Picasso: Creator and Destroyer
Picasso's art enacted the violent passions and twisted energies of the twentieth century. So did his life.
"Picasso Speaks" (July 1957)
The Paris art critic for The Christian Science Monitor recounts a visit with Pablo Picasso at his home. By Carlton Lake
The year 1895, when Pablo Picasso was thirteen, brought his initiation into two mysteries—the mystery of power and the mystery of death. On January 10 his seven-year-old sister, Conchita, died of diptheria. Picasso watched her deteriorate from the smiling little girl with the blonde curls whom he had so tenderly drawn to the ghost of herself that he drew just before death snatched her away. He watched the desperate comings and goings of Dr. Ramon Perez Costales, a friend of his father's. He watched his parents' struggle to save his sister; and he watched bewildered as they celebrated Christmas and Epiphany and gave presents to the children, trying to shield Conchita from any knowledge of approaching death. In his anguish Picasso made a terrible pact with God. He offered to sacrifice his gift to Him and never pick up a brush again if He would save Conchita. And then he was torn between wanting her saved and wanting her dead so that his gift would be saved. When she died, he decided that God was evil and destiny an enemy. At the same time, he was convinced that it was his ambivalence that had made it possible for God to kill Conchita. His guilt was enormous—the other side of his belief in his powers to affect the world around him. And it was compounded by his almost magical conviction that his little sister's death had released him to be a painter and follow the call of the powers he had been given, whatever the consequences.
After Conchita’s death the family moved from Corunna, in the northwest corner of Spain, to Barcelona. During his early days there Picasso did a revealing drawing, Christ Blessing the Devil, which was evidence of the deep conflict raging within him. Christ, with a shining aura around his head, is blessing with his left hand an overwhelmed Devil. At the same time he painted The Holy Family in Egypt and Altar to the Blessed Virgin. In 1896 came an abundance of religious pictures: Christ appearing to a nun, Christ being adorned by the angels, the Annunciation, the Last Supper, the Resurrection.
A year after he drew Christ Blessing the Devil, he gave tender expression to some of the most powerful symbols of religious worship, but he also did a picture of Christ with no face—impersonal, unreal, and with no answers. Catholicism, with its emphasis on ethical rules and the rewards of heaven, held no answers for Picasso, with his growing passion for freedom and this world. He would reject the Church, but he could not stop himself from returning throughout his life to the figure of Christ, as a symbol of his own suffering, in the same way that he would bury his transcendent longings but could not extinguish them.
Talk of nihilism, catalanism, anarchism, and modernism filled the smoky air of Els Quatre Gats, Picasso's main haunt in Barcelona. Els Quatre Gats was from the beginning a huge success, "a Gothic tavern for those in love with the North," where Uerillo staged puppet shows, where Rusinol, Casas, and Nonell, among other painters, showed their work, and where anyone with an apocalyptic gleam in his eye would gravitate to discuss the new ideas. Enthusiasm contended with a sense of futility, and the urge to create with the compulsion to destroy. The anarchist Mikhail Bakunin was one of the imported heroes of Els Quatre Gats: "Let us put our trust in the eternal spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unsearchable and eternally creative source of all life. The urge to destroy is also a creative urge."
Such was the intellectual milk that nourished Picasso in Barcelona at the turn of the century. Uneducated but quick to learn, he devoured ideas and philosophies through his friends who had read and absorbed them. Nietzsche's Will to Power struck an especially powerful chord in Picasso's heart. Power was the only value set up by Nietzsche to take the place of the transcendent values that had lost their meaning for modern man. And Picasso, for whom transcendent values were associated with Spain's repressive Church, found that Nietzsche's philosophy admirably suited his own needs and dreams of power.
Picasso arrived in Paris just a few days before his nineteenth birthday, speaking no French and having no place to stay. At the beginning it did not seem to matter where he lived. Most of his time was spent on the streets, at cafés, in the Louvre, at the Universal Exhibition, at the Grand and Petit Palais, in the odd whorehouse.
In the Summer of 1901 Ambrose Vollard, the dealer of Cezanne and Gauguin, put on a Picasso exhibition. There were prostitutes and society ladies, portraits and landscapes, interiors and street scenes. The exhibition was a success, but even more significant for Picasso's life, it led to his meeting the man who for the next few years would fulfill two of his three most constant and urgent needs. Max Jacob would become his caretaker and his worshipper. As for Picasso's third need, for constantly and effortlessly available sex, he would no doubt have been eager to meet that too, if only Picasso had been willing. Max Jacob went to see the Vollard show and soon after, struck by Picasso's "fire" and "real brilliance," arrived at the boulevard de Clichy, where Picasso was living, to pay his respects to the young master.
Jacob was twenty-five years old when he met Picasso. He had come to Paris from Brittany three years earlier, determined to become an "artist"—a poet and a painter. "Stick to poetry" was Picasso's advice, and to a very large extent Jacob took it. He called Picasso "my little boy" but listened carefully to what the little boy had to say. This short, prematurely balding intellectual, who wore a monocle with the sensuality of a woman wearing a garter belt, had already gained considerable influence in the demimonde of poets and painters which he had made his home. He would launch some and help the careers of others already launched, but none would he love as deeply and as unconditionally as he loved Picasso.
The summer of 1901 was a demonically creative one for Picasso. The art critic Francois Charles cautioned him "for his own good no longer to do a painting a day," but Paris had unleashed a surge of experimentation in him. It was a summer of reveling in the city, of celebrating his freedom from Spanish conventional morality, of flower still-lifes, cancan dancers, the races, pretty children, and fashionable ladies. Yet a noticeable change was beginning to take place in both his mood and his work. "I have tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green," Van Gogh wrote in 1888, and in 1901 Picasso, spurred by his inner turmoil, switched his focus to the solitude and pain of humanity and tried to express them by means of blue. So began the procession of beggars, lonely harlequins, tormented mothers, the sick, the hungry, and the lame. And in their midst was Picasso himself, his own suffering on display in a blue self-portrait.
In January of 1902 he returned for a time to Barcelona, where the sometimes despairing, sometimes bitterly tender expressionism of the Blue Period became still more intense. The destitute women of Paris appeared in their Barcelona incarnation utterly crushed by life and a hostile world. In Two Sisters, his painting of a whore and a nun, Picasso expressed for all time his starkly divided vision of women as madonnas or whores. And in his life, having idealized his mother to the point where he could not even bear to talk to the real, imperfect Dona Maria, he spent his time watching, sleeping with, and painting women who in his mind occupied the space reserved for whores. Two of the smaller nude drawings he would keep for his Private collection. On one of them he had written, "Cuando tengas ganas de joder, jode"—"When you are in the mood to screw, screw." In his struggle to define himself as a man, lust seemed the most appropriate emotion toward women.
In October Picasso returned to Paris. All his hopes were now pinned on a new show organized by Berthe Weill. The other artists in the show were Lauriay, Pichot, and Girieud, and the catalogue praised Picasso's "indefatigable ardor to see and show everything" and the "wild light" that permeated his work. But nothing was sold, and Picasso's mood became even more nihilistic.
His despair was there for all to see in his work. Charles Morice focused on it in an essay he wrote for the Mercure de France while the Weill show was still on.
It is extraordinary, this sterile sadness which weighs down the entire work of this very young man. His works are already numberless. … He seems a young god trying to remake the world. But a dark god. Most of the faces he paints grimace; not a smile. His world is no more habitable than lepers' houses. And his painting itself is sick. Is this frighteningly precocious child not fated to bestow the consecration of a masterpiece on the negative sense of living, the illness from which he more than anyone else seems to be suffering?
It was an extraordinarily powerful piece, and it shook Picasso. He wanted to meet Morice, as if the man who had so accurately diagnosed his state of mind might also be able to provide a cure. Morice, a good friend of Paul Gauguin's, introduced him to Noa Noa, Gauguin's autobiographical poem. Picasso's deep-rooted pessimism was pitted against Gauguin's primitive, questing optimism. "Where are we coming from? Who are we? Where are we going?" Gauguin asked, and although Picasso never formulated those questions in words, they were all there in his work and in the restlessness of his life.
Blue was still dominant on his canvases, but a rose glow began to creep in, anticipating a major change in his life. In the afternoon of August 4, 1904, in the middle of an unexpected thunderstorm, he was on his way to his studio, carrying a little kitten he had rescued from the storm, when a beautiful, statuesque woman rushed into the Bateau-Lavoir, drenched to the skin. He blocked her path and thrust the kitten into her arms—an offering and an introduction. He laughed and she laughed with him, and he took her to see his studio. Her name was Fernande Olivier. In a nude autobiographical drawing dated August, 1904, they have just made love and he is still stretched on top of her, his feet barely touching hers, her almond eyes closed, her wavy hair dark and rich. He commemorated the occasion as if he knew immediately that this was not just another sexual encounter. It was, in fact, the beginning of his first real relationship, the first time in his life he committed himself to a woman—not "till death do us part" but at least until the attachment stopped being passionate, inspiring, or convenient.
Fernande had been born in Paris on June 6, 1881, four months before Picasso was born in Malaga. At seventeen she had become involved with a shop clerk, Paul-Emile Percheron, and had a son by him. When the child was five months old, Percheron married her, but soon after, both father and son disappeared without a trace, and Fernande married the sculptor Gaston de Labaume. In Fernande's inventive reshaping of her life she had never had a child or a shop-clerk husband. Instead, at seventeen she had had, as she described it, "an extremely unhappy try at marriage," which left her at twenty-two, again in her own words, "already a little disillusioned with life," living alone at the Bateau-Lavoir, as Madame de Labaume.
"For good or for bad," Gertrude Stein would say, "everything was natural in Fernande." She was naturally beautiful, naturally intelligent, naturally creative, and naturally lazy. She painted and drew, but she preferred to expend her creativity in inventing a life, a past, and a new name for herself. The new name was Olivier, and it was as Fernande Olivier that she entered Picasso's world and became his first official mistress and his door to manhood. "There was nothing especially attractive about him at first sight," she wrote years later about meeting Picasso, "though his oddly insistent expression compelled one's attention. It would have been practically impossible to place him socially, but his radiance, an inner fire one sensed in him, gave him a sort of magnetism which I was unable to resist. "
For him, there was a sense of recognition and inevitability. And it was exhilarating to have such a beautiful, worldly woman beside him. He loved the way she looked and the way she dressed and wore her floppy hats with such instinctive grace. But there was also fear and anxiety, prompted by the challenge of adult sexuality and the prospect of a real relationship. In the fall of 1904 Fernande moved in with him. Yet his fears persisted. In Woman Sleeping he painted himself sitting by the bed, lost in anxious thoughts and imaginings, while Fernande lies blissfully asleep. She had surrendered, while he was still troubled by this dramatic change in his life.
Having overcome his anxiety about her living with him, he was now equally anxious that she be with him all the time. He asked nothing from Fernande but to exist as part of his life. He didn't care if she cooked, he didn't expect her to keep their place clean or even to sweep the floor, and he positively forbade her to do the shopping, his jealousy creating nightmarish visions of her being propositioned on the streets of Montmartre and succumbing to other men's advances. His needs perfectly matched her disposition. "Out of a sort of morbid jealousy," she wrote, "[Picasso] forced me to live like a recluse. But with some tea, books, a couch, not much housework to do, I was very, very happy. … I was, I admit, extremely lazy." Her youthful indolence and her unbridled sensuality were the cornerstones of their relationship. She offered Picasso passionate and abandoned sex, at any time that suited the unpredictable rhythm of his work and his equally unpredictable moods. By regularizing his sex life she brought stability to his whole existence. In fact, she brought more than that. Her equanimity balanced his anxiety, and her healthy optimism was an antidote to his depressions—not a potent enough antidote, however, as she herself observed. "This rather sad, sarcastic man, who was sometimes a bit of a hypochondriac, found no consolation but only forgetfulness in his work and in the love of his work, for he always seemed to bear a great grief within him."
With Fernande, Picasso was becoming a man, no longer the adolescent who searched for women in whorehouses and thought only of himself. Fernande's value to him was there for all to see in the metamorphosis that his work underwent. Rose became the dominant color, and circus performers and saltimbanques replaced the derelicts of the blue worlds He still portrayed outsiders, but there was more tenderness and more empathy in this world of the circus. Charles Morice wrote another piece in March of 1905, in which he saluted Picasso's new maturity and his deepened sensibility relative to his earlier work, when "he seemed to take delight in sadness without sympathizing with it."
