Picasso: Creator and Destroyer

Picasso's art enacted the violent passions and twisted energies of the twentieth century. So did his life.

THIS was the first summer Picasso had spent in Paris alone in the rue La Boétie. Marie-Thérèse, more than six months pregnant, was staying with her mother outside Paris, at Maisons-Alfort, waiting for the divorce that Picasso had led her to believe was imminent. He had promised her and had assured her mother that they could be married before the baby was born—or at least soon after.

On September 5 Marie-Thérèse gave birth to a girl. The femme-enfant was now a mother, the salacious sex object a mother-figure. The baby was given the name of her father's dead sister, Mariá de la Concepción, but on her birth certificate the identity of the father was declared unknown.

AT almost exactly the same time that his daughter was born, Picasso, now fifty-three, met the woman who was to replace her mother. At the Deux-Magots, the new favorite meeting place of André Breton and his Surrealist band, opposite the Romanesque church at Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Picasso was introduced to Dora Maar. The name her parents had given her was Henrietta Theodora Markovitch, and she had been born in Tours "in the same year as Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," as she would later put it. Her mother was French and her father a Yugoslav architect. It was the poet Paul Eluard who introduced her to Picasso, and Paul Eluard, as much as Dora, became inseparable from the new epoch that was beginning in Picasso's life.

As Picasso soon discovered, Dora was a painter and a photographer, an intellectual muse of the Surrealist movement, a close friend of Breton's, a friend and sometime mistress of Georges Bataille. She had changed her name from Markovitch to Maar, had lived for a long time in Buenos Aires, spoke fluent, beautiful Spanish, and exuded the restlessness, bewilderment, and anxiety of the modern intellectual.

She was as different from Marie-Thérèse as Eva had been from Fernande. Marie-Therese's life apart from Picasso was taken up by sport, Dora's by her intellectual passions. Marie-Thérèse's response to Picasso's portraits was that they "didn't look like her," to his paintings that they "didn't bowl her over," and to painting in general that it "didn't interest her." Dora, in contrast, could discuss with authority Corot's photographic experiments and how they applied to Picasso's work, as well as whatever technical problems or philosophical questions were on his mind; she could share his friends and his preoccupations. Both the wife and the concubine would be succeeded by the official mistress whose tormented intellect was in perfect harmony with the tragic years ahead.

ON July 18, 1936, the news reached Paris that civil war had broken out between the Republican government and the insurgent Nationalists, led by Franco. The murder of the poet García Lorca soon after, at the age of thirty-eight, sent shock waves through the art world. "They are killing men here as if they are cutting down trees," Saint-Exupéry wrote. There was no question that Picasso's allegiance belonged immediately and instinctively to the Republicans seeking to put down the military uprising. But it was Eluard who, in their endless conversations, supplied him with the vocabulary of political indignation that he used in declaring himself for the Republic.

For the first time in his life this grand solitary joined the stream of history. From now on his isolation would be laced with a sense of solidarity and belonging. He even accepted, with alacrity, the offer of the Spanish government to become the honorary director of the Prado. It was the first and the last official position he would ever hold, and it was not so much honorary as symbolic. By then the Nationalist troops were only twenty miles from Madrid, and in August, as Franco's planes began bombing the city, the Prado treasures had to be rushed to the relative safety of Valencia.

Picasso settled Marie-Thérèse and María in a house ten miles from Versailles, at Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre. With its barn converted into a studio and its relative proximity to Paris, it provided the perfect arrangement for this stage in his life. Having tucked Marie-Thérèse away, he threw himself into his relationship with Dora. Secure in her intellectual ascendancy over the uncultured Marie-Thérèse, Dora was also taking steps to solidify her position in Picasso's daily life by looking for a large studio away from the rue La Boétie, which they both detested. She hoped that he would work in the new studio without having to retreat as often to the country and that the two of them could work together on the photographic prints that fascinated Picasso or on their respective paintings. The first two paintings she gave him were heads, severe and imbued with a sacred, mystical quality. One of her proudest possessions was a painting they co-produced, which they jointly signed "Picamaar."

15 October XXXVI My love: I have to stay with Paul—I cannot come to have dinner and afterwards I am going to see the 'Catalans' who are here. Tomorrow I could come to have lunch soonest possible to see you, which is the most pleasant thing to do in this dog's life which I am leading. I love you every moment a little more.

Yours, Picasso

At the center of his "dog's life" was Dora. The letter was addressed to Marie-Thérèse. As she recalled toward the end of her life, "there were bizarre things going on . . . Nusch [Paul Eluard's second wife], Dora." She might also have noticed that in his recent work she was growing flabbier and uglier, while the dark-haired woman would never look as beautiful or as serene as she looked at the beginning of 1937. On March 2 Dora was even portrayed asleep. Having usurped Marie-Thérèse's primary place in Picasso's life, she had now also usurped her abandoned rest.

"It must be painful," Picasso had said, "for a girl to see in a painting that she is on the way out." His love letters to Marie-Thérèse grew proportionately more passionate as his relationship with Dora intensified. And she believed them. Not because she was stupid, not even because she was unaware of the existence of "the other woman," which was already too public a part of Picasso's life to remain a secret, but because he had invented the reality in which Marie-Thérèse lived. Together they had burned the bridges to any other reality, and now there was nowhere else for her to go. At the same time, he had scored a major victory over Dora—her grudging and pained acceptance of the fact that, although she was the official mistress, she was not, and perhaps would never be, the only one.

Meanwhile, the insurgent generals in Spain were busy creating, as the Nationalist general Emilio Mola put it, "an impression of mastery" over the country. In order to achieve this, according to Mola, it was "necessary to spread an atmosphere of terror." And since the Republicans continued to control Madrid and most of the north and the east, the atrocities calculated to produce an atmosphere of terror became increasingly vicious and widespread. At the beginning of 1937 Picasso wrote a poem full of violent imagery, designed to ridicule Franco, who was presented as a loathsome, barely human, hairy slug. "Dream and Lie of Franco" was written in Spanish, in his automatic style, which eschewed any rules of syntax or grammar. As he had said to Jaume Sabartés, his longtime friend and secretary, "I would prefer to invent a grammar of my own than to bind myself to rules which do not belong to me." The text was illustrated by eighteen etchings of matching violence, fury, and horror. Franco, the beast attacking Spain, was another emissary of Picasso's arch-enemy, fate.

The landscape of his private life was changing. By late March he had moved into the new studio that Dora had found him, at 7 rue des Grands-Augustins, and she had moved around the corner, to 6 rue de Savoie. It took a lot of money to keep Picasso in bohemia. This particular bohemian setting was a seventeenth-century building redolent of historical associations: it had been the old Hôtel des Ducs de Savoie, it had been used by Jean-Louis Barrault as a rehearsal hall, and it was the setting for Balzac's Chef d'Oeuvre Inconnu and its hero's desperate quest to capture the absolute in painting.

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