Pablo Picasso's Love: La Femme-Fleur
The love affair between Pablo Picasso, aged 64, and Franqoise Gilot, 24, began in Paris in the spring of 1943 during the German occupation of France. She was a student of art, the only child of a domineering father who brought her up as if she had been his son. In her mood of rebellion she found in Picasso a gentleness and a depth of understanding she had not known in any other man. They were to live together for the next ten years; she was to bear him two children. Their relationship forms the substance of a new book, LIFE WITH PICASSO, to be published this winter by McGrawHill. This excerpt is taken from the opening part.
I MET Pablo Picasso in May, 1943, during the German occupation of France. I was twenty-one, and I felt already that painting was my whole life. At that time I had as houseguest an old school friend named Genevieve, who had come up from her home near Montpellier, in the south of France, to spend a month with me. With her and the actor Alain Cuny, I went to have dinner one Wednesday at a small restaurant then much frequented by painters and writers. It was called Le Catalan and was in the Rue des GrandsAugustins on the Left Bank, near Notre Dame.
When we got there that evening and were seated, I saw Picasso for the first time. He was at the next table with a group of friends: a man, whom I didn’t recognize, and two women. One of the women I knew to be Marie-Laure, Vicomtesse de Noailles, the owner of an important collection of paintings, who is now something of a painter herself. At that time, though, she had not yet taken up painting — at least publicly — but she had written a poetic little book called The Tower of Babel. She had a long, narrow, somewhat decadent-looking face framed by an ornate coiffure that reminded me of Rigaud’s portrait of Louis XIV in the Louvre.
The other woman, Alain Cuny whispered to me, was Dora Maar, a Yugoslav photographer and painter, who, as everyone knew, had been Picasso’s companion since 1936. Even without his help I would have had no trouble identifying her, because I knew Picasso’s work well enough to recognize that this was the woman who was shown in the Portrait of D . . . M . . . in its many forms and variants. She had a beautiful oval face but a heavy jaw, which is a characteristic trait of almost all the portraits Picasso has made of her. Her hair was black and pulled back in a severe, starkly dramatic coiffure. I noticed her intense bronze-green eyes, and her slender hands with their long, tapering fingers. The most remarkable thing about her was her extraordinary immobility. She talked little, made no gestures at all, and there was something in her bearing that was more than dignity — a certain rigidity. There is a French expression that is very apt: she carried herself like the holy sacrament.
I was a little surprised at Picasso’s appearance. My impression of what he ought to look like had been founded on the photograph by Man Ray in the special Picasso number of the art review Cohiers d’Art published in 1936: dark hair, bright, flashing eyes, very squarely built, rugged — a handsome animal. When I saw him now, with his hair graying to white, and with an absent look — either distracted or bored — he had a withdrawn, oriental appearance that reminded me of the statue of the Egyptian scribe in the Louvre. There was nothing sculptural or fixed in his manner of moving, however; he gesticulated, he twisted and turned, he got up, he moved rapidly back and forth.
As the meal went on I noticed Picasso watching us, and from time to time acting a bit for our benefit. It was evident that he recognized Cuny, and he made remarks that we were obviously supposed to overhear. Whenever he said something particularly amusing, he smiled at us rather than just at his dinner companions. Finally he got up and came over to our table. He brought with him a bowl of cherries and offered some to all of us, in his strong Spanish accent calling them cerisses, with a soft, double-s sound.
Genevieve was a very beautiful girl, ol French Catalan ancestry but a Grecian type, with a nose that was a direct prolongation of her forehead. It was a head, Picasso later told me, that he felt he had already painted in his work of the Ingresque or Roman period. She often accentuated that Grecian quality, as she did that evening, by wearing a flowing, pleated dress.
“Well. Cuny,” Picasso said. “Are you going to introduce me to your friends?” Cuny introduced us and then said, “Françoise is the intelligent one.” Pointing to Genevieve, he said, “She’s the beautiful one. Isn’t she just like an Attic marble?”
Picasso shrugged. “You talk like an actor,” he said. “How would you characterize the intelligent one?”
That evening I was wearing a green and brown turban that covered much of my brow and my cheeks. Genevieve answered his question.
“Françoise is a Florentine virgin,” she said.
“But not the usual kind,” Cuny said. “A secularized virgin.” Everybody laughed.
“All the more interesting if she’s not the ordinary kind, Picasso said. “But what do they do, your two refugees from the history of art?”
“We re painters,” Genevieve answered.
Picasso burst out laughing. “That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all day. Girls who look like that can’t be painters.” I told him that Genevieve was only on holiday in Paris and that she was a pupil of Maillol in Banyuls, and that although I wasn’t anybody’s pupil, I was very much a painter. In fact, I said, we were having a joint exhibition of paintings and drawings right at the moment in a gallery in the Rue Boissy d’Anglas, behind the Place de la Concorde.
Picasso looked down at us in mock surprise. “Well, I’m a painter, too,” he said. “You must come to my studio and see some of my paintings.”
“When?” I asked him.
“ Tomorrow, The next day. When you want to.”
Genevieve and I compared notes. We told him we’d come not tomorrow, not the next day, but perhaps the first of the next week. Picasso bowed. “As you wish,” he said. He shook hands all around, picked up his bowl of cherries, and went back to his table.
THE following Monday morning, about eleven o’clock, Genevieve and I climbed a dark, narrow, winding staircase hidden away in a corner of the cobblestone courtyard at 7 Rue des GrandsAugustins and knocked on the door of Picasso’s apartment. After a long wait it was opened about three or four inches, and the pointed nose of his secretary, Jaime Sabartes, came through. We had never seen him before, but we knew who he was. We had seen reproductions of drawings Picasso had made of him, and Cuny had told us that Sabartes would be the one who received us. He looked at us rather suspiciously and asked, “Do you have an appointment?" I said we did. He let us in. He looked anxious as he peered out from behind his thick-lensed glasses.
We entered an anteroom where there were many plants and birds: turtledoves and a number of exotic species in wicker cages. The plants were not pretty; they were the spiky green ones you see frequently in copper pots in a concierge’s loge. Here they were arranged more appealingly, though, and in front of the high open window they made a rather pleasing effect. I had seen one of those plants a month before in a recent portrait of Dora Maar that was hung — in spite of the Nazi ban on Picasso’s work — in an out-of-the-way alcove of the Louise Leiris gallery in the Rue d’Astorg. It was a magnificent portrait, in pink and gray. In the background of the picture there was a framework of panels like the panes of the large antique window I now saw, a cage of birds, and one of those spiky plants.
From that room we followed Sabartes into a second one, which was very long. I saw several old Louis XIII sofas and chairs and, spread out on them, guitars, mandolins, and other musical instruments which, I supposed, Picasso must have used in his painting during the Cubist period. He later told me that he had bought them after he painted the pictures, not before, and kept them there now as a kind of remembrance of his Cubist days. The room had noble proportions, but everything was at sixes and sevens. The long table that stretched out before us and two long carpenter’s tables, one after the other against the right-hand wall, were covered with an accumulation of books, magazines, newspapers, photographs, hats, and miscellaneous clutter. On top of one of these tables was a rough piece of amethyst crystal, about the size of a human head. In the center of it was a small, totally enclosed cavity filled with what appeared to be water. On a shelf underneath it I saw several men’s suits folded up and three or four pairs of old shoes.
As we walked past the long table in the center of the room, I noticed that Sabartes moved out around a dull brownish object lying on the floor, near the door that led into the next room. When I came closer to it, I saw that it was a sculpture of a skull cast in bronze.
The next room we went into was a studio almost entirely filled with sculptures. I saw The Man With the Sheep, now cast in bronze and standing in the square at Vallauris, but at that time simply in plaster. Then there were a number of large heads of women that Picasso had done at Boisgeloup in 1932. There was a wild disorder of bicycle handlebars, rolls of canvas, a fifteenth-century Spanish polychromed wooden Christ, and a weird and spindly sculpture of a woman holding an apple in one hand and what looked like a hot-water bottle in the other arm.
What hit me hardest, though, was a glowing canvas by Matisse, a still life of 1912, with a bowl of oranges on a pink tablecloth against a light ultramarine and brighter pink background. I remember also a Vuillard, a Douanier Rousseau, and a Modigliani, but above all, in that shadowy studio, the glow of color of the Matisse was particularly striking among the sculptures. I couldn’t prevent myself from saying, “Oh, what a beautiful Matisse.” Sabartes turned around and said austerely, “Here there is only Picasso.”
BY ANOTHER little winding staircase, on the far side of the room, we climbed to the second floor of Picasso’s apartments. Upstairs the ceiling was much lower. We passed into a large studio. On the other side of the room I saw Picasso, surrounded by a group of six or eight. He was dressed in an old pair of trousers that hung loosely from his hips, and a blue-striped sailor’s jersey. When he saw us, his face lighted up in a pleasant smile. He left the group and came over to us. Sabartes muttered something about our having an appointment and then went downstairs.
“Would you like me to show you around?” Picasso asked. We said we would indeed. We hoped he would show us some of his paintings, but we didn’t dare ask. He took us back downstairs into the sculpture studio.
“Before I came here,” he said, “this lower floor was used as a workshop by a weaver, and the upper floor was an actor’s studio— Jean-Louis Barrault’s. It was here, in this very room, that I painted Guernica.” He settled back onto one of the Louis XIII tables in front of a pair of windows that looked out onto an interior courtyard. “Other than that, though, I hardly ever work in this room. I did L’Homme au Mouton here,” he said, pointing to the large plaster sculpture of the man holding the sheep in his arms, “but I do my painting upstairs, and I generally work on my sculpture in another studio I have a little way up the street.
“That covered spiral stairway you walked up to get here,” he said, “is the one the young painter in Balzac’s Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu climbed when he came to see old Pourbus, the friend of Poussin who painted pictures nobody understood. Oh, the whole place is full of historical and literary ghosts. Well, let’s get back upstairs,” he said. He slid off the table, and we followed him up the winding staircase. He took us through the big studio, around the group of people, none of whom looked up at us as we passed through, and into a small room in the far corner.
“This is where I do my engraving,” he said. “And look here.” He walked over to a sink and turned on a faucet. After a while the water became steamy. “Isn’t it marvelous,” he said. “In spite of the war, I have hot water. In fact,” he added, “you could come here and have a hot bath any time you liked.”
About one o’clock the group around us broke up, and everyone started to leave. The thing that struck me as most curious that first day was the fact that Sabartes was obviously a kind of monk of the Picasso religion, and all the people who were there had the air of being completely immersed in that religion except the one to whom it was addressed. He seemed to be taking it all for granted but not attaching any importance to it, as if he were trying to show us that he didn’t have any desire to be the central figure in a cult.