A figure who began to appear, though in considerable disguise, in Picasso's work in the spring of 1905 was the young poet Guillaume Apollinaire. His first portrayal was in the Family of Saltimbanques, as a big buffoon who presides over the group and combines the qualities of two major archetypes, the jester and the wise old man. He also soon appeared as a youthful giant, hardly an accurate reflection of the plump Apollinaire's physical prowess, but more a subjective portrayal of the poet's intellectual powers and understanding of the ways of the world—qualities that Picasso admired and on which he would often lean as he negotiated his way through the minefield of his life in Paris.
Within days of meeting Picasso this illegitimate son of the daughter of a Polish papal chamberlain, this former tutor and writer-of-all-work, was writing his first promotional piece on him. It also happened to be his first piece of art criticism. He had never before taken any interest in the visual arts and had an even scantier knowledge of them than he had of Prague, where he had set a short story that left readers convinced he had spent his life there.
What he did for Prague he did for the Blue Period. When its existence was revealed to him in Picasso's studio at the Bateau-Lavoir, two days after they met, it was alien to anything he had ever seen or thought about. But when he wrote about it, it was as if he had been its creator.
These children, who have no one to caress them, understand everything. These women whom no one loves now, are remembering. They shrink back into the shadows as if into some ancient church. They disappear at daybreak, having attained consolation through silence. Old men stand about, wrapped in icy fog. These old men have the right to beg without humility.
In Apollinaire, Picasso had also found an advocate who was big enough to contain his contradictions. "It has been said that Picasso's work shows a precocious disillusionment," Apollinaire wrote in the first issue of a small review he was editing.
In my opinion the contrary is true. Everything he sees enchants him and it seems to me that he uses his incontestable talent in the service of an imagination that mingles delight and horror, abjection and delicacy. His naturalism, with its loving precision, has a counterpart in the mysticism which, in Spain, is to be found deeply rooted in even the least religious mind.
These two brilliantly gifted outsiders had first met, toward the end of 1904, at an English bar near the Gare Saint-Lazare. Apollinaire was there, waiting for the train to Le Vesinet, the suburb where he lived with his mother and his brother. The money he made from editing and writing was far too meager to allow him the freedom to live in Paris, away from his increasingly eccentric mother and close to his artist friends.
The harbingers of freedom from want were Gertrude and Leo Stein. Gertrude Stein, whom Picasso later described as his only woman friend, was in fact more masculine than many of his men friends. "Masculine, in her voice, in all her walk" was the way Fernande described her. "Fat, short, massive, beautiful head, strong, with noble features, accentuated regular, intelligent eyes." She also had a large independent income, superlatively managed by her elder brother, Michael, back in the States, which made her rebellions as well as her independent views and bohemian life-style much easier to sustain. She was twenty-nine when she left Baltimore, having completed her medical studies, which had included a course in surgery. Her brother Leo, bald and bearded and wearing goldrimmed glasses, had in the meantime been living in Florence, painting and immersing himself in art. Fernande remembered, "Too intelligent to care about ridicule, too sure of themselves to bother about what other people thought, they were rich and he wanted to paint." They soon provided the informal focal point of contemporary art. They inspired, they catalyzed, and, even more important at this precarious surge of Picasso's existence, they bought.
Picasso met the Steins at the establishment of Clovis Sagot, a former clown who had turned a pharmacy into an informal art gallery. "Who is the lady?" Picasso asked Sagot. "Ask her if she will pose for me." Leo Stein recalled later that "at the very moment when Picasso was demurely awaiting her word of acceptance, Gertrude was vocally expressing total dislike of the painting they had come to see." The painting was Young Girl With a Basket of Flowers, and Gertrude so hated the girl's feet that she even suggested cutting them out and keeping only the head. Finally Leo prevailed, and the first Picasso, "with feet like a monkey's," entered the Steins' apartment, at 27 rue de Fleurus, intact.
It was at the rue de Fleurus that Picasso met Henri Matisse. They were Gertrude Stein's two great loves, and she wrote a short story, "Matisse, Picasso and Gertrude Stein," to celebrate that love.
Matisse was "very much master of himself," Fernande remembered. "Unlike Picasso, who was usually rather sullen and inhibited at occasions like the Steins' Saturdays, Matisse shone and impressed people. … With his regular features and his thick, golden beard, he really looked like a grand old man of art. He seemed to be hiding though, behind his thick spectacles, and his expression was opaque, gave nothing away, though he always talked for ages as soon as the conversation moved on to painting.
"He would argue, assert and endeavor to persuade. He had an astonishing lucidity of mind: precise, concise and intelligent."
Matisse thought that Picasso and he were "as different as the North Pole is from the South Pole." While Matisse pursued serenity in his life no less than in his art, Picasso was a mirror for the conflicts and anxieties of his age. Matisse's objective was to give expression to what he described as "the religious feeling I have for life. … What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, free of disturbing or disquieting subjects . . . an appeasing influence." Picasso had no clear intellectual objective, only a vague but all-consuming urge to challenge, to shock, to destroy and remake the world. The fascination they extended over each other was the foundation of the relationship that began in Gertrude Stein's living room and that, despite all its up and downs, lasted until Matisse's death, in 1954. It was the fascination of opposites.
“On the rue de Rennes," Matisse wrote, "I often passed the shop of Père Sauvage. There were Negro statuettes in his window. I was struck by their character, their purity of line. It was as fine as Egyptian art. So I bought one and showed it to Gertrude Stein. And then Picasso arrived. He took to it immediately." Max Jacob's recollection was much more dramatic. "Picasso held it in his hands all evening. The next morning, when I came to his studio, the floor was strewn with sheets of drawing paper. Each sheet had virtually the same drawing on it, a big woman's face with a single eye, a nose too long that merged into the mouth, a lock of hair on the shoulder. Cubism was born."
Cubism was not yet born, but in the fall and winter of 1906 Picasso was definitely pregnant with it. And preparations were under way for the momentous event. He had a canvas mounted on specially strong material as reinforcement and ordered a stretcher of massive dimensions. Years later he talked to Andre Malraux of the moment of conception.
All alone in that awful museum with masks, dolls made by the redskins, dusty manikins. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon must have come to me that very day, but not at all because of the forms; because it was my first exorcism painting -- yes absolutely! … When I went to the old Trocadero, it was disgusting. The Flea Market. The smell. I was all alone. I wanted to get away. But I didn't leave. I stayed. I stayed. I understood that it was very important: something was happening to me, right?
The masks weren't just like any other pieces of sculpture. Not at all. They were magic things. But why weren't the Egyptian pieces or the Chaldean? We hadn't realized it. 'Those were primitive, not magic things. The Negro pieces were intercesseurs, mediators; ever since then I've known the word in French. They were against everything—against unknown, threatening spirits. I always looked at fetishes. I understood; I too am against everything. I too believe that everything is unknown, that everything is an enemy! Everything! Not the details— women, children, babies, tobacco, playing—but the whole of it! I understood what the Negroes used their sculpture for. Why sculpt like that and not some other way? After all, they weren't Cubists! Since Cubism didn't exist. It was clear that some guys had invented the models, and others had imitated them, right? Isn't that what we call tradition? But all the fetishes were used for the same thing. They were weapons. To help people avoid coming under the influence of spirits again, to help them become independent. They're tools. If we give spirits a form, we become independent. Spirits, the unconscious (people still weren't talking about that very much), emotion -- they're all the same thing. I understood why I was a painter.
Everything, the whole of creation, was an enemy, and he was a painter in order to fashion not works of art—he despised that term—but weapons: defensive weapons against the spell of the spirit that fills creation, and offensive weapons against everything outside man, against every emotion of belonging in creation, against nature, human nature, and the God who created it all. "Obviously," he said, "nature has to exist so that we may rape it!"
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon may have come to Picasso in the Trocadero, but there were Iberian influences, Egyptian influences, and many unconscious philosophical influences whose principal perpetrator was a man scarcely five feet tall, with long black hair parted on his large head and falling on his narrow shoulders, and with mad, deep, black eyes. It was Alfred Jarry, the creator of Father Ubu, who in his play Ubu Roi summed up his philosophy of destruction: "Hornsocket! We will not have demolished everything if we don't demolish even the ruins!" Jarry abhorred every aspect of contemporary society -- its bourgeois pretensions, sham, and hypocrisy—and his life no less than his art was devoted to its destruction. He carried a pair of pistols and contrived opportunities to use them to underscore his social role.
Destructiveness was Jarry's rallying call, and a deep, barbaric destructiveness was at the center of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. When Jarry gave Picasso his revolver, he knew that he had found the man who would carry out his mission of destruction. It was a ritual act and was seen as such by all those present at the supper at which Jarry passed on the sacred symbol. "The revolver sought its natural owner," Max Jacob wrote. "It was really the harbinger comet of the new century." So was the explosion that was named Les Demoiselles d'Avignon: five horrifying women, prostitutes who repel rather than attract and whose faces are primitive masks that challenge not only society but humanity itself. Even the Picasso bande was horrified. "It was the ugliness of the faces," the young poet André Salmon wrote, "that froze with horror the half-converted." Apollinaire murmured about revolution, Leo Stein burst into embarrassed, uncomprehending laughter, Gertrude Stein lapsed into unaccustomed silence, Matisse swore revenge on this barbaric mockery of modern painting, and Andre Derain expressed his wry concern that "one day Picasso would be found hanging behind his big picture."
Georges Braque, who had just met Picasso when he saw Les Demoiselles d 'Avignon, in the fall of 1907, knew immediately that nothing less than a revolution was intended. "It made me feel," he said, "as if someone was drinking gasoline and spitting fire." He was shocked, but he was also stirred as he had never been before. Seven months younger than Picasso, he was to become his partner not only in the great pioneering adventure of twentieth-century art but also in a shared intimacy that was rare in Picasso's relationships and unique in his relationships with other painters. "The things Picasso and I said to each other during these years," Braque remembered, "will never be said again, and even if they were, no one would understand them anymore. It was like being two mountaineers roped together."
To the extent that Picasso felt himself part of a movement, it was a movement made of two. "We worked with enthusiasm," he later said, "and that was the main thing, putting much more into our efforts than usual, for we were involved in them body and soul." It was a quest that transcended ego and personal ambition, and to underline that what they sought was "pure truth without pretension, tricks, or malice," they signed their canvases only on the back to preserve anonymity uncontaminated by personal glory. "Picasso and I were engaged in what we felt was a search for the anonymous personality," Braque said. "We were inclined to efface our own personalities in order to find originality. Thus it often happened that amateurs mistook Picasso's painting for mine and mine for Picasso's. This was a matter of indifference to us, because we were primarily interested in our work and in the new problem it presented."
On August 21, 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre, a theft that led to national outrage over the security arrangements at the nation's great museum. On August 28 Géry Pieret, a young Belgian dilettante straddling the fence between amusing, unscrupulous inventiveness and mild crookedness, went to the offices of the Paris Journal with an Iberian statuette he had stolen from the Louvre, proudly demonstrating how easy it was to rob the place. Apollinaire read the headline in the next day's Paris Journal and was horrified. Pieret had been working as his secretary and the statuette had been at his home ever since Pieret had removed it from the Louvre. Even worse, a few years earlier Pieret had sold Picasso two other Iberian statuettes, which he had similarly acquired by removing them from the museum. Picasso was enchanted by them and, following Pieret's advice, had kept them hidden at the bottom of an old Norman cupboard. He had hardly given them any further thought until "the Louvre burglaries" hit the front pages of the French press.
Apollinaire and Picasso went into a frantic huddle at the boulevard de Clichy. Terrified that they might be implicated, they decided they had to act. Their first thought, born of their growing panic, was to flee the country. Fortunately, Fernande's common sense prevailed and they decided instead to dispose of the incriminating evidence by throwing the statuettes into the Seine.
After midnight they walked up and down the Seine looking for the right moment to get rid of their burden, but all moments seemed equally filled with risk. Finally, they gave up and returned to Picasso's apartment, where they spent the rest of the night plotting their next course of action. Early the following morning Apollinaire went to the offices of the Paris Journal and delivered the stolen treasures and a major scoop, on condition that the source would not be revealed. The condition was accepted and instantly breached. On the evening of September 7 the police arrived at Apollinaire's apartment, searched all his papers, found letters from Géry Pieret, and arrested him.
Two days later, at seven o'clock in the morning, there was a knock at Picasso's door "As the maid had not come down yet," Fernande remembered, "it was I who opened the door to a plainclothes policeman, who flashed his card, introduced himself and summoned Picasso to follow him in order to appear before the examining magistrate at nine o'clock. Trembling, Picasso dressed with haste, and I had to help him, as he was almost out of his mind with fear. … The bus between Pigalle and the Halle-aux-Vins, in which he had to ride, was haunted for many a day by those unfortunate memories. The detective was not allowed to take a taxi at his client's expense."
