficult behavior. She could not stand his abuse and philandering and left him in 1953. In 1964, she published her memoirs called Life with Picasso and moved to New York.

Francoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso, Robert Capa, 1948, Pablo Picasso and his Women
Françoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso, Robert Capa, 1948.
Portrait of Francoise Gilot, Pablo Picasso and his Women
Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Françoise Gilot.

As he had a preference for much younger women, while still with Françoise, he became involved in an affair with 24-year-old Genevieve Laporte, who also ended their relationship in 1953. In 2005, she auctioned 20 drawings of herself by Pablo Picasso.

Femme assise en tailleur - Geneviève Laporte, Pablo Picasso, 1951, Private Collection, Pablo Picasso and his Women
Pablo Picasso, Femme assise en tailleur – Geneviève Laporte, 1951, private collection. Courtesy of Long-Sharp Gallery.

In 1961, the painter married again at the age of 79. His 27-year-old bride was Jacqueline Roque, who treated him like he was a saint.

Jacqueline trying to teach Picasso a ballet routine, 1957, Pablo Picasso and his Women
Jacqueline trying to teach Picasso a ballet routine, 1957.

This period of his life with her was a very creative time for Picasso. She was his last muse and appeared in more than 400 of his paintings and ceramics. The artist died in 1973, with Jacqueline by his side. 13 years later, she decided to commit suicide after concluding that she had accomplished everything for him.

Picasso giving Jacqueline a kiss, 1959, Pablo Picasso and his Women
Picasso giving Jacqueline Roque a kiss, 1959.
Woman with Yellow Hat, Picasso And His Women
Pablo Picasso, Woman with Yellow Hat (Jacqueline), 1961, private collection. WikiArt.

Fact, often left out in art history, is that Pablo Picasso was highly influenced by women in his life, whom he loved – but also mistreated and betrayed. At the end of the day, the question is: how should we evaluate him? As a great artist that he indeed was? Or as an extremely unfaithful partner? The choice is yours.

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