As we turned to go, Picasso said, “If you want to come back again, by all means come. But if you do come, don’t come like pilgrims to Mecca. Come because you like me, because you find my company interesting, and because you want to have a simple, direct relationship with me. If you only want to see my paintings, you’d better go to a museum.”
I didn’t take that remark of his too seriously. In the first place, there were almost no paintings of his to be seen in any of the Paris museums at that time. Then, too, since he was on the Nazi list of proscribed painters, no private gallery was able to show his work openly or in quantity. And looking at another painter’s work in a book of reproductions is no satisfaction for a painter. So if anyone wanted to see more of his work — as I did—there was almost nowhere to go except 7 Rue des GrandsAugustins.
A few days after that first visit I dropped in at the gallery where Genevieve and I were having our exhibition. The woman who ran it told me excitedly that a little earlier a short man with piercing dark eyes, wearing a blue-and-white-striped sailor’s jersey, had come in. She had realized, after the first shock, that he was Picasso. He had studied the paintings intently and then walked out without saying anything, she told me. When I got home, I told Genevieve about his visit. I said he had probably gone to see how bad our paintings were and prove to himself the truth of what he had said when he met us at Le Catalan: “Girls who look like that can’t be painters.”
Genevieve took a more idealistic view of it. “I think it’s a nice human touch,” she said. “It shows he takes a real interest in young artists’ work.”
I wasn’t convinced. At best it was curiosity, I felt. “He just wanted to see what we had inside — if anything.”
“Oh, you’re so cynical,” she said. “He seemed to me very kind, open-minded, and simple.”
I told her I thought he perhaps wanted to appear simple, but I had looked into those eyes of his and seen something quite different. It hadn’t frightened me, though. In fact it made me want to go back. I temporized for about another week and then, one morning, with Genevieve in tow, returned to the Rue des Grands-Augustins. It was Sabartes, of course, who opened the door for us again, sticking his head outside like a little sand fox. This time he admitted us without comment.
Remembering from our first visit the very pleasant entrance with its many plants and exotic birds in wicker cages lighted by the high window, we had decided to add a little color to the greenery, and so we arrived carrying a pot of cineraria. When Picasso saw us he laughed.
“Nobody brings flowers to an old gent,” he said. Then he noticed that my dress was the same color as the blossoms, or vice versa. “You think of everything, I can see that,”he said. I pushed Genevieve in front of me. “Here’s beauty, followed by intelligence,” I reminded him.
He looked us over carefully, then said, “That remains to be seen. What I see now are simply two very different types of beauty: archaic Greece and Jean Goujon.”
On our first visit he had shown us only a few pictures. This time he made up for it. He piled them up almost like a scaffolding. There was a painting on the easel; he stuck another on top of that, one on each side, piled others on top of those, until it seemed like a highly skilled balancing act of the human-pyramid kind. As I found out later, he used to arrange them that way almost every day. They always held together by some kind of miracle, but as soon as anyone else touched them, they came tumbling down. That morning there were cocks, a buffet of Le Catalan with cherries against a background of brown, black, and white; small still lifes, some with lemon and many with glasses, a cup, and a coffeepot, or with fruit, against a checked tablecloth. He seemed to be playing with colors as he sorted them out and tossed them up onto the scaffolding. There was a large nude, a three-quarter rear view that one saw at the same time front view, in earth tones, very close to the palette of the Cubist period. There were also scenes of the Vert Galant, that little tip of the He de la Cite on the other side of the Pont Neuf. In these paintings there were trees on which each branch was made out of separate spots of paint, much in the manner of van Gogh. There were several showing mothers with enormous children whose heads reached the very top of the canvas, somewhat in the spirit of the Catalan primitives.
Many of the paintings he showed us that morning had a culinary basis: skinned rabbits, or pigeons with peas, a kind of reflection of the hard time most people were having to get food. There were others almost like papiers colies, with a sausage stuck onto an otherwise carefully composed background; or portraits of women wearing hats topped with forks or fishes and other kinds of food. Finally he showed us a group of portraits of Dora Maar, very tortured in form, which he had painted over the past two years. They are among the finest paintings he has ever done, I believe.
Suddenly he decided he had shown us enough. He walked away from his pyramid. “I saw your exhibition,” he said, looking at me. I didn’t have the courage to ask him what he thought of it, so I just looked surprised. “You’re very gifted for drawing,” he went on. “I think you should keep on working — hard — every day. I’ll be curious to see how your work develops. I hope you’ll show me other things from time to time.” Then he added, to Genevieve, “I think you’ve found the right teacher in Maillol. One good Catalan deserves another.”
Little else he said that morning registered very deeply with me. I left the Rue des Grands-Augustins feeling very buoyant, impatient to get back to my studio and go to work.
SOON after that second visit, Genevieve went back to the Midi. I wanted to return to the Rue des Grands-Augustins by myself, but I felt it was a little early to show Picasso any new work, even though he had been more than cordial in his invitation to come see him as often as I wanted to. I wondered more than once whether, if he had met me alone, he would even have noticed me. Meeting me with Genevieve, he saw a theme that runs through his entire work and was particularly marked during the 1930s: two women together, one fair and the other dark, the one all curves and the other externalizing her internal conflicts, with a personality that goes beyond the pictorial; one, the kind of woman who has a purely aesthetic and plastic life with him; the other, the type whose nature is reflected in dramatic expression. When he saw the two of us that morning, he saw in Genevieve a version of formal perfection, and in me, who lacked that formal perfection, a quality of unquiet which was actually an echo of his own nature. That created an image for him, I’m sure. He even said, “I’m meeting beings I painted twenty years ago.”It was certainly one of the original causes of the interest he showed.
When I did go back to see him, it wasn’t long before he began to make very clear another side of the nature of his interest in me.
There were always quite a few people waiting to see him, some in the long room on the lower floor, where Sabartes held forth, others in the large painting atelier on the floor above. Picasso, I soon noticed, was always looking for some excuse to get me off into another room where he could be alone with me for a few minutes. The first time, I remember, the pretext was some tubes of paint he wanted to give me. Having an idea that there was more involved than just paints, I asked him why he didn’t bring them to me. Sabartes, never very far away, said, “Yes, Pablo, you should bring them to her.”
“Why?” Picasso asked. “If I’m going to give her a gift, the least she can do is make the effort to go after it.”
Another morning, I had gone there on my bicycle, since that was the only way one could get around conveniently at that period. En route it had started to rain, and my hair was soaking wet. “Just look at the poor girl,” Picasso said to Sabartes. “We can’t leave her in that state.” He took me by the arm. “You come with me into the bathroom and let me dry your hair,” he said.
“Look, Pablo,” Sabartes said, “perhaps I should get Ines to do it. She’ll do it better.”
“You leave Ines where she is,” Picasso said. “She’s got her own work to do.” He guided me into the bathroom and carefully dried my hair for me.
Of course, Picasso didn’t have a situation like that handed to him every time. He had to manufacture his own. And so the next time it might be some special drawing paper he had uncovered in one of the countless dusty corners of the atelier. But whatever the pretext, it was quite clear that he was trying to discover to what degree I might be receptive to his attentions. I had no desire to give him grounds to make up his mind, one way or the other. I was having too much fun watching him try to figure it all out.
One day he said to me, “I want to show you my museum.” He took me into a small room adjoining the sculpture studio. Against the left-hand wall was a glass case about seven feet high, five feet wide, and a foot deep. It had four or five shelves and held many different kinds of art objects.
“These are my treasures,” he said. He led me over to the center of the vitrine and pointed to a very striking wooden foot on one of the shelves. “That’s Old Kingdom,” he said, “There’s all of Egypt in that foot. With a fragment like that, I don’t need the rest of the statue.”
Ranged across the top shelf were about ten very slender sculptures of women, from a foot to a foot and a half high, cast in bronze. “Those I carved in wood in 1931,” he said. “And look over here.” He pushed me very gently toward the end of the case and tapped on the glass in front of a group of small stones incised with female profiles, the head of a bull and of a faun. “I did those with this,” he said, and fished out of his pocket a small jackknife, labeled “Opinel,” with a single folding blade. On another shelf, and next to a wooden hand and forearm that were recognizably Easter Island, I noticed a small flat piece of bone about three inches long. On its long sides were painted parallel lines imitating the teeth of a comb. In the center, between the two strips of “teeth,” was a cartouche showing two bugs meeting in head-on combat, one about to swallow up the other. I asked Picasso what that was. “That’s a comb for lice,” he said. “I’d give it to you but I don’t imagine you’d have any use for it.” He ran his fingers through my hair and parted it at the roots here and there. “No,” he said, “you seem to be all right in that department.”
I moved back to the center of the vitrine. There was a cast of his sculpture A Glass of Absinthe, about nine inches high, with a hole cut into the front of the glass and a real spoon on top, bearing a simulated lump of sugar. “I did that long before you were born,”he said. “Back in 1914. I modeled it in wax and added a real spoon and had six of them cast in bronze, then painted each one differently. Here, this will amuse you.” He put his arm around me and sidled over to another part of the case, drawing me along with him. I saw a small matchbox on which he had painted the head of a woman in a post-Cubist manner. I asked him when he had done that.
“Oh, two or three years ago,” he said. “ These, too.” He pointed to a group of cigarette boxes on which he had painted women seated in armchairs. Three of them, I noticed, were dated 1940. “You see, I built them up in relief by pasting other bits of cardboard in various places,”he said. He pointed to the one in the center. “For that one, I sewed on the panel that makes the central part of the torso. Notice the hair. It’s pretty close to being hair — it’s string. These things are midway between sculpture and painting, I suppose.”
On the opposite side of the room from the vitrine was a table covered with tools. I walked over to it. Picasso followed me. “These I use in finishing my sculpture,” he said. He picked up a file. “This is something I use all the time.” He tossed it back and picked up another. “This one is for finer surfaces.” One after another he handled a plane, pincers, nails of all kinds — “for engraving on plaster” — a hammer, and with each one he came closer to me. When he dropped the last piece back onto the table he turned abruptly and kissed me, full on the mouth. I let him. He looked at me in surprise.