The rising anxiety of the past few days, the long wait at the police station, and finally the sight of Apollinaire, being led into the magistrate's office "pale, disheveled and unshaven," according to Fernande, "with his collar torn, his shirt unbuttoned . . . a lamentable scarecrow," completely unbalanced Picasso and drove from his mind every thought of friendship, every vestige of loyalty, and all sense of truth. Only an animal instinct for survival was left, and if that meant denying his friend, so be it. And deny him he did, when he claimed that he had only the most superficial acquaintance with the man who stood before him in trouble and in need of help. Apollinaire started to cry, and Picasso, as if to outdo him, began to tremble and cry at the same time The magistrate discharged him with a warning to stay within reach in case further examination was necessary, and Apollinaire was sent back to the Sante prison.
He was held at the prison for a total of five days, during which he was interrogated again and again regarding the theft not only of the statuettes but also of the Mona Lisa. It was the most devastating experience of the poet's life. From the moment he had been photographed for the criminal records, with handcuffs and without his belt, his tie, or his shoelaces, to his betrayal by the man he had loved and championed, and then to his provisional release by the magistrate, at seven o'clock on September 12, he had endured a nightmare that gave form to his deepest fears and insecurities. But in public he acted as if nothing had changed between him and Picasso, hiding both his dismay and his hurt. Even when he wrote about the whole affair to a friend, he referred to Picasso as "X," never by name.
At the end of November 1911, there appeared a review by the critic John Middleton Murry in The New Age, of London, which struck a chord that was to reverberate through the years in the response to Picasso's work. "I frankly disclaim any pretension to an understanding or even an appreciation of Picasso," Murry wrote. "I am awed by him. … I stand aside, knowing too much to condemn, knowing too little to praise— for praise needs understanding if it is to be more than empty mouthing." This was the first time that the leitmotif of awe mixed with incomprehension was sounded so clearly in relation to Picasso's work. In the future, praise, not just awe, would unblushingly become a constant companion of incomprehension. The reason for this unlikely pairing was stated by Murry in comparing Plato and Picasso: "I feel convinced," he wrote, "that it is but my weakness that prevents my following them to the heights they reach."
In The Republic Plato expelled all artists from his ideal state, because they merely copied nature, which, in turn, was only a copy of the ultimate reality. "In fact," Picasso said, "one never copies nature, neither does one imitate it. … For many years, cubism had only one objective: painting for painting's sake. We rejected every element that was not part of essential reality." As Murry put it,"Plato was seeking for a Picasso." When, in 1912, Picasso painted the first collage of the twentieth century, Still-Life With Chair-Caning, with a printed oilcloth across the bottom of an oval canvas and a newspaper, a glass, a pipe, and a sliced lemon, he was no longer imitating reality but displacing it. "When people believed in immortal beauty and all that crap," he would say, "it was simple. But now? . . . The painter takes whatever it is and destroys it. At the same time he gives it another life. For himself. Later on, for other people. But he must pierce through what others see—to the reality of it. He must destroy. He must demolish the framework itself." It was the beginning of synthetic Cubism, along the path Picasso had embarked on toward an art of essentials rather than an art of imitation.
At the same time, he had set out on another journey. He was falling in love. During numerous evenings Picasso spent at the Ermitage, his new favorite brasserie, with Fernande, the Polish painter Louis Marcoussis, and Marcelle Humbert, with whom Marcoussis had been living for the past three years, his waning attachment to Fernande was replaced by a growing passion for Marcelle.
The two women were a study in contrast. Gertrude Stein always referred to Fernande as "very large," but she was never larger than when next to Marcelle, who was very small. Fernande was older than Picasso—only four months older, but she suddenly seemed very much older. Marcelle was younger than Picasso -- only four years younger, but next to Fernande, she appeared very much younger. Fernando was temperamental, sometimes unfaithful, sometimes angry-- once so angry that she shook Picasso with enough vigor to shake off a button. Marcelle was so gentle and delicate that she was almost ethereal. Fernande had the flair to be extravagant even when she was starving, while Marcelle had the talent to make the tiniest budget stretch to permit delicious meals and a cozy home. Fernande was a seductress who allowed herself to be seduced, but always with her eyes open. Marcelle was ready to be swept off her feet, to surrender, to love without conditions. Fernande lived as if the world owed her a living. Marcelle did not have the strength to take on the world; she needed someone to protect her, and in return, she gave all of herself. Fernando gave herself if she felt like it, and knew she could survive alone—giving French lessons or pawning her earrings or breaking the rules.
When the increasing distance between her and Picasso became too much for her to bear, Fernando let herself surrender to the charms of Ubaldo Oppi, a young Italian painter who had been introduced to them at the Ermitage by the Futurist Gino Severini. "To live on one woman," Picasso would say later, ". . . was not to be thought of." But to leave a woman was for him emotionally no less difficult. So he waited for Fernande to take the first step. "Fernande left yesterday with a Futurist painter," he wrote to Braque. "What will I do about the dog?" Within twenty-four hours of Fernande's running off with Oppi he had lured Marcelle away from Marcoussis.
To demonstrate how precious Marcelle was to him, Picasso renamed her Eva. It was the name she had been given when she was born, at Vincennes, outside Paris, to Marie-Louise and Adrien Gouel. But, following the fashion of the times, she had invented a new name for herself, and no one knew her any longer as Eva Gouel. By renaming her Eva, Picasso was not only giving her back her original name but also sealing her place in his life as the first woman he truly loved. "Yes, we are together and I'm very happy" was all that he was prepared to disclose even to as trusted a friend as Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler. "But don't say anything to anyone," he admonished his dealer.
Like a spoiled child who cannot bear sharing affection, Picasso whined to Kahnweiler, who loved Juan Gris and his work, "You know very well that Gris never painted any important pictures." He could not talk away Gris's importance, but neither could he learn to coexist with the younger Spaniard, whom Kahnweiler called the "modest genius," no doubt to distinguish him from his compatriot. Despite calling Picasso "cher maître" and exhibiting his portrait under the title Homage to Pablo Picasso, Gris had become very much his own painter and his own man. And the slightest tinge of rivalry brought out in Picasso the pout, the bark, and the bite. Gris was a Spaniard and yet he had become attached to Matisse, which, in the war going on in Picasso's mind, meant that he had crossed the enemy lines and was siding with the Frenchman.
But there was something about Gris that continued to draw Picasso to him despite his irrational antagonism. Kahnweiler later described Gris as a "firm hand serving a pure soul and a clear mind," and it was this purity that attracted Picasso. In his work he was trying to portray the essence of things, and in his life, despite himself, he kept being pulled to people who seemed closer to that essence. "I felt his friendly presence, his affection always about us," Kahnweiler wrote about Gris. "He was gentle, affectionate, unassuming, but he knew his work was important and he was firm in defending his ideas. … That is what makes Juan Gris such an outstanding figure in art: The complete identity of his life and art … He was not only a great painter, but a great man." Picasso's antagonism toward Gris was to become even more virulent as he was confronted with growing evidence of Gris's integrity and his goodness. It was as if he had to disparage and destroy what he did not have or could not possess on his own terms.
One of Picasso's favorite pastimes during the first winter of the First World War was learning Russian. It was a project born partly of his fascination with Russia and mostly of his fascination with the Baroness Helene d'Oettingen. Part of Picasso's seductiveness was his willingness to be seduced, and he and the baroness spent many long evenings together, absorbed, as far as the world was concerned, in advancing his knowledge of Russian. Eva, left behind, found herself increasingly often at the mercy of coughing fits. She did everything she could to conceal from Picasso the fact that she was suffering not from a passing bout of bronchitis but from tuberculosis. She hid the bloodstained handkerchiefs and applied thicker and thicker layers of rouge to disguise the pallor of her cheeks. She was terrified that if he knew, he would leave her.
At cafés and in the streets men and women stared at Picasso, full of contempt for an able-bodied man who had stayed behind. He took refuge in sarcasm. "Will it not be awful," he said to Gertrude Stein, "when Braque and Derain and all the rest of them put their wooden legs up on a chair and tell about the fighting?" His humor seemed even blacker when news reached Paris that Braque and Apollinaire had received dreadful head wounds and both would have to be trepanned.
By fall Eva had to be hospitalized. Picasso was living alone for the first time in years. He went to the clinic every day, but he needed someone to console him during the long, lonely nights. He found that someone in Gaby Lespinasse a beautiful twenty-seven-year-old Parisian who had been his neighbor at the boulevard Raspail. She had taken the name of the American-born artist Herbert Lespinasse, who was her lover when her affair with Picasso began. "My life is hell," he wrote to Gertrude Stein. But the sensual drawings of Gaby naked and the whimsical watercolors like The Moonlit Bedroom and The Provencal Dining Room belie his protestations with their playfulness and their ardent inscriptions: "Gaby my love my angel I love you my darling and I think only of you I don't want you to be sad To take your mind off things look at the little dining room I will be so happy with you . . . you know how much I love you . . . Till tomorrow my love it is very late at night with all my heart Picasso."
In December, 1915, the composer Edgar Varese brought Jean Cocteau, the young poet of the glittering salons, to meet Picasso. Cocteau, then twenty-six, had been variously described as walking "with the pride of a wild bird that had dropped by chance into a poultry yard," as evoking more strongly than any other young man Wordsworth's "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive," and simply as "the frivolous prince"-- the title of a volume of poems he had published at twenty-one. Impeccably elegant, he wore in his buttonhole one of the gardenias that, rumor had it, he received every day from London. Picasso told his two visitors that he was very much in love with a young woman who was about to die. "I have never forgotten Picasso's studio," Cocteau said forty years later,
because the whole height of its prowlike bay window looked out on the Montparnasse cemetery. … Picasso and I eyed each other for quite a while. I admired his intelligence, and clung to everything he said, for he spoke litte; I kept still so as not to miss a word. There were long silences and Varèse could not understand why we stared wordlessly at each other. In talking, Picasso used a visual syntax, and you could immediately see what he was. saying. He liked formulas and summed himself up in his statements as he summed himself and sculpted himself in objects that he immediately made tangible.
The long silences, the wordless staring, the clinging to Picasso's every word: Cocteau was in love and on the scent of something ultimate. "He fell under Picasso's spell and remained there for the rest of his days," wrote Francis Steegmuller, while Cocteau described their meeting as having been "written in the stars." As for Picasso, the frivolous prince was his bridge to a world he had barely glimpsed, of society, balls and banquets, princesses and counts, virtuosity and yet more uncritical idealization.
A few days later, on December 14, Eva died. "My poor Eva is dead," he wrote to Gertrude Stein. "It was a great sorrow . . . she was always so good to me." Ever since his little sister had so suddenly died, it seemed that death was always winning.
It was the saddest Christmas of Picasso's life. Alone at the rue Schoelcher, haunted by memories of Eva, by sickness and death, he was too distraught even to find refuge in work. Discharged from the Marines, his war over while the war still raged, Cocteau decided to bring Picasso into Sergei Diaghilev's circle. Cocteau's vision was for Erik Satie to write the music and for Picasso to design the costumes and stage sets for a new ballet, Parade. Picasso threw himself wholeheartedly into his new project. On February 16, 1917, he took Cocteau to Gertrude Stein's to introduce him and to announce that they were leaving the next day for Rome. "Voila," they exclaimed on arriving at the rue de Fleurus, "we are leaving on our wedding trip."
I have sixty dancers,"Picasso wrote to Gertrude Stein. "I go to bed late. I know all the Roman women." What he did not write to Gertrude was that among the sixty dancers of Diaghilev's Russian Ballet was a twenty-five-year-old Russian ballerina whose dainty good looks and restrained bearing had immediately intrigued Picasso and had brought to an end the series of nameless casual encounters that had filled the void since Eva's death. Olga Koklova was the daughter of a colonel in the Imperial Russian Army and had been born in Niezin, in the Ukraine, on June 17, 1891. She had left home at twenty-one to join the Diaghilev Ballet. Her talent was too small to compensate for the fact that, by ballet standards, she had started so late, but Diaghilev liked to include in his company girls from a higher social class, even if they were not very good at dancing.
Olga Koklova was, above all, average: an average ballerina, of average beauty and average intelligence, with average ambitions to marry and settle down. For Picasso, who had tried prostitutes, bisexual models, flamboyant bohemians, tubercular beauties, and black girls from Martinique, Olga was so conventional as to be positively exotic. And there was a touch of mystery about her too. This time it was not the mystery of another reality, which Eva had radiated, but the mystery of another country. Picasso had always found all things Russian fascinating, even more so since his encounter with the Baroness d'Oettingen. He, who even at the height of the war read only gossip and the comics, could not read enough about developments in Russia, the uprisings, the fate of the czar, the hopes of the people. In the spring of 1917, Russia fascinated him more than ever. The Revolution had just taken place, the czar had abdicated, and a provisional government had taken power. Many ingredients at that particular moment in history and in Picasso's life combined to transform an average Russian ballerina into a spellbinding creature singled out from the corps de ballet as the object of his lavish attentions.