“You don’t mind?” he asked. I said no — should I? He seemed shocked. “That’s disgusting,” he said. “At least you could have pushed me away. Otherwise I might get the idea I could do anything I wanted to.”I smiled and told him to go ahead. By now he was thrown completely off the track. I knew very well he didn’t know what he wanted to do, or even whether, and I had an idea that by saying, placidly, yes, I would discourage him from doing anything at all, so I said, “I’m at your disposition.” He looked at me cautiously, then asked, “Are you in love with me?” I said I couldn’t guarantee that, but at least I liked him and I felt very much at ease with him, and I saw no reason for setting up in advance any limits to our relationship. Again he said, “That’s disgusting. How do you expect me to seduce anyone under conditions like that? If you’re not going to resist — well, then it’s out of the question. I’ll have to think it over.” And he walked back into the sculpture studio to join the others.
A FEW days later he brought up the question in a similar manner. I told him I could promise him nothing in advance, but he could always try and see for himself. That nettled him. “In spite of your youth,” he said, “I get the impression that you’ve had a lot of experience in that sort of thing.” I said no, not really. “Well, then, I don’t understand you,”he said. “It doesn’t make sense, the way you act.” I said I couldn’t help that. That’s the way it was, sense or nonsense. Besides, I wasn’t afraid of him, so I couldn’t very well act as though I were. “You’re too complicated for me,” he said. That slowed him down for a while longer.
A week or so later, I went to see him. Using the by now familiar technique, he managed to maneuver me into his bedroom. He picked up a book from a pile on a chair near his bed. “Have you read the Marquis de Sade?” he asked me. I told him no. “Aha! I shock you, don’t I?” he said, looking very proud of himself. I said no. I told him that although I hadn’t read Sade, I had no objection to it. And I had read Choderlos de Laclos and Restif de la Bretonne. As for Sade, I could make out without it, but perhaps he couldn’t, I suggested. In any case, I told him, the principle of the victim and the executioner didn’t interest me. I didn’t think either one of those roles suited me very well.
“No, no, I didn’t mean that,” he said. “I just wondered if that might shock you.” He seemed a little disappointed. “You’re more English than French, I think,” he told me. “You’ve got that English kind of reserve.”
After that his campaign slacked off. He was no less friendly whenever I dropped in mornings, but since I hadn’t encouraged his early approaches, he was clearly hesitant about attempting further advances. I was just as well pleased.
One morning toward the end of June, he told me he wanted to show me the view from the “forest.” In French that word is used to refer to the framework of beams that come together to form the support for the roof. He took me into the hallway outside his painting studio on the upper floor. There, at an angle against the wall, was a miller’s ladder leading up to a small door about three feet above our heads. He bowed gallantly. “You go first,” he said. I had some qualms about it, but it seemed awkward to argue the point, so I climbed the ladder and he followed right behind. At the top I pushed open the door and stepped into a small room, about twelve feet by twenty, under the eaves. On the other side of the room was a small open window, almost to the floor. I walked over to it and looked out on a kind of Cubist pattern formed by the roofs and chimney pots of the Left Bank. Picasso came up behind me and put his arms around me. “I’d better hold onto you,” he said. “I wouldn’t like to have you fall out and give the house a bad name.”It had grown warmer in the last few days, and he was wearing what seemed to be his usual warm-weather outfit for receiving his friends in the morning: a pair of white shorts and his slippers.
“That’s nice, the roofs of Paris,” he said. “One could make paintings of that.” I continued to look out the window. Opposite us, a little to the right, across a courtyard, an empty building was being remodeled. On one of the outside walls, a workman had drawn in whitewash an enormous phallus, about seven feet long, with very baroque subsidiary decoration. Picasso went on talking about the view and the handsome old roofs against the light gray-blue of the sky. He moved his hands up and lightly cupped them over my breasts. I didn’t move. Finally, a bit too innocently I thought, he said, “Tiens! That drawing in whitewash on the wall over there — what do you suppose that represents?” Trying to sound as offhand as he had, I said I didn’t know. It didn’t seem to me to be at all figurative, I told him.
He took his hands away. I turned and faced him. He was slightly flushed, and he looked pleased. I had the feeling he was glad I hadn’t committed myself, either to draw away or to fall too easily. He guided me gently by the arm out of the “forest" and helped me onto the ladder. I went down in the prescribed fashion, he following, and we joined the group in the painting atelier. Everyone talked animatedly as if neither our departure nor our return had been noticed.
THAT summer I went to a little village called Fontes, near Montpellier, which was then in the Free Zone (not occupied by the Germans) to spend my vacation with Geneviève. While I was there, I passed through one of those crises young people sometimes experience in the process of growing up. Picasso wasn’t the cause of it. It had been building up for some time before I met him.
Ever since early childhood I had suffered from insomnia and had used my nights more for reading than for sleeping. And since I was a rapid reader, I had managed to work my way through a very considerable number of books. My father had encouraged this bent in me. He was, by training, an agronomical engineer and had built up several manufacturing businesses in chemicals. But he was also a man with a passionate interest in literature, and his large library was never closed to me. By the time I was twelve he had read me enormous chunks of the works of Joinville, Villon, Rabelais, Poe, and Baudelaire, and by the age of fourteen, all of Jarry. By the time I was seventeen I was rather proud of my attainments and fond of imagining that I knew what life was all about, even though whatever I did know came out of books.
My physical appearance didn’t seem extraordinary to me; on the other hand, I didn’t consider it a handicap. I felt afraid of nothing, objective and detached in all my judgments and serenely free from the various illusions inexperience confers on youth. In short, I saw myself a seasoned philosopher disguised as a young girl.
My father tried to wake me up by telling me, “You’re floating on air. You’d better put on some lead-soled shoes and get down to earth. Otherwise you’re in for a rude awakening.” That awakening came when I decided to become a painter. For the first time I got a sense of my own limitations. No matter how single-mindedly I gave myself over to it, I gradually came to realize there were things I couldn’t bring off. I had difficulties of all kinds, conceptual as well as technical. For a long time I felt I was up against a wall. Then suddenly it occurred to me that, at bottom, a good part of my difficulty came from my lack of the experience of living. I had an intellectual grasp of many things, but as far as firsthand experience went, I was pretty close to being a total ignoramus.
I had started to paint at the age of seventeen. For the past two years I had been working under the guidance of a Hungarian painter named Rozsda. At the same time, I was studying for my licence in literature at the Sorbonne (roughly the equivalent of an A.B. degree in an American or English university) and on a law degree as well. My father wouldn’t have allowed me to drop out of the university and devote all my time to painting, but I used to cut my morning classes and go to Rozsda’s studio to paint.
Rozsda had come to Paris from Budapest in 1938. He was Jewish on his mother’s side. Under occupation law, he should have worn a yellow Star of David to identify him as a Jew. Not wearing one, he had greater freedom of movement but at a very considerable risk. In addition to that, since Hungary was a German satellite, Rozsda should have been doing military service for the Nazis. That made him not only an undeclared Jew but, in their eyes, a deserter as well. He was, then, doubly liable for early shipment to the gas chamber. He had worked with the Resistance in France, but his strong foreign accent made him less useful there than he would have been in his own country. He was in danger of being picked up from day to day. My father, who could be as hard as nails when his will was frustrated, could also be very generous when he wanted to be. When I told him about Rozsda’s situation, he helped him to get the papers that would take him safely back to Budapest via Berlin, Vienna, and other dangerous way stations.
When he left, in February, 1943, I saw him off at the Gare de l’Est. I was very sad to see him go because he had been a good friend to me. I was unhappy, also, to think that the progress I had been making in my painting might be threatened. I told him I didn’t know what I was going to do about that, or whom I could work with. The train started up. He hopped aboard and called out, “Don’t worry about that. In three months’ time, you may know Picasso.” He was right, almost to the day.
My problems with painting weren’t my only source of frustration. During the two or three years leading up to my meeting with Picasso, most of my male friends were men about ten years older than I. Many of them were active in the Resistance in one way or another, and I think they all looked upon me as a child.
Between the ages of seventeen and twenty I had been very much in love with a boy my own age. He was going through the same growing pains that I was having. Every time I felt it would be all right to give myself to him, he would feel very inhibited, and when he felt more adventurous, it was always at a time when I was having my doubts. Then he fell ill with pleurisy, and during that time my parents tried to break up our friendship. When he returned from convalescence I made the decision to burst the bonds. I had worked myself up to the feeling that I must get beyond that barrier called virginity. I must have been so aggressive that I frightened him out of his wits. He told me he didn’t really love me, and that I might as well leave him out of my plans.
Like many other young people, instead of realizing that I had a lifetime before me, I felt that time was running short, and I suppose I dramatized this first rejection to a degree that made me think, well, after that, what else matters? Rozsda, my teacher, had gone. The boy I wanted had thrown me over. I had nothing more to lose. It was just at that time that I met Picasso. And after our brief skirmishes of May and June, I was still all stirred up by everything that had taken place before I met him. In my eyes the villains were my parents. They had done their best to make things fall apart between my boyfriend and me by watching us ever so carefully, admonishing us constantly, and, every time we returned the least bit late from an evening together, accusing us of the worst. So my general conclusion that summer was: They’ve ruined my life so far. From now on I’ll take over.
I DECIDED to drop off everything I didn’t believe in. The first step, it seemed to me, was to face up to my father and tell him I had decided to be a painter, and in order to give myself over completely to that, I would need to stop my other studies. Knowing how strong-willed he was, I realized that an announcement like that would probably lead to a break between us. But I sensed that by accepting the consequences, I would find myself on the other side of the wall that now separated me from everything I wanted.
In October I wrote my father a letter in which I tried to explain all this. His answer was to send my mother, who, like me, had always been completely under his domination, to bring me back to Paris at once. When we reached home he was waiting for us, seething with anger. My attitude was scandalous, he said, and I must be out of my mind. If I persisted, he would know I was seriously ill, and he would have me committed, he threatened. He gave me a half hour to change my mind and went out to do an errand. I knew I had to act quickly. I left the house without saying anything to my mother and ran to my grandmother’s house, which was not far from ours. My grandmother wasn’t home. I decided to wait for her to return. In a few minutes my father and mother arrived. I think that by now my mother, too, was convinced that I was out of my mind. Until now I had always obeyed, even though it was painful. Suddenly, at twenty-one, I was as inflexible as my father.
When I saw them coming, I ran up to the top floor. Knowing the mood my father was in, I was certain he would try to drag me out of the house and take me back home, and I thought he might have a harder time of it if I was as far away from the front door as possible. He followed me upstairs. I had never seen him in such a rage. He had always been a very violent man and was in the habit of having everyone — at home, among the rest of the family, in his factories, in the world at large — obey him immediately. He asked me if I would return home. I told him no. I said I had made up my mind that if he wouldn’t agree to my terms, I would leave home. I told him that from now on I intended to live my life as I saw fit.
He began to beat me — my head, shoulders, face, and back — with all his might. He was so much bigger and stronger than I, I knew I could never hold out against him if he continued like that. I sat down on the stairway and managed to slip my legs between the balusters. I put my arms through them and joined my hands together. In that way he couldn’t hit me on my face anymore. My face was bleeding badly, and the blood was running down the white balusters onto my knees. I could feel one eye swelling. He tried to pull me away, but I held on tight.
At that point I heard the front door open below us, and my grandmother walked in. She came upstairs as quickly as she could and asked my father what was going on. He told her that whatever she saw, I had done to myself. I told her this was not true. She said she was in no position to make up her mind about that, but it was obvious that I was in very bad shape, and she was putting me to bed and calling a doctor at once. “We’ll see about the rest tomorrow,” she said.
My grandmother was seventy-five at the time. After the death of my grandfather four years before, she had had a nervous breakdown. She had spent nearly three years in a rest home and had been back in her own home, well again, for about a year. She was my mother’s mother. She had her own fortune and was not dependent on my father. As it happened, though, her money was managed by a lawyer who was a friend of my father’s and, like most everyone else in my father’s entourage, a bit under his thumb. My father took advantage of this situation to include her in his threats. “I’ll have you both committed,” he said. “You’re both crazy. Furthermore, you may discover, both of you, that money won’t be quite so easy to come by from now on. We’ll see how you like that.”
My grandmother stood right up to him. “Go ahead,” she told him. “And by all means try to have us put away. I’d like to see you get away with that. From now on, Françoise will stay with me if she wants to.”
IT WAS November before I had a chance to visit Picasso again. Now that I was living with my grandmother, I had money problems, since my father had always been the source of my money. And he soon arranged things with his friend the lawyer, so that my grandmother, too, began to feel the pinch. The only clothes I had were the ones I was wearing the day I ran to my grandmother’s. It was impossible, of course, to get anything out of my father’s house.
His house was just outside the entrance to the Bois de Boulogne, and I had always done a great deal of horseback riding in the Bois. I went to see my old riding master and told him I needed a job. He put me to work giving lessons to beginners. Some days I had to go to Maisons-Laffitte, a racing and riding center about twelve miles outside Paris. That kept me pretty busy.
But as soon as I did see Picasso again, one thing stood out very clearly: the ease with which I could communicate with him. With my father, there had been no communication for years. Even my relations with the one boy I thought I loved were often difficult and complicated, almost negative. Now all of a sudden with someone who was three times as old as I was, there was from the start an ease of understanding that made it possible to talk of anything. It seemed miraculous.
Seeing him after an absence of four or five months and across the filter of my summer’s experiences, I had the impression I was rejoining a friend whose nature was not very far from my own. Often during my adolescence I had felt like a solitary traveler crossing a desert. In spite of my intellectual smugness, socially I was timid, and I often used to remain silent even among my friends. The contrast was very striking: now I was completely at ease with someone I hardly knew. So the mornings I didn’t have riding lessons to give — perhaps two or three days a week — I spent at the Rue des GrandsAugustins. Most of the people I saw there were people who came nearly every day. If Picasso felt like showing them some paintings, they would look at them. If he didn’t, they would just sit around, not saying very much, and then, at lunchtime, go their separate ways. They were people who were somehow connected with Picasso’s life, past or present, like Christian Zervos, the editor of Cahiers d’Art, who was publishing the catalogue of Picasso’s work and often brought his photographer to take pictures of recent drawings and paintings.
Another man who came a great deal at that time was Andre Dubois, who later on became Prefect of Police and is now with the magazine Match. At that time he worked in the Ministry of the Interior, and since the Germans were finding little ways of bothering Picasso and might well have bothered him a great deal more, Andre Dubois came almost every day to see that everything was all right. JeanPaul Sartre came frequently, and Simone de Beauvoir, and the poet Pierre Reverdy. Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir talked mostly to each other. Whenever Sartre had anything to say in my presence, I found it generally so dogmatic or indigestible that I formed the habit of talking with others, such as the poet Jacques Prevert. At a time when most people weren’t joking much, Prevert generally managed to find something funny. Picasso had had a sculpture of his own hand cast in bronze. One day Prevert amused himself and the rest of us by sticking the bronze hand into his sleeve and shaking hands with the others, then walking away, leaving the bronze hand in theirs.
One morning that winter I went to the Rue des Grands-Augustins with several paintings I had just finished and wanted to show to Picasso. I noticed that a number of the regulars I often saw in the painting studio upstairs were in the long room on the lower floor where Sabartes worked. Sabartes looked very conspiratorial. He signaled to me to follow him. When we were out of the room he whispered, “He said I could take you upstairs, but he’s not seeing anyone else today. You’re going to see someone who’ll give you a shock.”
When we reached the painting studio I saw Picasso talking with a thin, dark, intense man who, I must admit, did give me somewhat of a shock. It was Andre Malraux, who more than anyone else at that time was the idol of our generation. We had all devoured his books — The Conquerors, Man’s Fate, Man’s Hope — and been excited not only by them but by the exploits of Malraux himself, in China, in Indochina, in Spain, and now as one of the leaders of the Correze Maquis in the Resistance.
Picasso introduced me to Malraux and asked me to show my paintings to both of them. Feeling very intimidated, I did. I referred to something in one of them as having arisen from the memory of a trip I had made to Les Baux the previous summer. That reminded Picasso that he and Malraux had met there on Christmas Day about five years before. “There’s an otherworldly atmosphere you feel as you stand there looking down on the Val d’Enfer that makes me think of Dante,” Picasso said.
“It should,” Malraux replied. “During Dante’s exile from Florence, he went there in his wanderings through France and wrote that setting into L’Inferno.”
After Malraux had gone, Picasso said, “I hope you appreciate the gift I just made you.” I asked him what gift. “Letting you talk to Malraux,” he said. “After all, no one should have seen him here. It’s too dangerous. He just slipped in from the Maquis,”
NOT all of Picasso’s visitors were welcome ones. The Germans, of course, had forbidden anyone to exhibit his painting. In their eyes, he was a “degenerate” artist and, worse still, an enemy of the Franco government. They were always looking for pretexts to make more trouble for him. Every week or two a group of uniformed Germans would come and with a very ominous air ask, “This is where Monsieur Lipchitz lives, isn’t it?”
“No,” Sabartes would say. “This is Monsieur Picasso.”
“Oh, no. We know it’s Monsieur Lipchitz’s apartment.”
“But, no,” Sabartes would insist, “This is Monsieur Picasso.”
“Monsieur Picasso isn’t a Jew, by any chance?”
“Of course not,” said Sabartes. And since one’s Aryan or non-Aryan status was established on the basis of one’s grandparents’ baptismal certificates, no one could say Picasso was Jewish. But they used to come, anyway, and say they were looking for the sculptor Lipchitz, knowing very well that he was in America at that moment and that he had never lived there in the first place. But they would pretend they had to satisfy themselves that he wasn’t there, so they’d say, “We want to be sure. We’re coming in and search for papers.” Three or four of them would come in, with an extremely polite officer who spoke French. The disorder everywhere was an invitation to them, and they would look around and behind everything.
Picasso had had another brush with the Germans before I knew him, and he told me about it one day with considerable satisfaction. One of the first things the Germans did in 1940, right after the armistice, was to inventory the contents of all safedeposit vaults in banks. The property of Jews was confiscated. That of the others was set down in the record to be available if needed. Foreign stocks and bonds, gold, jewelry, and valuable works of art were what interested the Germans most.
As soon as the inventorying started, most people who were away from Paris rushed back in order to be present when their boxes or vaults were opened. Everyone realized that at the start, before the “technicians” arrived from Germany, things would be handled somewhat haphazardly by the occupying soldiers and they might, therefore, have more of a chance of protecting their valuables. That was what my family did and, as I learned later, Picasso too. And in taking care of his own vaults, Picasso had looked after Matisse’s as well.
Matisse had had a very serious abdominal operation and had gone to live in the south of France. His paintings were stored in a vault of a bank, adjacent to Picasso’s vaults. When Picasso’s vaults were opened, he made it a point to be there. There were three large rooms full of paintings down in the basement of the bank: two for him and one for Matisse. The manager of the bank was a friend of both of them.
Because Picasso is Spanish, it would have been difficult for the Germans to touch his property if his papers had been in order, but since he was persona non grata with the Franco regime, his situation was precarious. And since both he and Matisse were classified by the Nazis as “degenerate” artists, there was all the more reason to be apprehensive. The inspectors were two German soldiers, very well disciplined but not very bright, he told me. He got them so confused, he said, rushing them from one room into the next, pulling out canvases, inspecting them, shoving them back in again, leading the soldiers around corners, making wrong turns, that in the end they were all at sea. And since they were not at all familiar with his work or with Matisse’s either, they didn’t know what they were looking at, no matter which room they were in. He wound up by inventorying only one third of his paintings, and when it came to Matisse’s, he said, “Oh, we’ve seen these.” Then they asked him what all those things were worth. He told them 8000 francs — about $1600 in today’s money — for all his paintings and the same for Matisse’s. They took his word for it. None of his things or Matisse’s were taken away. It must not have seemed worth the trouble.
There was a Kafkaesque uncertainty surrounding some of the people who drifted in and out of Picasso’s studio at that time, among them a rather mystifying art historian, and a photographer who came from time to time on some vague mission. Picasso thought they were spies, but there was no way of proving they were and no basis on which to refuse to let them in. What he feared most was that one day one of these dubious Germans — the photographer, for example, who came more often than any of the others — would plant some incriminating papers so that the next time the Gestapo came to search, they would find something.
It took a good deal of courage for him to stay there during the war, since his paintings had been denounced by Hitler and since the occupation authorities took such a dim view of intellectuals. Many artists and writers — Leger, Andre Breton, Max Ernst, Andre Masson, Zadkine, and others — had gone off to America before the Germans arrived. It must have seemed wiser to many not to run the risk of staying. One day I asked Pablo why he had.
“Oh, I’m not looking for risks to take,” he said, “but in a sort of passive way I don’t care to yield to either force or terror. I want to stay here because I’m here. The only kind of force that could make me leave would be the desire to leave. Staying on isn’t really a manifestation of courage; it’s just a form of inertia. I suppose it’s simply that I prefer to be here. So I’ll stay, whatever the cost.”