What Picasso was for Olga was much simpler. Women—and men—were transfixed by his black-marble stare, charmed by "his hands so dark and delicate and alert," enchanted by the unruly forelock of his black hair. Some, like Cocteau, felt "a discharge of electricity" when they met him; others, like Fernande were magnetized by "this radiance, this internal fire one felt in him." Others still were mesmerized by the dashing bohemian who knew about opium and women and cabarets and whorehouses, and were spellbound by his vigor, the secrets he seemed to know and hide, his flair and his showmanship. And there were those who were simply overwhelmed at being in the presence of the sacred monster of Montmartre and Montparnasse, the revolutionary inventor of Cubism. But Olga cared nothing about art except as something to decorate an apartment, was revolted by bohemianism, and was too firmly controlled to allow herself to be swept off her feet by animal magnetism. Also, she was a performer, and her narcissism matched his. So she responded to his advances because he was important in her own immediate world, someone substantial enough to have been chosen by the legendary Diaghilev as the designer for Parade. And she responded with caution and calculation.
The signs of future disaster were there for all to see, but Picasso was somnambulating toward their wedding day as though on a course set by fate. Tired of daring, he was hoping to find with Olga a haven of dignified tranquillity and perhaps even an excuse for daring no more. He wanted to escape from the exhausting search for absolute painting and the absolute in painting to a world of luxurious ordinariness.
Years later he would say that he had settled on Olga because she was pretty and belonged, however tangentially, to the Russian nobility. As a boy in Corunna he had been rejected by the family of his first love, a girl named Angeles, because his social background was not sufficiently distinguished. A quarter of a century later he would settle that score. There was also the wish to ally himself with the elite of position and wealth, a world that was still new to him. Whether or not Olga was the right partner for life, she was unquestionably the right partner for society. The great revolutionary of twentieth-century art fell back in his life on the stale hope of marrying into the aristocracy.
It was the beginning of what the Surrealist painter Matta called Picasso's "Harper's Bazaar" period. "He was so flattered by the attention," Matta said, "that from then on a schizophrenia pervaded his life: between his need for privacy and his need for more and more attention." His chief remaining links with the world of his past were Apollinaire and Max Jacob. On July 12, 1918, Apollinaire, Max, and Cocteau, ambassadors from the past and the future, were witnesses at Picasso's wedding to Olga, performed first in a civil ceremony at the mairie, and then in a sumptuous religious ceremony at the Russian Orthodox church in the rue Daru. Matisse, Braque, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Diaghilev, Leonide Massine, Vollard, Paul Rosenberg—all were there to see Picasso marry Olga with pomp and circumstance, incense, flowers, and candles.
On February 4, 1921, Olga gave birth to a son they called Paulo. The pride and delight of being a father pushed Picasso's anguish into the background and inspired a series of tender sketches recording Paulo's first months. Sometimes, as if aware of the dramatic changes wrought during a child's first year, he recorded not only the date but the hour at which the drawings were done. Soon, however, the uneasy feeling appeared again, in a succession of pictures of mother and child, isolated and inaccessible in their own world. There are male children but no men in this world, where time stands still—not in blissful timelessness but in a lumpish immobility from which every ounce of life's vital energy has been drained. And when there is activity, it is in slow motion, sluggish and leaden, a kind of absentminded surrender to the force of gravity.
Olga was lethargically but obsessively preoccupied with little Paulo. There were servants to ease her burden—nurse, chambermaid, chauffeur, cook—yet emotionally she was incapable of stretching beyond the nursery or the ossified niceties of fancy balls and opening nights.
On May 22 Cuadro Flamenco, Picasso's fourth Diaghilev ballet, premiered atthe Gaite-Lyrique. It was no more than an echo of what had gone before, and this time Picasso had effectively invited himself to do the sets and costumes—and for the meanest of reasons. Diaghilev had originally commissioned Juan Gris to design the ballet, but when Gris arrived in Monte Carlo, where the company was based in April, he discovered to his amazement that his services were no longer required. "I don't know just what happened," he wrote to Kahnweiler. Picasso knew. Gris, his health already failing, had been late with his designs. And Picasso, a master of intrigue, with whose machinations Gris was unequipped to compete, immediately started spreading the rumor that Gris was too sick to do the job. To drive his point home to Diaghilev more forcefully, he sent his own sketches for the ballet, which were little more than a rehash of sets—a stage within a stage—that he had prepared for an earlier ballet and that Diaghilev had turned down. This time he accepted them, and Picasso won a double, hollow victory: he beat Diaghilev into submission and he beat Gris out of a glamorous job.
Picasso and Olga saw 1922 in at a New Year's Eve party given by the Count de Beaumont. Midnight approached, and one of the most important guests had not yet arrived. The host announced that Céleste, Marcel Proust's housekeeper, had just telephoned for the tenth time, to find out if the house was drafty and if the herb tea for which she had given the recipe was ready. "Finally at midnight," wrote the painter Jean Hugo in his diary, "there was a sort of stir in the crowd and we knew that Proust had arrived. He had entered together with the new year, the year of his death. … His pale face had become puffy; he had developed a paunch. He spoke only to dukes. 'Look at him,' Picasso said to me, 'he's still on his theme."' Picasso may not have read Proust, but he had absorbed him.
In 1924 the Picasso household, as had become its custom, spent the summer by the sea, this time at Juan-les-Pins. The only exercise Picasso engaged in was occasionally paddling in the water with barely more proficiency than his three-year-old son. The athletic image conveyed by his naked torso—stocky, hairy, and always bronzed—had nothing to do with athletic prowess. It was an image, though, that he assiduously cultivated, for no matter how many women fell in love with him and no matter how much worship was heaped at his feet, he never reconciled himself to the fact that he was not quite five foot three. When Pablo Gargallo's daughter once told him that now he had everything he could possibly want, he replied, "No, I don't. I'm missing five centimeters."
By March of 1925 the Picassos were in Monte Carlo, going to more parties and often dining at Giardino's, the fashionable restaurant at the top of the hill. But Picasso, who never wanted a following yet always needed a court, was weary of his present entourage, especially as it was becoming increasingly hard to reconcile the demands of the fire burning in him with the fashionable life they were leading. The more Olga sensed him withdrawing into his own world, where all access was denied her, the more frequent and extreme became her petty and irrational outbursts of jealousy. She was obsessed with his past and did everything in her power to erase all traces of the existence of other women in his life. She helped push Max out of their lives, and she even stormed out of Gertrude Stein's apartment, during a reading of Stein's Bateau-Lavoir memoirs, at the mention of Fernande.
Olga's considerable will had now changed focus, from a drive for social recognition to a no less obsessive drive to possess her husband in the downward swing of their marriage as she had never possessed him in the upswing. He was as much the perpetrator as the victim of Olga's exasperating behavior. He had given her a taste of life and a glimpse of herself that she had never had before. And then, with no explanation and for no reason she could understand, he withdrew, and the supply of affirmation and joy was abruptly halted. But by then it was too late. Like an addict who has touched the artificial highs, she could not return to her previous existence. She needed larger and larger doses of his attention, and when, instead, she received less and less, she felt angry and betrayed. She lashed out at him, forcing him to give her, however momentarily, the attention she was otherwise denied.
Anger begot rage and rage violence, and in the spring of 1925 Three Dancers was born. It was the beginning of a savage decomposition of the human body, and the evocation of the Crucifixion compounded the sense of doom and destruction that pervaded the picture.
On the piercingly cold afternoon of January 8, 1927, Picasso was wandering near the Galeries Lafayette in the aimless state of mind advocated by the Surrealists as most propitious for unexpected discoveries and new beginnings, for the intervention of chance and the marvelous. Among the crowd coming out of the Metro was a blonde and beautiful young woman whose face, with its classic Greek nose and blue-gray eyes, he had seen before—in his mind's eye and on his canvases. "He simply grabbed me by the arm," Marie-Thérèse Walter recalled, looking back on the moment that transformed her life, "and said, 'I'm Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together."' For him it was a moment of recognition and of surrender to a sexual passion unfettered by the conventions of age, matrimony, time, and responsibility.
Marie-Thérèse had been born in Perreux, in south-central France, on July 13, 1909, the year Picasso and Fernande left the Bateau-Lavoir for a less bohemian existence. She knew nothing of art and Picasso. Up until now her passions had all been athletic—swimming, cycling, gymnastics, mountain climbing.
Marie-Thérèse may not have known who Picasso was, but her mother, Madame Emilie Marguerite Walter, knew, and she did nothing to discourage her daughter's natural curiosity about this exotic man almost thirty years older than she was. Their next meeting, intentional this time, was at the Métro Saint-Lazare, two days later. Because conversation between them was limited, he took her to a movie. "I resisted for six months," Marie-Thérèse later said, "but you don't resist Picasso. You've understood me—a woman doesn't resist Picasso." On July 13, the day of her eighteenth birthday, he took her to bed. Many years later Picasso commemorated in a letter to her the importance of that date in his life. "Today, 13 July 1944, is the seventeenth anniversary of your birth in me and the double one of your own birth in this world, where having met you, I have begun to live."
The greatest sexual passion of Picasso's life, with no boundaries and no taboos, had begun. It was fueled by the secretiveness that surrounded the relationship and by the revelation of the childlike Marie-Thérèse as an endlessly submissive and willing sexual pupil who readily accepted all experimentation, including sadism, with absolute obedience to Picasso's will. She was an object that he alone possessed, proof of his power and sexual magnetism.
In the summer of 1928 Picasso left Paris for Dinard, accompanied by Olga, Paulo, and Paulo's English nanny—and preceded by Marie-Thérèse, who was ensconced nearby in a holiday camp for children. It was an ingenious arrangement that delighted Picasso not only because of its watertight secrecy but also because of its perversity. The idea of visiting his young mistress at a children's camp added a frisson of risk, surrealism, and masquerade to a relationship that was already bristling with sexual passion, a passion that continued to thrive on the often violent subjugation of the "woman-child" to her lover's will. So when Picasso had had his fill of amusing himself watching his ample and athletic mistress swimming or cavorting on the beach with the children of the camp, he would lead her to a beach cabana where the cavorting became a great deal more intense and serious. Her job was clear: to obey every command and caprice of the man she referred to as her "wonderfully terrible" lover. "I bowed my head in front of him . . . I always cried with Pablo Picasso," Marie-Thérèse confessed more than forty years later.
The fact that Marie-Thérèse was legally under age and in a children's camp was a mainspring of Picasso's sexual ardor. At that time in France the corruption of a minor could result in a severe prison sentence, but flouring the law was part of the excitement that fired his passion. De Sade had written about the sovereign man with the authority to transgress and to infringe all taboos; and Picasso, who had always believed that everything was allowed him, in life no less than in art, was now defying, all at once, law, morality, and convention in the cabanas of a children's camp. Exploring the limits of sexuality was serious business for Picasso. He sought not merely to satisfy his sexual urges but to reach, through indulging in what was culturally forbidden, the heightened state of being that the French writer Georges Bataille saw as the goal of eroticism.
In the fall of 1930, with an eye to eliminating wasteful traveling time, he installed Marie-Thérèse in a groundfloor apartment at 44 rue La Boetie, directly across the street from himself and Olga. Efficiency was not, of course, his only motive. There was also the perverse pleasure he derived from knowing that he could get away with anything, that he could put his secret under the nose of his maniacally jealous wife and still keep it a secret, that he could write his own rules and break everyone else's.
A grand Picasso retrospective planned to open at the Georges Petit Gallery on June 15, 1932, gave him an opportunity to be surrounded by 236 canvases that had been gathered in Paris from around the globe. In September of the same year, another grand retrospective opened at the Zurich Kunsthaus. One of the 28,000 visitors to see the show was Carl Jung, and the result of his confrontation with an overview of Picasso's oeuvre was a devastating piece that appeared in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on November 13, 1932. Struck by the similarity between Picasso's work and the drawings of his schizophrenic patients, Jung declared Picasso a schizophrenic, expressing in his work a recurrent, characteristic motif "of the descent into hell, into the unconscious, and the farewell to the world above." Comparing the images produced by Picasso to those produced by his patients, he wrote,
Considered from a strictly formal point of view, what predominates in them is the character of mental lacerations, which translate themselves into broken lines, that is, a type of psychological fissures which run through the image. … It is the ugly, the sick, the grotesque, the incomprehensible, the banal that are sought out—not for the purpose of expressing anything, but only in order to obscure; an obscurity, however, which has nothing to conceal, but spreads like a cold fog over desolate moors; the whole thing quite pointless, like a spectacle that can do withhout a spectator.