As I continued to turn up regularly at the Rue des Grands-Augustins mornings, Sabartes grew more and more glum in my presence. One morning when only he and Picasso and I were in the painting studio, he apparently decided he had been diplomatic long enough. I suspected they had been talking about me before I arrived that morning because I hadn’t been there but a few minutes when Sabartes said, almost as though he were simply contributing an opinion to a conversation that had been under way for some time already, “All this looks pretty bad to me, Pablo. And it will end badly. You see, I know you. Furthermore she has too many changes of clothing, and that’s not a good sign.” A week or two earlier my mother had had a change of heart and had smuggled some of my clothes out of the house and brought them to my grandmother’s. I suppose I had been making the most of them after weeks of wearing the same outfit every day.
“You mind your business, Sabartes,” Picasso said. “You don’t understand anything. You haven’t got the intelligence to realize this girl is walking a tightrope — and sound asleep, at that. You want to wake her up? You want her to fall down? You just don’t understand us somnambulists. And what you don’t understand, either, is the fact that I like this girl. I’d like her just as much if she were a boy. In fact, she’s a little like Rimbaud. So keep your gloomy, evil thoughts to yourself.”
Sabartes looked unconvinced. He sighed heavily and went downstairs. Picasso shook his head.
“What a treasure of incomprehension,” he said. “In life you throw a ball. You hope it will reach a wall and bounce back so you can throw it again. You hope your friends will provide that wall. Well, they’re almost never a wall. They’re like old wet bedsheets, and that ball you throw, when it strikes those wet sheets, just falls. It almost never comes back.” Then, looking at me out of the corner of his eye, he said, “I guess I’ll die without ever having loved.” I laughed and said, “No point in making up your mind now. You haven’t got there yet.” Picasso grew quiet for a moment and then said, “Do you remember the time we went up the miller’s ladder into the ‘forest,’ where we could look out over the rooftops?” I told him I did. “There’s one thing I’d like very much,” he said, “and that is if you would stay here, beginning right now, up in the forest; just disappear completely so that no one would ever know you were here. I’d bring you food twice a day. You could work up there in tranquillity, and I’d have a secret in my life that no one could take away from me. At night we could go out together, wandering wherever we wanted to, and you, who don’t like crowds of people, you’d be completely happy, because you wouldn’t have to worry about the rest of the world, just about me.” I said I thought that was a very good idea. But then he began to think it over, and he said, “Well, I don’t know whether it’s such a good idea or not because it’s binding on me, too. If you’re agreeable to having no more liberty, that means I wouldn’t have any more either.”
I could see it was hard for him to let go of the idea, all the same. “It would be nice, though,” he went on. “You’d live here without seeing anyone else in the world but me, either writing or painting, and I’d give you all the materials you needed for your work, and we’d have that secret to share. We’d go out only after dark and only in quarters where we wouldn’t run into anyone we knew.”
I must admit that, at least poetically, the idea had a strong appeal for me at that moment. Living up there alone would have cut me off from all the people I would have preferred to avoid and left me in contact with one person who interested me enormously and who would have been quite sufficient for me at that time. I knew it wasn’t yet a question of love, but I knew there was a very strong mutual attraction, a need to be together.
When I left that morning, Picasso said, “I’m as tired as you must be of listening to Sabartes grumbling about finding you here mornings. Since he’s never here after lunch, why don’t you come see me afternoons from now on?” I said I’d like that, but not to count on me for the forest right now. Since it was February, I had an idea I’d find it rather cold up there under the eaves.
“I agree,” he said. “Besides, I’ve got a better idea for February. Since nobody is allowed in here afternoons and I don’t even answer the telephone if it rings, we’ll be completely undisturbed, and I’ll give you lessons in engraving. Would you like that?” I told him I believed I would.
BEFORE my first afternoon visit to the Rue des Grands-Augustins, I telephoned to Picasso in the morning to make an appointment. I arrived on time, wearing a black velvet dress with a high white lace collar, my dark-red hair done up in a coiffure I had taken from a painting of the Infanta by Velasquez. Picasso let me in. His mouth dropped open. “Is that the kind of costume you put on to learn engraving?” he finally asked.
Certainly not, I told him. But since I was sure he hadn’t the slightest intention of teaching me engraving, I had put on the costume that seemed most appropriate to the real circumstances. In other words, I was simply trying to look beautiful, I said.
He threw up his hands. “Good God! What a nerve! You do everything you can to make things difficult for me. Couldn’t you at least pretend to be taken in, the way women generally do? If you don’t fall in with my subterfuges, how are we ever going to get together?” He stopped. He seemed to be reconsidering his criticism. Then he said, more slowly, “You’re right, really. It’s better that way, with the eyes open. But you realize, don’t you, that if you don’t want anything but the truth — no subterfuges — you’re asking to be spared nothing. Broad daylight is pretty harsh.” He paused, as though he felt unsure. “Well,” he said, “we’ve got plenty of time. We’ll see.”
I followed him into the long room where Sabartés worked mornings. The room was empty now, except for its usual clutter. Picasso left the room and came back in a few minutes with a large album. He pushed aside some of the piles of papers and books on the long table in the center of the room and set it down. He untied the cover and folded it back. Inside was a thick pile of prints.
“You see, we’re going to get around to the subject of engraving, after all.” he said. “This is a series of etchings, a hundred of them, that I made for Vollard in the 1930s.”
On top of the pile were three etched portrait heads, two of them with aquatint, of the picture dealer Ambroise Vollard. Picasso laughed. “The most beautiful woman who ever lived never had her portrait painted, drawn, or engraved any oftener than Vollard — by Cezanne, Renoir, Rouault, Bonnard, Forain; almost everybody, in fact. I think they all did him through a sense of competition, each one wanting to do him better than the others. He had the vanity of a woman, that man. Renoir did him as a toreador, stealing my stuff, really. But my Cubist portrait of him is the best one of them all.”
He turned to a print that showed a fair-haired seated nude wearing a flower-covered picture hat. Opposite her was a standing nude with dark hair and eyes, partly draped. He pointed to the one who was standing. “ There you are. That’s you. You see it, don’t you? You know, I’ve always been haunted by a certain few faces, and yours is one of them.” He turned to another print that showed another partially draped nude standing beside a curious-looking male figure who held her by the hand — a painter, apparently, because he seemed to be holding in his other hand a palette and brushes. He was a very hairy fellow, wearing a ruff and a crumpled hat. “You see this truculent character here, with the curly hair and mustache? That’s Rembrandt,” Picasso said. “Or maybe it’s Balzac, I’m not sure. It’s a compromise, I suppose. It doesn’t really matter. They’re only two of the people that haunt me. Every human being is a whole colony, you know.”
He turned over several more of the prints. They were filled with bearded and clean-shaven men, with minotaurs, centaurs, faunlike figures, and all kinds of women. Everyone was nude or nearly so, and they seemed to be playing out some kind of drama from Greek mythology.
He turned to another plate that showed a minotaur down on his knees, a male gladiator giving him the coup de grace with a dagger. A crowd of faces, mostly women’s, peered down on them from behind a barrier. “We’re taught that Theseus came and killed the minotaur, but he was only one of many. It happened every Sunday: a young Attic Greek came over from the mainland, and when he killed the minotaur, he made all the women happy, especially the old ones. A minotaur keeps his women lavishly, but he reigns by terror, and they’re glad to see him killed.”
Picasso was speaking very quietly now. “A minotaur can’t be loved for himself,” he said. “At least he doesn’t think he can. It just doesn’t seem reasonable to him, somehow. Perhaps that’s why he goes in for orgies.” He turned to another print, a minotaur watching over a sleeping woman. “He’s studying her, trying to read her thoughts,” he said, “trying to decide whether she loves him because he’s a monster.”He looked up at me. “Women are odd enough for that, you know.” He looked down at the etching again. “It’s hard to say whether he wants to wake her or kill her,” he said.
He turned to another plate. “The painters are a little out of contact with reality. Look at this one: someone brings him a girl and what does he draw? A line. He’s a nonfigurative. But at least the painters live a more orderly life than the sculptors. You’ll notice that wherever there are orgies, there are beards. That’s the sculptors: warm flesh in one hand, cool champagne in the other. No doubt about it, the sculptors are very much in contact with reality.”
He turned over several more prints. He came to a fair-haired nude in the arms of a sculptor. On a plinth beside them was a female head in profile that resembled several pieces of his that I had seen in his sculpture studio. “The sculptor’s a little mixed up, too, you see,” he said. “He’s not sure of which way he wants to work. Of course, if you note all the different shapes, sizes, and colors of models he works from, you can understand his confusion. He doesn’t know what he wants. No wonder his style is so ambiguous. It’s like God’s. God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant, and the cat. He has no real style. He just keeps on trying other things. The same with this sculptor. First he works from nature, then he tries abstraction. Finally he winds up lying around caressing his models.”
He turned to the next sheet. A sculptor worked at a portrait head, looking very pleased with himself. Rays emanated from the head. “While he’s working on it, he’s sure it’s pure genius, you see.” He turned to another. The sculptor sat before his work, the model standing between him and the sculpture. “She’s telling him, ‘I never looked like that.’ ” He took another look at the sheet, then looked at me. “But of course, that’s you again, that model. If I had to do your eyes right now, I’d do them just that way.”
The next print showed a darkly bearded Rembrandt-like figure facing a young painter wearing a Phrygian cap. Picasso sighed. “Every painter takes himself for Rembrandt,” he said. “Even this one, and you can tell from his cap he flourished at least three thousand years before Rembrandt came along. Everybody has the same delusions.”
In the next plate a nude model was bending over a reclining sculptor. The weight and curve of her body were defined in a few slender lines. “He’s got a very serene look on his face, hasn’t he?” Picasso said. “When he succeeds in doing something with one pure line, he’s sure then that he’s found something. If sculpture is well done — if the forms are perfect and the volumes full — and you pour water from a pitcher held over the head, after it’s run down, the whole sculpture ought to be wet.”
He turned to another print. A partially draped model stood beside another one seated in front of a painting that looked like a bouquet of flowers in ebullition. “The one sitting down looks like a model of Matisse’s who had decided to try another painter, and now that she’s seen the results, she’s wishing she’d stayed home — it’s all too confusing. The other one’s telling her, ‘He’s a genius. Do you have to understand what it’s all about?’ ”
He looked over at me. “What is it all about, anyway? Do you know?” I told him I wasn’t altogether certain, but I had the beginnings of an idea.
“In that case you’ve seen enough, then. Enough for today.” He closed the album. “Let’s go upstairs,”he said. “I’d like to get an idea about something, too.”
WE CLIMBED the winding stairs to the floor above. Picasso linked his arm through mine and guided me into the bedroom. In the middle of the room he stopped and turned to me. “I told you I wanted to get an idea about something,” he said. “What I really want is to see if the idea I already have is right.” I asked him what that idea was.