Whatever the validity of Jung's insights, it was undeniable that as Picasso entered the sixth decade of his life he was further away than ever from his youthful dream of creating a universal art—not just of achieving mastery in any style and any medium he chose but of transcending all styles to create something absolute and ultimate. He had the courage to die to many different artistic expressions and be born to new ones, but he lacked the courage to let go of the trapeze of his monumental egocentricity and his dazzling personality and trust that there was something beyond himself to catch him. No number of magical canvases and sexual acrobatics could shield him, except momentarily, from his all-pervading sense of doom.
In the fall of 1934 Picasso poured out his confusion and torment in the four powerfully moving etchings of The Blind Minotaur. The minotaur, a symbol for himself, is being tenderly guided by a beautiful girl clutching a dove. There is an air of hopeless tragedy about the blinded beast, so strong but so vulnerable, as he struggles to find his way along the seashore. The girl looks like Marie-Thérèse, but there is something transcendent about her, beyond any physical personality, more like Goethe's "eternal feminine which leads us upward."
For years now he had turned away from his wife's increasingly unstable emotions. As he wrote in a poem, in 1935, the "eye of the bull"—another code name for himself—has a "thousand reasons to keep silent and turn a deaf ear to the flea who pisses the rain from so much coffee." It was a clear reference to Olga. One of Picasso's most vivid domestic images, he once said, was of her constantly and neurotically drinking coffee, something he was particularly aware of because his own sensitive stomach had long ago driven him to herb teas. But very early in 1935 it ceased to be possible for him to maintain his wooden pose, hoping that Olga would stop screaming, Marie-Therese would stop giggling, and, except when performing a specific function for him, both would disappear.
Now Marie-Thérèse found herself pregnant and Picasso found himself confused. Events ruled out inertia and frustrated his desire that nothing should disturb the status quo, fraught though it was with juggling and unpleasantness. He was excited about the coming baby and the possibility that it would bridge the growing chasm between himself and Marie-Thérèse—so much so that at one point during her pregnancy he knelt in front of her and cried tears of gratitude.
At the same time, although he wanted to rid himself of Olga's physical presence, he was paralyzed by the thought of divorce. Any final parting had the ring of death about it, and he was prepared to put up with a great deal to avoid major endings in his life. On top of his own innate terror he had the expert advice of Maître Henri-Robert, one of France's leading lawyers, who had reminded him that divorce would mean parting with half of everything he owned, including his work. So the French community property law and an agreement he had signed when he married Olga kept him from doing the rational thing and pressing for a divorce. As for Olga, she never wanted a divorce in the first place. But none of this made the separation negotiations any less bitter, unpleasant, or humiliating, especially when Olga's overeager lawyers had official seals put on the door of Picasso's sacred studio in the rue La Boetie.
Even so, it was Olga's spirit that broke first. By now she could not avoid the realization that her marriage was over, nor could she any longer ignore her husband's increasingly obvious hatred of her or the presence of her rival in his work. In July of 1935 she had a final hysterical outburst under the conjugal roof and stormed out, taking the puzzled Paulo with her. She did not go far, only around the corner, to the Hôtel California, in the rue de Berri, and in a sense she would never go far from her husband's life, growing progressively more demented over her obvious inability, no matter what she did, to provoke a reaction.
This was the first summer Picasso had spent in Paris alone in the rue La Boétie. Marie-Thérèse, more than six months pregnant, was staying with her mother outside Paris, at Maisons-Alfort, waiting for the divorce that Picasso had led her to believe was imminent. He had promised her and had assured her mother that they could be married before the baby was born—or at least soon after.
On September 5 Marie-Thérèse gave birth to a girl. The femme-enfant was now a mother, the salacious sex object a mother-figure. The baby was given the name of her father's dead sister, Mariá de la Concepción, but on her birth certificate the identity of the father was declared unknown.
At almost exactly the same time that his daughter was born, Picasso, now fifty-three, met the woman who was to replace her mother. At the Deux-Magots, the new favorite meeting place of André Breton and his Surrealist band, opposite the Romanesque church at Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Picasso was introduced to Dora Maar. The name her parents had given her was Henrietta Theodora Markovitch, and she had been born in Tours "in the same year as Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," as she would later put it. Her mother was French and her father a Yugoslav architect. It was the poet Paul Eluard who introduced her to Picasso, and Paul Eluard, as much as Dora, became inseparable from the new epoch that was beginning in Picasso's life.
As Picasso soon discovered, Dora was a painter and a photographer, an intellectual muse of the Surrealist movement, a close friend of Breton's, a friend and sometime mistress of Georges Bataille. She had changed her name from Markovitch to Maar, had lived for a long time in Buenos Aires, spoke fluent, beautiful Spanish, and exuded the restlessness, bewilderment, and anxiety of the modern intellectual.
She was as different from Marie-Thérèse as Eva had been from Fernande. Marie-Therese's life apart from Picasso was taken up by sport, Dora's by her intellectual passions. Marie-Thérèse's response to Picasso's portraits was that they "didn't look like her," to his paintings that they "didn't bowl her over," and to painting in general that it "didn't interest her." Dora, in contrast, could discuss with authority Corot's photographic experiments and how they applied to Picasso's work, as well as whatever technical problems or philosophical questions were on his mind; she could share his friends and his preoccupations. Both the wife and the concubine would be succeeded by the official mistress whose tormented intellect was in perfect harmony with the tragic years ahead.
On July 18, 1936, the news reached Paris that civil war had broken out between the Republican government and the insurgent Nationalists, led by Franco. The murder of the poet García Lorca soon after, at the age of thirty-eight, sent shock waves through the art world. "They are killing men here as if they are cutting down trees," Saint-Exupéry wrote. There was no question that Picasso's allegiance belonged immediately and instinctively to the Republicans seeking to put down the military uprising. But it was Eluard who, in their endless conversations, supplied him with the vocabulary of political indignation that he used in declaring himself for the Republic.
For the first time in his life this grand solitary joined the stream of history. From now on his isolation would be laced with a sense of solidarity and belonging. He even accepted, with alacrity, the offer of the Spanish government to become the honorary director of the Prado. It was the first and the last official position he would ever hold, and it was not so much honorary as symbolic. By then the Nationalist troops were only twenty miles from Madrid, and in August, as Franco's planes began bombing the city, the Prado treasures had to be rushed to the relative safety of Valencia.
Picasso settled Marie-Thérèse and María in a house ten miles from Versailles, at Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre. With its barn converted into a studio and its relative proximity to Paris, it provided the perfect arrangement for this stage in his life. Having tucked Marie-Thérèse away, he threw himself into his relationship with Dora. Secure in her intellectual ascendancy over the uncultured Marie-Thérèse, Dora was also taking steps to solidify her position in Picasso's daily life by looking for a large studio away from the rue La Boétie, which they both detested. She hoped that he would work in the new studio without having to retreat as often to the country and that the two of them could work together on the photographic prints that fascinated Picasso or on their respective paintings. The first two paintings she gave him were heads, severe and imbued with a sacred, mystical quality. One of her proudest possessions was a painting they co-produced, which they jointly signed "Picamaar."
15 October XXXVI My love: I have to stay with Paul—I cannot come to have dinner and afterwards I am going to see the 'Catalans' who are here. Tomorrow I could come to have lunch soonest possible to see you, which is the most pleasant thing to do in this dog's life which I am leading. I love you every moment a little more.
At the center of his "dog's life" was Dora. The letter was addressed to Marie-Thérèse. As she recalled toward the end of her life, "there were bizarre things going on . . . Nusch [Paul Eluard's second wife], Dora." She might also have noticed that in his recent work she was growing flabbier and uglier, while the dark-haired woman would never look as beautiful or as serene as she looked at the beginning of 1937. On March 2 Dora was even portrayed asleep. Having usurped Marie-Thérèse's primary place in Picasso's life, she had now also usurped her abandoned rest.
"It must be painful," Picasso had said, "for a girl to see in a painting that she is on the way out." His love letters to Marie-Thérèse grew proportionately more passionate as his relationship with Dora intensified. And she believed them. Not because she was stupid, not even because she was unaware of the existence of "the other woman," which was already too public a part of Picasso's life to remain a secret, but because he had invented the reality in which Marie-Thérèse lived. Together they had burned the bridges to any other reality, and now there was nowhere else for her to go. At the same time, he had scored a major victory over Dora—her grudging and pained acceptance of the fact that, although she was the official mistress, she was not, and perhaps would never be, the only one.
Meanwhile, the insurgent generals in Spain were busy creating, as the Nationalist general Emilio Mola put it, "an impression of mastery" over the country. In order to achieve this, according to Mola, it was "necessary to spread an atmosphere of terror." And since the Republicans continued to control Madrid and most of the north and the east, the atrocities calculated to produce an atmosphere of terror became increasingly vicious and widespread. At the beginning of 1937 Picasso wrote a poem full of violent imagery, designed to ridicule Franco, who was presented as a loathsome, barely human, hairy slug. "Dream and Lie of Franco" was written in Spanish, in his automatic style, which eschewed any rules of syntax or grammar. As he had said to Jaume Sabartés, his longtime friend and secretary, "I would prefer to invent a grammar of my own than to bind myself to rules which do not belong to me." The text was illustrated by eighteen etchings of matching violence, fury, and horror. Franco, the beast attacking Spain, was another emissary of Picasso's arch-enemy, fate.
The landscape of his private life was changing. By late March he had moved into the new studio that Dora had found him, at 7 rue des Grands-Augustins, and she had moved around the corner, to 6 rue de Savoie. It took a lot of money to keep Picasso in bohemia. This particular bohemian setting was a seventeenth-century building redolent of historical associations: it had been the old Hôtel des Ducs de Savoie, it had been used by Jean-Louis Barrault as a rehearsal hall, and it was the setting for Balzac's Chef d'Oeuvre Inconnu and its hero's desperate quest to capture the absolute in painting.
And now, thanks to Dora, Picasso had found in "Barrault's loft" a space vast enough for his own most celebrated work. He had been commissioned by the Spanish government to produce a canvas for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris World's Fair. As usual, hating the sense of obligation engendered by commissions, he procrastinated, worked on other things, refused to fall into step with his commitment. It took the bombing of the historic Basque town of Guernica, on April 26, 1937, to mobilize his creative frenzy, and then the huge canvas, twenty-five feet by eleven feet, was completed in only a month. In fact, many of the "preparatory studies" were done after the work was finished.
It was the first time that Picasso allowed himself an audience while he worked. Dora was a constant companion, photographing successive stages of the work; Eluard was a frequent witness, watching Picasso, brush in hand, sleeves rolled up, commenting on the progress of Guernica or obsessively talking about Goya. The forty-three German planes that had bombed Guernica had killed 1,600 of its 7,000 inhabitants and had destroyed 70 percent of the town, but the impact of this massacre went far beyond the actual damage inflicted. Guernica, with its ancient oak tree under which the first Basque Parliament had met, became a symbol for the triumph of hatred and irrational destruction, and helped convert a large section of Western public opinion to the Republican cause.
Guernica's power was enormous. It was a distillation of forty years of Picasso's art, with the woman, the bull, and the horse horrified companions in a black-and-white nightmare world. The novelist Claude Roy, a law student at the time, saw Guernica at the Paris World's Fair and described it as "a message from another planet." He wrote, "Its violence dumbfounded me, it petrified me with an anxiety I had never experienced before." The Surrealist poet Michel Leiris summed up the sense of despair engendered by Guernica: "In a rectangle of black and white such as that in which ancient tragedy appeared to us, Picasso sends us our announcement of our mourning: all that we love is going to die. …" Herbert Read went even further: all that we love, Picasso is saying, has died.
During the creation of this public monument to destruction Picasso's private games of destruction continued with no respite. One day Marie-Thérèse, who had been relegated to the margin of his life ever since he had embarked on Guernica with Dora as his tragic muse, arrived at the rue des Grands-Augustins while he was working. "I have a child by this man," she said to Dora, all her anger directed at her rival rather than her lover. "It's my place to be here with him. You can leave right now."
"I have as much reason as you have to be here," Dora replied coolly. "I haven't borne him a child, but I don't see what difference that makes."
Throughout this exchange Picasso kept on painting, as though he were an innocent and uninvolved bystander. Finally Marie-Thérèse asked him to arbitrate: "Make up your mind. Which one of us goes?"