“I want to see if your body corresponds to the mental image I have of it. Also, I want to see how it relates to your head.” I stood there and he undressed me. When he had finished, he put my clothes on a chair, stood back near the bed, nine or ten feet from me, and began to study me. After a while he said, “You know, it’s incredible the degree to which I had prefigured your form.”
I must have seemed a little unsure of myself standing there in the middle of the room. He sat down on the bed and told me to come to him. I walked over to him, and he pulled me down onto his knees. I think he saw that I was embarrassed and that I would certainly have done whatever he asked me to, not because I really wanted to, but because I had made up my mind to. He must have sensed that and realized I was still, in a measure, undecided and had no real desire, because he began to reassure me. He told me that what he wanted was to have me there beside him, but that he didn’t feel the consummation of our relationship was irrevocably fixed, like the striking of a clock, to take place at a predetermined moment. He said that whatever there was between us, or whatever was to be, was surely a wonderful thing, and that we must both feel completely free, that whatever was to happen should happen only because we both wanted it.
I had said I would come to see him, and I knew what that would lead to. I was willing to accept the consequences, but I really didn’t want to. Whatever I might have done, I would have done to please him, but not wholeheartedly. He understood the difference. From the moment he undressed me and studied me as I stood there in the middle of the room, my whole point of view had begun to change, because his doing that had produced a kind of shock. I suddenly felt that I could trust him completely, and that I was beginning to live the beginning of my life.
He stretched me out on the bed and lay down beside me. He looked at me minutely, more tenderly, moving his hand lightly over my body like a sculptor working over his sculpture to assure himself that the forms were as they should be. He was very gentle, and that is the impression that remains with me to this day — his extraordinary gentleness.
He told me that from then on, everything I did and everything he did would be of the utmost importance: any word spoken, the slightest gesture, would take on meaning, and everything that happened between us would change us continually. “For that reason,” he said, “I wish I were able to suspend lime at this moment and keep things exactly at this point, because I feel that this instant is a true beginning. We have a definite but unknown quantity of experience at our disposal. As soon as the hourglass is turned, the sand will begin to run out, and once it starts, it can’t stop until it’s all gone. That’s why I wish I could hold it back at the start. We should make a minimum of gestures, pronounce a minimum of words, even see each other as seldom as possible, if that would prolong things. We don’t know how much of everything we have ahead of us, so we have to take the greatest precautions not to destroy the beauty of what we have. Everything exists in limited quantity — especially happiness. If a love is to come into being, it is all written down somewhere, and also its duration and content. If you could arrive at a complete intensity the first day, it would be ended the first day. And so if it’s something you want so much that you’d like to have it prolonged in time, you must be extremely careful not to make the slightest excessive demand that might prevent it from developing to the greatest extent over the longest period.”
I lay there in his arms as he explained his point of view, completely happy without feeling the necessity of anything beyond just being together. Finally he finished talking. We continued to lie there, without saying a word, and I felt that it was the beginning of something very marvelous, in the true, root sense of the word. I knew he wasn’t pretending. He didn’t say he loved me. You can’t tell a person you love him so soon. He said it, and showed it, but weeks later. If he had taken possession of me then by the power of his body or unleashed a torrent of sentiment in declaring his love, I wouldn’t have believed in either one. But as it was, I believed in him completely.
Until then he had been, for me, the great painter that everyone knew about and admired, a very intelligent, witty man but, in a sense, impersonal. From then on he became a person. Until then he had aroused my interest and engaged my mind. Now my emotions and affections were involved. I hadn’t thought before then that it would ever be a question of my loving him. Now I knew it could be no other way. He was obviously someone who was capable of sidestepping all stereotyped formulas, in his human relations just as completely as in his art. One recognizes the stereotypes even if one hasn’t experienced them all. He took command of the situation by stopping the intellectual game, sidestepping the erotic one, and putting our relationship on the basis it needed to be on in order to be significant for him and — as I even now realized — for me as well.
Finally I knew it was time to go and I told him. He said, “We mustn’t see each other too often. If the wings of the butterfly are to keep their sheen, you mustn’t touch them. We mustn’t abuse something which is to bring light into both our lives. Everything else in my life only weighs me down and shuts out the light. This thing with you seems to me like a window that is opening up. I want it to remain open. We must see each other but not too often. When you want to see me, you call me and tell me so.”
When I left there that day, I knew that whatever came to pass — however wonderful or painful it might be, or both of them mixed together — it would be tremendously important, not a superficial thing or a game on one side or the other. For six months we had been walking all around each other in an ironic sort of way, and now, in the space of an hour, in our first real face-to-face meeting, the irony had been taken out of it, and it had become very serious, a kind of revelation.
It was a cold, gray February day, but my recollection of it is filled with midsummer sunlight.
BEGINNING in 1945 there were several periods when I completely stopped seeing Pablo — for a week, two weeks, or as much as two months. In spite of my feeling for him and his desire to have me with him, I had learned fairly early that there was a real conflict between our temperaments. For one thing, he was very moody: one day brilliant sunshine, the next day thunder and lightning.
In his conversations with me he gave me plenty of rein, encouraged me to speak about everything that went through my head. He stimulated me enormously. At the same time I sensed that the interest he had in me was something that didn’t suit him completely. I realized very well that although I amused him and interested him, the deeper feelings that came into play troubled him, at least periodically, and that he was saying to himself at such times, “I mustn’t get too involved with her.” There was the attraction, and then, to counterbalance it, the disturbance this attraction stirred up.
In our lovemaking, whenever he let himself go too far and became especially tender and childlike, the next time we were together he would invariably be hard and brutal. Obviously Pablo felt he could permit himself everything with everyone, and I have always been someone who accepts “everything” with great difficulty.
From time to time he said to me, “You mustn’t think that I would ever get permanently attached to you.”
That bothered me a little because at the start I hadn’t expected that he would. I felt that since I wasn’t asking for anything in particular, he had no reason to defend himself against me. I didn’t want him to burden himself with me. He was the one, I realized, who wanted that. I suppose that was why periodically he told me that he didn’t. He wasn’t struggling against me but against the effect I was making on him. But since he was struggling with the effect, he found it necessary to struggle with me too.
After a while when he said such things as “Don’t think you mean anything to me; I like my independence,” I learned to say, “I do, too,” and then stay away for a week or two. He would be all smiles when I returned.
One afternoon he said, “I don’t know why I told you to come. It would be more fun to go to a brothel.” I asked him why he didn’t, in that case.
“That’s just it,” he burst out. “On account of you I don’t even have any desire to go. You’re spoiling my life.”
Of course I knew he wasn’t all that fond of “public” girls. I think he wanted to sound very rakish, to give himself a romantic halo. One day he told me he had picked up a girl on the Boulevard des Capucines. “I took her into a bar,” he said, “and told her about all the trouble I have on account of women. She was very nice to me, and she told me I have too strong a sense of duty. She’s a realist, you see. She understood. That’s probably the only kind of woman I could get comfort from.”I told him to go right ahead. I understood.
“But it doesn’t amuse me,” he said. “It bores me.” Having admitted that much, he then went on the defensive by tossing off one of his favorite quips, “There’s nothing so similar to one poodle dog as another poodle dog, and that goes for women, too.” He was rather fond, also, of saying, “For me, there are only two kinds of women — goddesses and doormats.” And whenever he thought I might be feeling too much like a goddess, he did his best to turn me into a doormat. One day when I went to see him, we were looking at the dust dancing in a ray of sunlight that slanted in through one of the high windows. He said to me, “Nobody has any real importance for me. As far as I’m concerned, other people are like those little grains of dust floating in the sunlight. It takes only a push of the broom and out they go.”
I told him I had often noticed in his dealings with others that he considered the rest of the world only little grains of dust. But, I said, as it happened, I was a little grain of dust who was gifted with autonomous movement and who didn’t, therefore, need any broom. I could go out by myself. And I did. I didn’t return for three months. It wasn’t that I didn’t admire his greatness; it was, rather, that I didn’t enjoy seeing it cheapened by a kind of imperialism which, in my opinion, was incompatible with true greatness. I could admire him tremendously as an artist, but that didn’t mean I wanted to become his victim or a martyr. The examples of those who had were all around us.
IN FEBRUARY, 1946, although the war had been over for a year and a half, electricity was still being rationed. Late one afternoon, while the current was off, I fell on the stairway of my grandmother’s house and broke my arm. They had to operate on my elbow, and I spent ten days in the hospital. One afternoon while I was there, a delivery boy came with an enormous package: a giant azalea with bright red flowers, covered with little bows of pink and blue ribbon. It was truly hideous; enough to set your teeth on edge. At the same time it struck me so funny I couldn’t help laughing. In it was a note from Pablo saying that he had been driving along in his car and seen this plant in a shop window. It had seemed to him in such bad taste that he had found it irresistible. He hoped I would appreciate his intention at its true value. I think the prettiest bouquet in the world couldn’t have had the effect of that absurd assemblage of colors. I understood very well in what frame of mind he sent it. One bouquet more or less, what difference did that make? But this monstrous thing was something one couldn’t forget.
When I came out of the hospital, I decided to go down to the Midi with my grandmother. Pablo gave me the address of his old friend Louis Fort, who lived at Golfe-Juan and who still had his handpresses and copperplates and everything necessary to make etchings. Since I had to go for a rest anyway, he said, I might as well go there and perhaps learn something, too. I left my grandmother in Antibes, where she had been in the habit of going, and then went over to Golfe-Juan to stay at Monsieur Fort’s.
Pablo had rented the two upper floors of Monsieur Fort’s house for me, and I had arranged for Genevieve to come over from Montpellier and stay with me. Monsieur Fort was a very thin man, over eighty at the time, with a red face, white hair, blue eyes, and a very long nose. He wore a beret basque and leaned into the wind, whether he stood or walked. After years of bending over his copperplates he could no longer stand up straight.
By trade he was an artisan-engraver, and he had printed the illustrations for many of Ambroise Vollard’s editions, including Pablo’s famous series of etchings and drypoints, Les Saltimbanques. He taught me the rudiments of the techniques of engraving and etching. I learned how to use varnish, how to do soft-ground etching, how you bite into the copperplate with acid, and all about the various tools — the etching needle, the scraper, the burnisher. At the end of a week, I found it all so interesting that I wrote to Pablo, since he had said he might come to see me for a while, and told him I was working very well and that there was no point in his taking the trouble to come down. I was astonished, two days later, to see Pablo and Marcel, the chauffeur, drive up. I asked him why he had come, since I was getting along fine by myself.