Picasso, absolute master of the situation, recollected the incident with relish: "It was a hard decision to make. I liked them both, for different reasons: Marie-Thérèse because she was sweet and gentle and did whatever I wanted her to, and Dora because she was intelligent. I decided I had no interest in making a decision, I was satisfied with things as they were. I told them they'd have to fight it out themselves. So they began to wrestle. It's one of my choicest memories," he concluded, laughing. The art historian James Lord pinpointed an irony that had escaped Picasso: his mistresses engaged "in a fistfight in his studio, while he peacefully continued to work on the enormous canvas conceived to decry the horrors of human conflict."
Sometimes Picasso enjoyed having Marie-Thérèse follow along, in relative secrecy, when he and Dora went on vacation. But two women did not make a big enough harem for him, and so he often made sure through Paulo, his unwitting accomplice, that Olga also knew where he was going. She would turn up to stake her wifely claims, assault the woman who happened to be in her lawful place, and, most important, feed Picasso's insatiable hunger for power over others.
At the beginning of 1938 Picasso started spending more time at Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre. The attraction, much more than Marie-Thérèse, was María. Now two years old, and looking just like her father, squat and square and with his piercing eyes, she became the new major figure in his work. He did not idealize her as he had Paulo; there is anxiety in her face and fear in the way she clings to her clumsy doll. At her christening her father, who was not officially her father, became officially her godfather. When her little friends asked what her name was, her father replied that it was Conchita, his diminutive for María de la Concepción. "Con-what?" they asked, aware, apparently, that con in French is "a fool," "an idiot." So her parents started calling her María, which from the little girl's lips soon began to sound like Maya. "Maya!" exclaimed her father. "It's perfect. It means the greatest illusion on earth." So Maya it was from then on—Maya Walter.
War had been in the air for some time, but on August 23, 1939, when Hitler signed a non-aggression pact with Stalin, it became inevitable. Many of Picasso's friends, including Eluard, had left to join their regiments, and those who remained could talk of nothing but the impending war. Picasso was scared, uncertain about his next move, and, to top it all, angry: "If it's to annoy me that they make war, they are carrying it too far, don't you think?" he complained to Sabartés.
As France mobilized for war, Picasso took care of the many details that went with his galloping success, seeing to numerous exhibitions of his work around the world—especially a grand retrospective of forty years of his art that was to open at the New York Museum of Modern Art in November. As part of the attendant publicity he spent a day posing at the rue des Grands-Augustins, at Lipp's, and at the café de Flore, while Brassaï photographed him for Life. Picasso had mastered the publicity game before the world knew that such a game existed. In fact, in many ways he helped to invent and define it. He had always recognized, and every step of his life had confirmed, a very basic correlation between the money fetched by a painting and the legend built around the painter. And money, for Picasso, was not so much a medium of exchange as the only unequivocal barometer of his success.
After the German blitzkrieg had swept through Belgium and moved on to France, the German army threatened Paris, and it became clear that to stay in the city was to court danger. Picasso decided to go to Royan. Once there, he received news from the gardener at Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre that the house had been requisitioned by the Germans. He waited anxiously for more news, full of fear about the fate of his paintings and sculptures. As soon as the gardener called to say that the Germans had gone on army maneuvers, he took Marie-Thérèse and left for Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre. They found the big pieces of furniture moved to the courtyard to serve as a canteen for the soldiers, and sheets, silk dresses, shirts, and baby clothes used as cleaning cloths. But the aim of the first trip was to salvage the paintings and sculptures. After that, each time the Germans left for army maneuvers, they rushed back to steal more things from the thieves.
War was in his pictures—not this war, not any particular war, but the darkness and the anger and the hatred that cause wars. In June the German army marched into Royan and Picasso painted one of his most brutal and vengeful images of womanhood: Dora as the Nude Dressing Her Hair. The brutality was no less present in his life. He often beat Dora, and there were many times when he left her lying unconscious on the floor. The transformation of the princess into a toad and of sensuality into horror was complete. And in the dog-face portraits he painted of Dora, he completed the transformation of woman into servile animal. As the art historian Mary Gedo put it, Dora, like his Afghan hound Kazbek, "came whenever he whistled." More than two thirds of his work during 1939 and 1940 consisted of deformed women, their faces and bodies flayed with fury. His hatred of a specific woman seemed to have become a deep and universal hatred of all women.
France fell, and on June 22 an armistice was signed dividing the country into two zones—one, including Paris, occupied by the German army, and the other, Vichy, governed by the collaborationist Marshal Pétain. Late in 1940 Marie-Thérèse and Maya moved back to Paris. Since the Germans were occupying her house at Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre, she took an apartment on boulevard Henri-IV. Picasso would visit her and Maya most Thursdays and Sundays, and she would live for those visits until in her mind they came to be her whole life. During the other five days she kept a room in the house locked and told Maya that her father worked there and she should never disturb him. Marie-Thérèse would visit him at the rue des Grands-Augustins only when invited. During one of these visits he showed her a closet where he kept stacks of gold ingots and bars of soap from Marseilles. "If something happens to me," he told her, "all this is yours." Marie-Thérèse, who since the Occupation had been using ersatz soap, which was all she could get, pleaded with him: "I would much rather have the soap right away." Ignoring her request, Picasso locked the door to the closet. And Marie-Thérèse had to be satisfied with promises and declarations. "You've saved my life," he told her again and again, and he insisted that she write to him every day, "because without your letters I am sick." He wrote her letters in return, full of flowers, pigeons, and ardent statements like "You are the best of women" and "I love only you."
In May of 1943, while Picasso was dining at the Catalan with Dora and her friend Marie-Laure de Noailles, both his passion for life and his hope for love were rekindled. Two young women were having dinner with the actor Alain Cuny, and Picasso couldn't take his eyes off them. One had dark hair, dark eyes, and a classical Greek face enhanced by the flowing, pleated dress she was wearing. The other, very slender with a tiny waist, had wide green eyes and a fresh, alert face set off by a green turban. One was Geneviève Aliquot, the other Françoise Gilot.
Madeleine Gilot had given birth to Françoise on November 26, 1921, nine months after Olga Picasso had given birth to Paulo. Emile Gilot, a successful businessman highly interested in educational theories, was determined to bring up his only child like a boy—a very well educated one. As a result, Françoise could read and write by the time she was four and was more familiar with the gods of Olympus and the formulas of algebra than with the children of her neighborhood in Neuilly. Until she was nine, a tutor came to the house to teach her under the stern supervision of her father.
When the war began, Françoise was studying law, planning, in accordance with her father's wishes, to become an international lawyer. But the war and the growing Resistance, which many of her friends had joined, made her rethink what was really important to her. "I told my father," she remembered, "that it didn't mean anything to me any longer to become a lawyer when the law, and especially international law, didn't even exist. … So, in 1941, I decided to use the time I was spending earning a master's degree at the school of law to pursue my studies of art." She had been drawing ever since she was a child, illustrating daydreams or stories she told herself, full of monkeys, devils, and ghosts. But then everyone in her family had a gift for drawing, so no one took her gift very seriously. Still, her mother agreed to pose for her, and so did her closest friend, Geneviève Aliquot. Geneviève, who was a pupil of Aristide Maillol's, was instrumental in Françoise's decision to give up law for painting.
Picasso watched Françoise closely that night at the Catalan and made quite sure that all his witty aphorisms and brilliant declarations were clearly overheard. It was as if they had dinner together before they ever met. When Cuny introduced them and Picasso discovered that Françoise and Geneviève were painters, he invited them to his studio to see some of his paintings.
After Geneviève left Paris, Françoise would come to the Rue des Grands-Augustins alone. One day, while Picasso was showing her his sculpture tools, he turned and kissed her on the mouth. She accepted this familiarity as matter-of-factly as she had accepted tubes of paint and drawing paper from him, which enraged Picasso. "That's disgusting," he told her. "At least you could have pushed me away. Otherwise I might get the idea I could do anything I wanted to."
Françoise told him that she was at his disposal, her tone making it clear that this was an assertion of control rather than an admission of surrender. "That's disgusting," he repeated. "How do you expect me to seduce anyone under conditions like that?"
It was their last meeting before Françoise left for Fontes, a village near Montpellier, where Geneviève's family lived. Her father was the head of the Resistance there, which brought Françoise closer to the daily dangers of the Nazi Occupation. From Fontes the two women cycled to Les Baux, where they stayed for two weeks. Françoise's time at Les Baux was her life's major turning point. "I remember every detail as though it was today," she said. "First of all the place itself is so special. Dante was there during his exile from Florence, and he was so affected by the setting he made it part of the Divine Comedy. And in nearby Arles, Van Gogh did all those extraordinary paintings. While I was there, I had the most incredibly mystical experience that challenged every aspect of myself and my life. It was not a momentary thing—there was an inner struggle that went on for days, during which I knew that I had to stop identifying with my ego and my intellect if I was to enter into that transcendent state. I felt on the edge of an abyss, and then on the other side I was sort of re-made, bit by bit, from nothingness into being."
When Françoise went to see Picasso again, she found him in a state of extreme sadness. She also found that she felt closer to him than ever before. "The impact of our meeting," she recalled, "would have been very different if we had met at a time of peace. The tragedy around us and the pounding of history made it extraordinary where otherwise it might have been something interesting but ordinary, without the metaphysical quality that it had. Also, in the perspective of war, the fact that Picasso was forty years older than myself didn't mean a thing. After all, I could have died at any moment. And in any case, Pablo was more like a man of forty than a man who by the time I saw him again in November had had his sixty-second birthday."
To Picasso, Françoise was a marvel, a marvelous accident. As this girl young enough to be his granddaughter expressed her precocious opinions and pulled the rug out from under his tricks of seduction and control, a grudging respect walled up in him. One day in February of 1944 he suggested that next time she should come in the afternoon and he would teach her engraving and not let anyone disturb them. She arrived for her engraving lesson looking like a vision out of Velázquez, in a black velvet dress, her face framed by its high collar of white lace, her dark red hair swept up. Once again he was the one thrown off balance. "Is that the kind of costume you put on to learn engraving?" he asked. She replied that she had dressed not for engraving but for what she had assumed he had on his mind: "I wanted to look beautiful for you."
There was both an innocence and a power in her directness that unnerved him. She kept dealing him cards he had never been dealt before. "You do everything you can to make things difficult for me," he said, throwing up his hands. "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 complained, and at the same time he loved it. "You're right, really," he conceded. "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 had issued a warning, but, vibrant with all the courage of youth, she felt invincible. So far she was winning—the twenty-two-year-old virgin was outwitting the sixty-two-year-old roué who had explored to the full the dark outer limits of sexuality. The engraving lesson forgotten, he began showing her his Vollard etchings. A minotaur is watching over a woman asleep: "He's studying her," Picasso explained, "trying to read her thoughts, trying to decide whether she loves him because he's a monster. Women are odd enough for that, you know. It's hard to say whether he wants to wake her or kill her."
No matter what he said, he could not succeed in disturbing her equanimity. He was intrigued by the source of her strength; he sensed that it came from a higher place than experience, looks, or brains. "You are the only woman I've met," he told her, "who has her own window to the absolute." He was excited about the possibility of what he considered a new kind of relationship, where there was reciprocity—perhaps even love. "I guess I'll die without ever having loved," he had told her a few months earlier. And she had laughed and asked him not to make up his mind yet.
"What as it all about, anyway?" he asked her suddenly as they were looking through the Vollard prints. "Do you know?" There was hope in the challenge. Françoise said that she didn't know for sure but that yes, she had taken the first steps on the journey of finding out. It was his cue to take her arm and lead her to the bedroom. He undressed her, and then studied her. And then he marveled at how closely her body matched his image of her body.
Françoise lay in his arms filled with a peace so profound and a joy so complete that nothing else mattered and there was nothing left to achieve. She felt impervious to doubts, fears, and even to the pessimism that had seeped into Picasso's very being and which now took over. He did not trust life enough to give himself over to what he sensed would bring light into his darkness; and he did not trust himself enough not to destroy it. By asking to see her sparingly, he was seeking to protect what had begun to grow between them from the monster that, experience had taught him, he could not control.
Françoise left, feeling that the great painter she had admired impersonally had, in the course of the past hour, been transformed into a man she could not help but love.
In February of 1944, the same month that Picasso and Françoise set out haltingly on their journey together, Max Jacob was arrested at Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire and sent to the detention camp at Drancy, a stop on the long journey to Auschwitz or Dachau. On his way he wrote to Cocteau: "Dear Jean, I'm writing this on a train out of the kindness of the gendarmes who surround us. We will very soon be in Drancy. This is all I have to say. Sacha, when they talked to him about my sister, said: 'If it was him, I could do something!' Well, it is me. I embrace you. Max." The restraint of his plea made his agony all the more poignant. From Drancy one last appeal reached his friends in Paris: "May Salmon, Picasso, Moricand do something for me."