“Exactly,” he said. “I don’t know what you think you are, but how could you write me that you’re happy without me?" That, of course, wasn’t what I had meant. He said, “I had an idea that since you didn’t want to see me, I’d better get here as quickly as I could.”The next day he was already in a bad mood just because he was there.
Genevieve had arrived from Montpellier only the day before, a week late. Pablo’s first act was to pack her off to stay at the little hotel-restaurant, Chez Marcel, down the street. I tried to protest, but he didn’t want any company, not even a pretty girl like Genevieve. From the start it was apparent that they couldn’t get along. Pablo’s ribbing, which he spared no one. didn’t go down with Genevieve. She had been rather strictly brought up, had a somewhat limited sense of humor, and I think Pablo found her a bit stiff-necked.
AFTER Genevieve had left, Pablo became relatively agreeable. A day or two later he said. “Since we’re down here, let’s go see Matisse, You put on your mauve blouse and those willow-green slacks; they’re two colors Matisse likes very much.”
At that time Matisse was living in a house he had rented, before the end of the occupation, in Vence, close to where his chapel is now. When we got there, he was in bed. since he could get up for only an hour or two a day as a result of his operation. He looked very benevolent, almost like a Buddha. He was cutting out forms, with a large pair of scissors, from very handsome papers that had been painted with gouache according to his directions. “I call this drawing with scissors,” he said. He told us that often he worked by having paper attached to the ceiling and drawing on it, as he lay in bed, with charcoal tied to the end of a bamboo stick. When he had finished his cutouts, Lydia, his secretary, attached them to the wall on a background paper on which Matisse had drawn, with his bamboo and charcoal, marks indicating where they should be pasted down. First she pinned the papers in place, and then changed them around until he had settled on their exact position and the relationship they should have to one another.
That day we saw several of a series of paintings he had been working on; among them, there were variations on two women in an interior. One was a nude, rather naturalistic and painted in blue. It didn’t seem entirely in balance. Pablo said to Matisse. “It seems to me that in a composition like that the color can’t be blue because the color that kind of drawing suggests is pink. In a more transposed drawing, perhaps, the local color of the nude could be blue, but here the drawing is still that of a pink nude.”Matisse thought that was quite true and said he would change it. Then he turned to me and said, laughing, “Well, in any case, if I made a portrait of Françoise, I would make her hair green.”
Pablo said, “But why would you make a portrait of her?”
“Because she has a head that interests me,” Matisse said, “with her eyebrows sticking up like circumflex accents.”
“You’re not fooling me,” Pablo said. “If you made her hair green, you’d make it that way to go with the Oriental carpet in the painting.”
“And you’d make the body blue to go with the red-tile kitchen floor,” Matisse answered.
Up to that time Pablo had painted only two small gray-and-white portraits of me, but when we got back into the car, all of a sudden a proprietary instinct took possession of him.
“Really, that’s going pretty far,” he said. “Do I make portraits of Lydia?" I said I didn’t see any connection between the two things. “Well, in any case,” he said, “now I know how I should make your portrait.”
A few days after our visit to Matisse, I told Pablo I was ready to go back to Paris.
“When we return I want you to come live with me,” he said bluntly. He had skirted that idea before, mostly in a semi-serious vein, but I had turned his suggestion aside each time. My grandmother was giving me whatever liberty I needed. Furthermore, I found the idea of abandoning her unpleasant, since in what was a very difficult period for me she had not abandoned me. I told Pablo that even if I wanted to, it would be impossible for me to make her understand such a move.
“That’s true,” he said, “so you just come, without giving her any warning. Your grandmother needs you less than I do.” I told him I was very attached to him, but I wasn’t ready for such a step.
“It may cost a terrible price to act in this way,” he said, “but there are moments in life when we don’t have a choice. If there is one necessity which for you dominates all others, then necessarily you must act badly in some respect. We are always in the midst of a mixture of good and evil, right and wrong, and the elements of any situation are always hopelessly tangled. One person’s good is antagonistic to another’s. To choose one person is always, in a measure, to kill someone else. And so one has to have the courage of the surgeon or the murderer, if you will, and to accept the share of guilt which that gives, and to attempt, later on, to be as decent about it as possible. In certain situations one can’t be an angel.”
I told him that a primitive person could face up to that idea much more easily than someone who thought in terms of principles of good and evil and who tried to act on the basis of them.
“Never mind your theories,” he said. “You must realize that there is a price on everything in life. Anything of great value—creation, a new idea — carries its shadow zone with it. You have to accept it that way. Otherwise there is only the stagnation of inaction. But every action has an implicit share of negativity. There is no escaping it. Every positive value has its price in negative terms, and you never see anything very great which is not at the same time horrible in some respect. The genius of Einstein led to Hiroshima.”
I told him I had often thought he was the devil, and now I knew it. His eyes narrowed.
“And you — you’re an angel,” he said scornfully, “but an angel from the hot place. Since I’m the devil, that makes you one of my subjects.”
He took the cigarette he was smoking and touched it to my right cheek and held it there. He must have expected me to pull away, but I was determined not to give him the satisfaction. After what seemed a long time, he took it away. “No,” he said, “that’s not a very good idea. After all, I may still want to look at you.”
We started back to Paris the next day. Pablo never liked to ride in the back seat, so we sat in front with the chauffeur. Pablo sat in the middle. Marcel entered freely into the conversation. From time to time Pablo would begin again to argue with me about coming to live with him. Marcel would look over and smile, occasionally putting in something such as, “I think she’s right there. Let her go home now. Give her some time to think it over.” And Pablo always listened to Marcel. So when we reached Paris, I went back to my grandmother’s house with no further comments from Pablo. But from that moment on, since he had launched in earnest the idea that I must come live with him, he worked every day toward moving me in that direction.
I WAS bothered by a number of things, but my feeling for Pablo had deepened to the point where it was stronger than any of the warning signals. It is difficult to explain on any logical basis why this should have been true, but perhaps I can make it at least a little clearer by dropping back, briefly, a dozen or so years to my childhood.
My father had four sisters, and his mother had been widowed when he was fifteen. He must have had his fill of women. When he married, my mother bore him only one child. He often reproached me for not being a boy. I was dressed in a boyish fashion, with short hair, at a time when that wasn’t done in our milieu. He supervised my studies and insisted that I be active in athletics. I had to pass tests as well as any boy and run and jump as well as any boy. He saw to it that I did.
In the summer he used to take me sailing. He taught me to love the sea. Once the shoreline had disappeared and we were all alone on a sailboat with only the sky to witness, then and only then could my father and I manage to get along. He was a very solitary man, and the Brittany coastline, which was wild and rugged, suited him to a T. As a result I grew up liking solitude and wild places. Whenever we were in that kind of place, he smiled frequently, which he never did at home, and he talked easily about everything with me. But as soon as we were back in Paris, we clashed constantly.
In winter my father used to take me hunting to La Briere, a marshy country at the mouth of the Loire, just below Brittany. There are almost no trees there, and the landscape is made up of small islands and peninsulas. Everything, even the water and the reeds, is in pearly tones of greenish-gray. We would go far out into the marshes in a flatbottomed boat. There were hundreds of birds of all kinds — wild ducks, teal, curlews, wild geese, cranes, and herons — that came in from the sea in the evening to sleep on those ponds. I used to get up at five o’clock to see the dawn and watch the birds fly back to the sea against that cold, sad landscape. I think I gained from that experience a vision that served as the basis of my painting: subtle mutations of shifting light against those pale gray-green stretches.
When I was very young I was afraid of everything, particularly of the sight of blood. If I had a cut that bled freely, I would faint. I remember, also, being afraid of the dark and of high places. My father reacted against that in vigorous fashion. He used to make me climb up onto high rocks and then jump down. It was frightening enough to have to climb up, but jumping down was a nightmare. At first I howled, but if my father had made up his mind that I was to do something, I could protest for hours, but in the end I had to do it. And as soon as I had accomplished one thing, he forced me to do something else even harder. I felt powerless in the face of his will. The only possible reaction to that was anger. And the anger grew to such proportions there was no room left for fear. But since I couldn’t show my anger, I began to nourish an inner resentment.
He wanted me to learn to swim, but I was afraid of the water. He forced me to learn, and once I had learned, he made me swim faster and faster and always for greater distances than the week before. By the time I was eight, I was afraid of nothing; in fact, my nature had changed to the point that I sought out difficulty and danger. I had become another person, really. He had made me fearless and stoical, but in the end it boomeranged against him. If there was something I wanted to do that I knew he would disapprove of, I would figure out in advance what his reaction would be, the kind of punishment he would mete out, and thus prepare myself for it. I would do it, but, prepared as I was, my father’s reaction didn’t bother me at all, and even the punishment seemed less unpleasant.
Later on, that psychology worked against me, too. As I was growing up, whenever anything frightened me in any degree, it fascinated me at the same time. I felt the need of going too far simply to prove to myself that I was capable of it. And when I met Pablo, I knew that here was something larger than life, something to match myself against, and even if the prospect sometimes seemed overpowering, fear itself can be a delicious sensation. And so l had the feeling that even though the struggle between us was so disproportionate that I ran the risk of a resounding failure, it was a challenge I could not turn down.
There was another reason, more specific and immediate: I knew by now that although Pablo had been receiving the world’s adulation for at least thirty years before I met him, he was the most solitary of men within that inner world that shut him off from the army of admirers and sycophants that surrounded him.
“Of course, people like me; they even love me,” he complained one afternoon when I was trying to break the spell of pessimism I found engulfing him when I arrived. “But in the same way they like chicken. Because I nourish them. But who nourishes me?” I never told him so, but I thought that I could. I knew I couldn’t carry the full burden of that solitude, which at times seemed crushing to him, but I felt I could lighten it through my presence.
The thing that troubled me most was the thought of leaving my grandmother, of breaking the confidence she had in me. I couldn’t explain to her what Pablo wanted me to do because she would have said to me, “Don’t do anything as foolish as that. Do what you want to as long as you don’t leave. Don’t go live completely with that man; it would certainly be a mistake.”
Whether she sensed the dilemma that was troubling me, I don’t know, but just a little while earlier she had said to me, “Love flows naturally from one generation on down to the next. You are doing just the reverse. You’re trying to swim upstream against the current. What is there about the natural flow of the river of life that has shocked you so strongly that you should want to swim against the current, even against time? You ought to know you’re lost even before you begin. I don’t understand you, but I love you and I suppose you are obeying the law of your being.”
I don’t believe I could have made her understand that the question of age was the least of my concerns. Pablo not only didn’t seem old to me; in some ways he seemed more youthful — mature but vigorous — than friends my own age. But most of all, the fact that from the moment I knew him I had seen that we spoke the same language made the matter of age seem irrelevant. And so, knowing very well she would object and that I could not change her feelings, the day I made up my mind to leave I had to leave like a thief in the night, just going away, not coming back, and sending her a note the next day. That, I must say, is one of my most painful memories.
It happened this way: Early one evening toward the end of May, 1946, as I was getting ready to leave the Rue des Grands-Augustins to return to my grandmother’s house, Pablo began again, as he did almost every day at that period, to urge me to break the last tie and stay with him. He argued that if two people don’t live together, there comes a time when they begin to drift apart. He said we had gone as far as we could go in our relationship living separately, and that if we didn’t change that, everything would fall apart. “Given your age, you’ll be picked off sooner or later by someone else, and I don’t look forward to that with much pleasure. And in view of my age, you have to realize that in a moment of discouragement I’d be bound, one day, to tell myself I’d be better off to make some other arrangement. So if I mean anything to you, you’ve got to make up your mind to come live with me, in spite of the difficulties that may seem to present. Whatever they are, they are certainly less than the problems of living apart.”
I answered, perhaps a shade too flippantly, that I thought it was just the other way around, and that if I yielded, only bad would come of it. Pablo flew into a rage. He was wearing a wide leather belt, which he pulled out of his trousers and held up as though he were going to whip me. I began to laugh. He grew angrier and shouted, “Don’t I count in your life? Is this all a game with you? Are you so insensitive as that?” The more he stormed, the harder I laughed. He looked disgusted. “Who ever heard of anyone laughing under such conditions,” he said. “It’s fine to have a sense of humor, but I think you overdo it.”Suddenly he looked very depleted and dejected. “You’re worried all the time about your grandmother,” he said. “I’m almost as old as she is. You should be worrying about me. I need you, and I’m tired of getting along without you.” And then he added, a little more fiercely, “And since I can’t get along without you, you have to come live with me.”
I told him I found his reasoning so childish and his violence so pathetic, I could only assume that he must love me very much, to show off, in both respects, to such disadvantage. I said that if he loved me that much, I would come live with him. I could see it bothered him to have me put it on that basis, but he was in no mood to argue himself out of what must have seemed a sudden and unexpected victory. All he said was, “Just watch out that you don’t forget what I said about your sense of humor.”
So I stayed there without saying good-bye or offering any explanation to anyone, with just an old skirt and a sweater that I was wearing that day. The next morning I wrote a letter to my grandmother and another one to my mother to explain to them, without saying exactly where I was or what I was doing, that I had decided to go away, to live in another manner, and that they would hear from me afterward and not to worry. Pablo dictated the letters for me. I was incapable at the moment of writing anything of that kind on my own.
DURING the first month after I went to live with Pablo, I never left the house. Most of that time I spent in the studio watching him draw and paint.
“I almost never work from a model, but since you’re here, maybe I ought to try,” he said to me one day. He posed me on a low taboret, then sat down on a long green wooden bench, the kind one sees in all the Paris parks. He picked up a large sketching pad and made three drawings of my head. When he had finished, he studied the results, then frowned. “No good,” he said. “It just doesn’t work.” He tore up the drawings.
The next day he said, “You’d be better posing for me nude.” When I had taken off my clothes, he had me stand back to the entrance, very erect, with my arms at my side. Except for the shaft of daylight coming in through the high windows at my right, the whole place was bathed in a dim, uniform light that was on the edge of shadow. Pablo stood off, three or four yards from me, looking tense and remote. His eyes didn’t leave me for a second. He didn’t touch his drawing pad; he wasn’t even holding a pencil. It seemed a very long time.
Finally he said, “I see what I need to do. You can dress now. You won’t have to pose again.” When I went to get my clothes I saw that I had been standing there just over an hour.
The following day Pablo began, from memory, a series of drawings of me in that pose. He made also a series of eleven lithographs of my head, and on each one he placed a tiny mole under my left eye and drew my right eyebrow in the form of a circumflex accent.
That same day he began to paint the portrait of me that has come to be called La Femme-Fleur. Over the next month, I watched him paint, alternating between that portrait and several still lifes. He used no palette. At his right was a small table covered with newspapers and some large cans filled with brushes standing in turpentine. Every time he took a brush, he wiped it off on the newspapers, which were a jungle of colored smudges and slashes. Whenever he wanted pure color, he squeezed some from a tube onto the newspaper. From time to time he would mix small quantities of color on the paper. He stood before the canvas for three or four hours at a stretch. He made almost no superfluous gestures. I asked him if it didn’t tire him to stand so long in one spot. He shook his head.
“No,” he said. “That’s why painters live so long. While I work I leave my body outside the door, the way Muslims take off their shoes before entering the mosque.”
Occasionally he walked to the other end of the atelier and sat in a wicker chair with a high Gothic back that appears in many of his paintings. He would cross his legs, plant one elbow on his knee, and, resting his chin on his fist, the other hand behind, would stay there studying the painting without speaking for as long as an hour. After that he would generally go back to work on the portrait. Sometimes he would say, “I can’t carry that plastic idea any further today,” and then begin work on another painting. He always had several half-dry unfinished canvases to choose from. He worked like that from two in the afternoon until eleven in the evening before stopping to eat.
There was total silence in the atelier, broken only by Pablo’s monologues or an occasional conversation; never an interruption from the world outside. When daylight began to fade from the canvas, he switched on two spotlights, and everything but the picture surface fell away into the shadows.
“There must be darkness everywhere except on the canvas so that the painter becomes hypnotized by his own work and paints almost as though he were in a trance,” he said. “He must stay as close as possible to his own inner world if he wants to transcend the limitations his reason is always trying to impose on him.”
Originally, La Femme-Fleur was a fairly realistic portrait of a seated woman. You can still see the underpainting of that form beneath the final version. I was sitting on a long, curved African taboret shaped something like a conch shell, and Pablo painted me there in a generally realistic manner. After working awhile he said, “No, it’s just not your style. A realistic portrait wouldn’t represent you at all.” Then he tried to do the taboret in another rhythm, since it was curved, but that didn’t work out either. “I don’t see you seated,” he said. “You’re not at all the passive type. I only see you standing,” and he began to simplify my figure by making it longer. Suddenly he remembered that Matisse had spoken of doing my portrait with green hair, and he fell in with the suggestion. “Matisse isn’t the only one who can paint you with green hair,” he said. From that point the hair developed into a leaf form, and once he had done that, the portrait resolved itself in a symbolic floral pattern. He worked in the breasts with the same curving rhythm.
The face had remained quite realistic all during these phases. It seemed out of character with the rest. He studied it for a moment. “I have to bring in that face on the basis of another idea,” he said, “not by continuing the lines of the forms that are already there and the space around them. Even though you have a fairly long oval face, what I need in order to show its light and its expression is to make it a wide oval. I’ll compensate for the length by making it a cold color — blue. It will be like a little blue moon.”
He painted a sheet of paper sky-blue and began to cut out oval shapes corresponding in varying degrees to this concept of my head: first, two that were perfectly round; then, three or four more based on his idea of doing it in width. When he had finished cutting them out, he drew in on each of them little signs for the eyes, nose, and mouth. Then he pinned them onto the canvas, one after another, moving each one a little to the left or right, up or down, as it suited him. None seemed really appropriate until he reached the last one. Having tried all the others in various spots, he knew where he wanted it, and when he applied it to the canvas, the form seemed exactly right in just the spot he put it on. It was completely convincing. He stuck it to the damp canvas, stood aside, and said, “Now, it’s your portrait.”
He marked the contour lightly in charcoal, took off the paper, then painted in, slowly and carefully, exactly what was drawn on the paper. When that was finished, he didn’t touch the head again. From there he was carried along by the mood of the situation to feel that the torso itself could be much smaller than he had first made it. He covered the original torso by a second one, narrow and stemlike, as a kind of imaginative fantasy that would lead one to believe that this woman might be ever so much smaller than most.
He painted my right hand holding a circular form cut by a horizontal line. He pointed to it and said, “That hand holds the earth, half land, half water, in the tradition of classical paintings in which the subject is holding or handling a globe. I put that in to rhyme with the two circles of the breasts. Of course, the breasts are not symmetrical; nothing ever is. Every woman has two arms, two legs, two breasts, which may be more or less symmetrical, but in painting they shouldn’t be shown to have any similarity. In a naturalistic painting, it’s the gesture that one arm or the other makes that differentiates them. They’re drawn according to what they’re doing. I individualize them by the different forms I give them, so that there often seems to be no relationship between them. From these differing forms one can infer that there is a gesture. But it isn’t the gesture that determines the form. The form exists in its own right. Here I’ve made a circle for the end of the right arm, because the left arm ends in a triangle and a right arm is completely different from a left arm, just as a circle is different from a triangle. And the circle in the right hand rhymes with the circular form of the breast. In real life one arm bears more relation to the other arm than it does to a breast, but that has nothing to do with painting.”
Originally the left arm was much larger and had more of a leaf shape, but Pablo found it too heavy and decided that it couldn’t stay that way. The right arm first came out of the hair, as though it were falling. After studying it for a while, he said, “A falling form is never beautiful. Besides, it isn’t in harmony with the rhythm of your nature. I need to find something that stays up in the air. Then he drew the arm extended from the center of the body stem, ending in a circle. As he did it, he said, halffacetiously, lest I take him too seriously, “You see now, woman holds the whole world — heaven and earth — in her hand.” I noticed often at that period that his pictorial decisions were made half for plastic reasons, half for symbolic ones. Or sometimes for plastic reasons that stemmed from symbolic ones, rather hidden, but accessible once you understood his humor.
In the beginning the hair was divided in a more evenly balanced way, with a large bun hanging down on the right side. He removed that because he found it too symmetrical. “I want an equilibrium you can grab for and catch hold of, not one that sits there, ready-made, waiting for you. Just the way a juggler reaches out for a ball,” he said. “I like nature, but I want her proportions to be supple and free, not fixed.”
When Pablo had finished the portrait he seemed very satisfied. “We’re all animals, more or less,”he said, “and about three quarters of the human race look like animals. But you don’t. You’re like a growing plant, and I’d been wondering how I could get across the idea that you belong to the vegetable kingdom rather than the animal. I’ve never felt impelled to portray anyone else this way. It’s strange, isn’t it? I think it’s just right, though. It represents you.”