His friends had already begun to mobilize all the support they could find. Cocteau drew up a moving letter about Jacob, about the reverence in which he wes held by the French youth, about his invention of a new language that dominated French literature, about his renunciation of the world. And in a discreet postscript he added: "Max Jacob has been a Catholic for twenty years." The appeal was personally delivered to von Rose, the counselor in charge of pardons and reprieves at the German embassy, who, miraculously, was a lover of poetry and an admirer of Jacob's work. Conspicuously absent from the petition's signatories was Picasso. His silence in behalf of one of his oldest and most intimate friends was thundering. When Pierre Colle, Jacob's literary executor, went to the rue des Grands-Augustins to ask him to use his considerable authority with the Germans to intervene in Jacob's behalf, he refused, crowning his indifference with a quip: "It is not worth doing anything at all. Max is a little devil. He doesn't need our help to escape from prison."
On March 6 von Rose announced that he had succeeded in obtaining a liberation order signed by the Gestapo, and a few of Jacob's friends left immediately for Drancy. There they were informed that Jacob was dead. He had died the day before of pneumonia, fatally weakened by the conditions in prison and the freezing cold in his damp, filthy cell. The "little devil" had flown out of his prison through death. Did the Germans know that Jacob was dead when they signed the liberation order? Or was this a genuine reprieve that arrived too late? And would Picasso's intervention have made a difference?
Whenever Picasso himself got into trouble during the Occupation, whether because he was eating in a black-market restaurant when it was raided or because he had his sculptures cast in bronze when doing so was illegal, or -- more serious—because he was caught smuggling currency out of the country, someone was able to hush things up for him. If André-Louis Dubois, in the Ministry of the Interior, was not able to help, he would address himself to Otto Abetz, the German ambassador. And if he, too, was powerless, Dubois would go as high as Arno Broker, Hitler's favorite sculptor, who would appeal directly to Himmler's assistant, the SS general Heinrich Müller. "If you lay a hand on Picasso," Breker warned him at the time of the currency incident, "the world's press will cause such an uproar you'll be left dizzy." He added that if Müller did not sign the documents to put an end to any action against Picasso, he would appeal directly to the Führer. Müller, who knew that on the Führer's orders statues from the squares of Paris had been melted down to provide bronze to cast the works of Arno Broker, knew better than to withhold his signature. In his memoirs Breker recorded what Hitler said: "In politics all the artists are innocents, like Parsifal."
The liberation of Paris, proclaimed on August 25, heralded a turning point in Picasso's life. He was no longer just world famous, no longer merely a legend. He became a symbol of the victory over oppression, of survival, and of the glory of old Europe. He was even asked to provide a drawing for the first page of an album of homage offered to General Charles de Gaulle by the poets and painters of the Resistance. He was a celebrity they could co-opt to add more glamour to their triumph. Having always had a strong preference for symbols over reality, he accepted. There were thousands of anonymous heroes in the Resistance, but Picasso, although certainly no hero, was a monument, as well known as the Eiffel Tower and almost as accessible. He posed for photographs with his favorite pigeon perched on his head or on his shoulder; he welcomed hundreds of American GIs who lined up to visit his studio; he said, "Thank you very much," in a charming Franco-Spanish accent, to offerings of chocolate, coffee, fruit, and tins of food; he answered patiently and graciously over and over again all questions about the length of time it took him to paint a picture, how many he did a year, how many he sold and for how much.
An early visitor to the rue des Grands-Augustins was Ernest Hemingway. Picasso was out, and the concierge, used to everybody's leaving presents, asked if he had a gift to leave for Monsieur. Hemingway went back to his car and returned with a case of hand grenades, on which he wrote, "To Picasso from Hemingway."
At Picasso’s studio a month after the liberation, Eluard, full of conspiratorial excitement, whispered in the ear of Roland Penrose, the English Surrealist painter and collector, "I have great news for you: in a week it will be announced publicly that Picasso has joined the Communist Party."
Picasso's entry into the Communist Party turned into a circus, and one of the more entertaining sideshows was the spectacle of Party functionaries going into contortions to demonstrate why his art, which was anathema to all the official canons of Socialist Realism, was nevertheless great art. They gushed and they cooed, and Picasso responded in kind. "All human expression," he once said, "has its stupid side." In his explanations about why he had joined the Communist Party, he proved it: "Joining the Communist Party is the logical conclusion of my whole life, my whole work. … Is it not the Communist Party that works hardest at understanding and molding the world, at helping the people of today and of tomorrow become clear-minded, freer, happier?"
By now Dora knew of the existence of Françoise, but she could not believe that she would ever be supplanted by "the schoolgirl," as she dismissively called her from the precarious heights of her intellectual eminence. "In bed, but not at the table," she told Picasso, which immediately led him to invite Françoise to join him and Dora at dinner.
Picasso's relationship with Françoise had fallen into a pattern: whenever Françoise withdrew or stayed away, he ran after her to seduce her back. But the moment he detected any signs of real tenderness and closeness in their relationship, he pushed her away: "I don't know why I told you to come. It would be more fun to go to a brothel." Or, "There's nothing so similar to one poodle dog as another poodle dog, and that goes for women, too." Once, as they were watching the dust in the sunlight that streamed into the room, he told her, "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."
While Picasso and Françoise were carrying on their relationship in a state of armed neutrality, Dora was, quite simply, falling apart. One night Picasso went to her apartment and found that she was out. When she finally returned, with her hair disheveled and her clothes torn, she explained that she had been attacked by a man who had stolen her Maltese lapdog. Ten days later she was brought home by a policeman who had found her in the same disheveled and dazed state near the Pont Neuf. This time the story was that she had been attacked by someone who had stolen her bicycle. When her bicycle was found undamaged near the Pont Neuf, Picasso became convinced that these stories were nothing more than a dramatic attempt to rekindle his interest in her. Detemmined not to fall for the ruse, he went on as though nothing was happening -- until it became unavoidably clear that something was.
One morning, in breach of Picasso's rule that she was not to come to the rue des Grands-Augustins unless specifically invited, Dora arrived unbidden and unannounced. She found Picasso talking with Eluard. There were no preambles. "You both should get down on your knees before me, you ungodly pair," she cried. "I have the revelation of the inner voice. I see things as they really are, past, present and future. If you go on living as you have been, you'll bring down a terrible catastrophe on your heads." And to underline her words she grabbed both men by the arms and tried to bring them down on their knees. Sabartés was immediately dispatched to call Jacques Lacan, the psychiatrist whom Picasso consulted for every kind of medical problem, including the common cold. He came to the studio, and when he left, he took Dora with him. He kept her in his clinic for three weeks, treating her with electric shock and starting her in analysis, which would continue long after she left the clinic.
Picasso narrated Dora's woes to Françoise and extracted the moral for her: "The present always has precedence over the past. That's a victory for you." It was a very different moral from the one that Françoise saw in Dora's story. She expressed her fears and told him that for her the story was bristling with painful warnings. "Let's drop that whole matter," he said in response. "Life is like that. It's set up to automatically eliminate those who can't adapt."
In February of 1946 Françoise was presented with an ultimatum. Their relationship, he said, could not continue in this way: either it was going to become a full relationship, which meant living together, or it had to stop completely. He suggested that she go to a place he had rented in Golfe-Juan, in the South of France, and there make up her mind. "By that time," Françoise said, "I was very much in love with him, but there was also the fear in me of being absorbed by him. I really didn't know what I wanted, so I thought that it would be a good idea to go to the south of France and try and sort out my own feelings."
At the end of May Françoise finally decided to match herself against Picasso full-time. She moved into the rue des Grands-Augustins—or, rather, at the end of an evening together she did not go home. Picasso dictated the letters she wrote to her grandmother and her mother to announce, without revealing very much, that she was going to stay away and live a different kind of life.
It was, right from the beginning, a battle much more ferocious than she had imagined. Looking back, Françoise called it living "like Joan of Arc: wearing one's armor from day till night, proving your strength twenty-four hours a day." She also realized that although she had said yes to living with him, it was a qualified yes: "Not all the wrongs were on his side. Part of me never accepted that I had agreed to live with him. I never embraced him with my whole being. I could have given more of myself. I could have given all of myself, but I didn't."
At the beginning of July, 1946, Picasso announced that they were leaving for the Midi, and that he wanted to stop in Ménerbes to show her Dora's house. To Françoise's alarm, as soon as they arrived he told her that this was where they were spending their holiday. "I made her give us the house," he said, "and now I'm going to make sure that you stay here with me." It was not a happy holiday. Françoise felt that choosing Dora's house for a holiday was a callous act, showing a complete indifference both to Dora's feelings and to her own: "Everything was a trap. He was the perfect trap-setter, and his timing could not have been worse, since Dora was just recovering from her attack of insanity and I was just beginning my life with him."
Even though Françoise was alone with Picasso, Dora seemed to be hovering in the house, and Marie-Thérèse was a definite presence, in the rapturous letters he received from her every day. Françoise, who had looked forward to their time away as a kind of honeymoon after they had started living together, was actually expected to listen, every morning, to selected passionate passages from Marie-Thérèse's letters, punctuated by Picasso's commentary: "Somehow I don't see you writing me a letter like that. … It's because you don't love me enough. That woman really loves me. …" What he did not read to her were his no less passionate letters to Marie-Thérèse. They were, Maya remembers, "full of 'I love you' and 'I love you' and 'I love only you' and 'You are the best in the world.'"
Françoise began to dream of escaping from Picasso and from the oppressive presence of his past—as far away as Tunisia. Luc Simon, a painter friend, had arranged a job for her there, making designs to record the local arts and crafts before they disappeared. She plotted it all in her mind, and one afternoon when Picasso was out of the house, she left. Since she had no money, she had decided to hitch a ride to Marseilles, where she had friends, and borrow from them her fare to North Africa. She had not been on the main road long before a car stopped for her. It all seemed to be going according to plan except for one thing: the car was Picasso's blue Peugeot. His first reaction was anger and incomprehension. "You must be out of your mind," he cried. But then, as always when she wanted to leave him, he knew with uncanny accuracy just what to say to bring her back: "You must not listen to your head for things like that. You'll talk yourself out of the deepest things in life. What you need is a child. That will bring you back to nature and put you in tune with the rest of the world." By now he had already pushed her inside the car, kissed her, and held her close to him.
Once she was back, nothing seemed further from her thoughts than Tunisia. In fact, she decided to follow Picasso's advice to think less and obey her heart more, wherever it led her. "You won't know what it means to be a woman until you have a child," he said, and she, who had up until then dismissed the idea of motherhood, was no longer so sure. "Before I went to live with him," she remembered, "that was one thing I absolutely had made up my mind on: I didn't want to have children. And that was one thing he absolutely had made up his mind on: I was going to have children." A little over a month later, back at the house in Golfe-Juan, where they settled after they left Ménerbes, she was pregnant.
On May 15, 1947, at the Belvédere Clinic in Boulogne, Françoise gave birth to a baby boy.
At first Picasso was fascinated with baby Claude, who looked with every day that passed more and more like him, and he was happy to have taken greater possession of Claude's mother. "He always wanted her very near to him," said the writer Dominique Desanti, who visited them a few times in Golfe-Juan in the summer of 1947.
They were a very striking couple together. She was so beautiful and he was really astonishing, so aesthetically they were very striking to look at. He would make aggressive remarks meant to put down and humiliate her in front of others and she would laugh and make what he said seem innocuous. He would refer to her as "the woman." "What has the woman made for dinner?" he would ask. Or he would look at an erotically dressed woman on a postcard and sigh: "What a dream to have such a woman in front of you." And Françoise would laugh and diffuse it: "It's very easy. We can do that. Just get me a dress like that and I'll put it on— it would be a very amusing disguise." She never looked cross or humiliated; she always made you feel that they were acting in a play. That was his way of being; he was cruel whether it was with his woman, his best friends or whoever was around if he felt like it. So if you decided to live with him, you needed unusual strength and unusual maturity to find your part in his play and improvise the text.
The artist Picasso most enjoyed discussing aesthetic questions with was Alberto Giacometti, partly because he was too much of a visionary to think of them purely in aesthetic terms. Giacometti had further earned his secret respect by never fawning over him. The two men visited each other often, and sometimes, like naughty schoolboys, they went to a nearby café and pored over the pornographic magazines that Picasso had brought along.
At other times they discussed their work. "He accepted Giacometti's criticisms," the art historian James Lord said, "but at the same time resented having done so, and the perverse side of his nature—always powerful—led him to make fun of Alberto behind his back. … Making light of the sculptor's anxiety and frustration, he said, 'Alberto tries to make us regret the masterpieces he hasn't done.'"
When he was in a mood to be truthful, Picasso conceded that Giacometti's work represented "a new spirit in sculpture." He displayed a gratuitous meanness, however, one day at Giacometti's studio, when such an expression of appreciation could have made all the difference to Giacometti's livelihood. He was there when, unexpectedly, Christian Zervos, who would devote his life to cataloging Picasso's work, arrived with an Italian collector. Three times Zervos asked Picasso if he agreed with him on the merits of a particular sculpture that he hoped the Italian might buy, and three times Picasso refused to reply.
The result was what Picasso knew it would be. Faced with the conspicuous silence of the world's most celebrated painter, the Italian collector left empty-handed. "He amazes me," Giacometti said once. "He amazes me as a monster would, and I think he knows as well as we do that he's a monster."
At the beginning of August, Picasso and Françoise drove to Vence to visit Matisse, who had been working on the design of a Dominican chapel and had even agreed to underwrite its cost. "You're crazy to make a chapel for those people," Picasso immediately began to rage. "Do you believe in that stuff or not? If not, do you think you ought to do something for an idea that you don't believe in?" "Why don't you build a market instead?" he cried out on another occasion. "You could paint fruits and vegetables."
Matisse reported the outburst to Father Couturier, the Dominican priest and champion of modern art who was also posing for the preparatory designs for the panel of Saint Dominic. "I couldn't care less," Matisse told the priest, his equanimity and his conviction quite undisturbed. "I have greens more green than pears and oranges more orange than pumpkins. So why build a market?"
When Picasso and Françoise went to see him again and Picasso again criticized the project, Matisse was more explicit: "As far as I'm concerned, this is essentially a work of art. It's just that I put myself in the state of mind of what I'm working on. I don't know whether I believe in God or not. I think, really, I'm some kind of Buddhist. But the essential thing is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer."
And later, since Picasso would not let go of his obsessive fury at the thought of the chapel, Matisse told him, "Yes, I do pray and you pray too, and you know it all too well: when everything goes badly, we throw ourselves into prayer . . . And you do it—you, too. It's no good saying no." Matisse had taken to treating Picasso like a brilliant and precious but recalcitrant son. He listened to him but had no intention of heeding what he said.
Matisse's vision was clear and compelling: to create a simple "religious space" where people could come "to feel purified and freed of their burdens." "In the end," he told Picasso, "it's not worth trying to be too clever. You are like me: what we are all looking for in art is to rediscover the atmosphere of our First Communion." The First Communion was a powerful symbol for Matisse, embodying the serenity that he himself radiated.
It was this serenity, this peace beyond his understanding, that Picasso was fighting with his explosions against the idea of the chapel. And there was something else. Matisse gave expression to it at the dedication of the chapel: "This chapel for me is the culmination of an entire life's work and the flowering of an enormous, sincere, and difficult labor. It is not a labor I chose but for which destiny chose me at the end of my road. … I consider it, despite all its imperfections, my masterpiece, an effort resulting from an entire life dedicated to the search for truth." Picasso, too, longed for such a culmination, for the "ultimate" painting, yet felt further and further away from it. "One swallows something, is poisoned by it, and eliminates the toxic" was his description of his process of working. Since he believed that there was no truth to be revealed at the end of the road, did he really paint as a catharsis, merely to cast out the toxic, increasingly trapped in his own virtuosity?
“My features were all that mattered to him," Françoise said. "He never sought access to my spirit. So he just missed me as a dynamic force. It was as if he had made a brilliant reproduction of a car without the motor. I felt that on this point we were really apart." But she went on trying. Determined, even after she became pregnant for the second time, to keep up with Picasso's late nights and Claude's early mornings and to continue with her own painting, she found herself sacrificing sleep, getting as little as four hours a night. As for Picasso, he was grappling with the new depths of intimacy that he and Françoise had reached. In the paintings and lithographs he made of her early in 1949, serenity jostles with aggression and chaos with a starry sky. Love and hate, trust and betrayal, wrestled in the deep recesses of his soul, and, afraid of probing the darkness, he began to flee from the newfound intimacy.
On April 19, 1949, the day of the opening in Paris of the second World Peace Congress, organized by the Communist Party, Françoise went to see Dr. Fernand Lamaze. The baby was not due for another month, but he found her in such a rundown state that he instructed her to check in to the Belvédere Clinic at once. She went back to the rue des Grands-Augustins, told Picasso what had happened, and asked him if their chauffeur, Marcel, could drive her to the clinic. Irritated at having his day disturbed, Picasso told her that he needed Marcel to drive him to the Peace Congress. "If you need a car," he snapped, "you'll have to find another solution. Why don't you call an ambulance?" Had he not already given her enough? Since he had given her the greatest of all things, since he had given her himself, since they had possessed the universe together, how could she be petty enough to ask for little things like a car to drive her to the clinic?
Fortunately, Marcel had an earthy sense of priorities. He suggested that nothing would be easier than to drop her at the clinic on the way to the Congress. But even a detour was too much of an inconvenience. Finally, a compromise was reached: Marcel took Picasso to the Congress and came back to fetch Françoise. They arrived at the Belvédere Clinic at five o'clock. At eight o'clock that night she gave birth to a little girl, Ann Paloma Gilot.
Every Thursday and Sunday, Marcel drove Picasso to Juan-les-Pins, where Marie-Thérèse and Maya were spending their summer holidays -- less than ten miles away from Picasso's new family. For some time now Françoise had been campaigning for an end to this situation. She found it absurd to go on pretending that there was nobody else in Picasso's life. Why, she kept asking, shouldn't Maya meet Claude and Paloma? Why shouldn't she meet Marie-Thérèse? Why have Maya continue to grow up in a lie, hearing at school or reading in newspapers and magazines things that her mother denied at home? "It's the easiest way to go crazy," Françoise told Picasso, "not knowing if you are seeing the sun at noon or the moon. You pretend you are unusual, then let's really lead an unusual life, instead of playing hide-and-seek with the truth." He did not like the idea of Françoise trying to put an end to his games, but at the same time he was intrigued by the possibilities that would be opened up by such an encounter. He finally agreed to invite Marie-Thérèse and Maya to visit them at La Galloise. "With a bit of luck," he told Françoise, "you might even come to blows!"
But Françoise had begun to untangle Picasso's strategy. "He always put those around him in competition with each other—one woman against another, one dealer against another, one friend against another. He was masterful at using one person like the red flag and the other like the bull. While the bull was busy charging against the red flag, Pablo could, unnoticed, deal his wounding thrusts. And most people didn't even think to look who was hiding behind the red flag."
It was too late for Marie-Thérèse. For years François had been the red flag Picasso had used to taunt her, and she had allowed herself to fall victim to his strategy of dividing and conquering. "She had grown to hate Françoise," Maya says, "and she wanted me to hate her too."
When in the summer of 1949 Marie-Thérèse finally found herself in front of her adversary, there was only one thing she really wanted to tell her, and when they were alone for a few moments, she did: "Whatever you may be thinking, there is no way that you could ever break our bond and take my place." "I can't take your place," Françoise replied, "and I don't wish to. The place I'm in is one that was vacant." Françoise knew that Marie-Thérèse was the red flag, not the enemy. She also knew that "one truth does not annihilate another truth and one relationship does not invalidate another, in the same way that you don't love your first child less because you have a second one."
Having the blindfold taken off was at first very hard on Maya. Suddenly, at thirteen, she was confronted with a little half-brother and a baby half-sister and another woman at the center of her father's life. "When she first saw Claude and Paloma, she wanted to kill them," Françoise recalls, "but that, of course, had been instigated in her by her mother. When she was allowed to have her own experience of her father's new family, it all changed and she was happy that the charade was over. " Many years later Claude would tell Maya's husband, "You know, the first children of Maya were myself and Paloma."
Françoise seemed to have everything, and yet gradually, and at first almost imperceptibly, it became clear to her that the vital current was missing. It started with her health. She had heavy hemorrhages, and was feeling spent. She found it hard to recover from Paloma's birth, and her exhaustion and hemorrhaging made it impossible for Picasso and her to continue their active sex life. "Pablo had tremendous sexual needs, and I began to feel harassed. Also I felt tremendously burdened with the children and all the duties of our life and all the people around, especially as Pablo made it really hard for me to get any stable organization going at the house that could support me and take some of the burden off. It was always 'No, I don't want him, no, I don't want her, no, I don't want this, no, I don't want that."' Many nights he would wake her up as often as half a dozen times, insisting that something was wrong with "the money," his nickname for the children—that he could not hear any breathing and that she should get up and check. Making sure the children were all right would often wake them up, and Françoise had to spend even more time coaxing them back to sleep before she could go back to bed herself.
By the time fall came, Picasso had added another arduous task to her daily routine. He had bought an old perfumery in the rue du Fournas, in Vallauris, which he had converted into his painting and sculpture studios, and he insisted that Françoise was the only person who could build the fires in the morning so that the place would be warm enough for him to begin work there in the afternoon. So every morning from November on, no matter what time she had gone to sleep, Françoise stoked the furnace at La Galloise and then bicycled down to the rue du Fournas to start the fires there. Picasso would sleep until noon most days and wake up grumpy but recharged, while Françoise's health continued to deteriorate.
Even when they were together, she felt that Picasso was far away from her. She withdrew into her own world, kept her suspicions and her fears to herself, and watched as her relationship with Picasso began to feel more and more like a business partnership. She managed his dealings with galleries, publishers, and the world, and immersed herself in her own work. Picasso was pleased that she had a contract with Kahnweiler, pleased that Paul Rosenberg had also asked to represent her, pleased that her drawings and lithographs would soon be illustrating books of poems by Verdet and Eluard. And Françoise was grateful for any signs, however spasmodic, that she existed for him as something more than a useful adjunct. At the same time, she was "chilled by the growing recognition that I had to pay for any signs of affection on his part by the pain he caused me when he immediately switched and became harsh and cruel. He called it 'the high cost of living, ' but it was really the high cost of living with Pablo. Any time he was at all loving or caring and I allowed myself to relax and be open and vulnerable, he would turn."
When she was not attending to his business, to her own work, or to the children, Françoise's main release was crying. As always, the smell of pain brought out the sadist in Picasso. "You were a Venus when I met you," he told her once when he caught her crying. "Now you're a Christ— and a Romanesque Christ, at that, with all the ribs sticking out to be counted. I hope you realize you don't interest me like that. … You should be ashamed to let yourself go— your figure, your health. … Any other woman would improve after the birth of a baby, but not you. You look like a broom. Do you think brooms appeal to anybody? They don't to me."
To add to Françoise's problems, Picasso began a very public affair with Geneviève Laporte, whom he had first met after the Liberation, when she came to interview him for her school newspaper. "It was the loss of innocence and the end of trust," Françoise said. "From then on not a day passed that I did not discover one more corpse in one more dark corner of a closet. I felt as though I was stepping deeper and deeper into a slimy pond. My whole universe had crumbled."
In the fall of 1952 Françoise issued a warning: she told Picasso that she could no longer find any "deep meaning" in their union and could see "no reason for staying." It was a warning but also a plea. Picasso's response was to act as though he wanted to give her every possible reason to leave. His life became a comedy of Don Juanism indulged—an old man darting about the countryside, driven not so much by desire as by the fear of waning passions. It turned out to be an occupation infinitely more exhausting than work, and each time he returned to La Galloise, haggard and worn out, he would ask Françoise defiantly if she still wanted to leave him. "I began to despise him," she said, "and I could not forgive him for turning the man I had loved into the man I despised. He had been transformed into a dirty old man, and it was all so grotesque and so ridiculous that I could no longer even be jealous."
Toward the end of the year Françoise went to Paris to discuss the sets and costumes she had been commissioned to design for Janine Charrat's ballet Heracles, which was to open in the spring. While she was there, she wrote a letter to Picasso telling him all the things that she had had such difficulty expressing to him in person: the tragedy of love denied that their relationship had become; the ways in which he had disfigured and violated their love; his betrayal not just of her and of what they had had together but, even more important, of what their love could have bloomed into; all the anguish he had caused her; and what had been the hardest thing for her to accept—his continued refusal to admit the truth about the other women in his life, even after she had confronted him with it. She ended the letter by telling him that she would not return to Vallauris and to him unless he finally told the truth.
He rushed to Paris. He knew, with the unerring instinct of all great manipulators, that the time had come for a theatrical confession. He arrived at the rue Gay-Lussac holding her letter in his hand. "Everything you wrote in the letter is the truth," he admitted. "And it's such a beautiful letter—you write so well. And not at all in a way that is demeaning to me." Then he cried. For the first time since she had known him, he cried and asked for forgiveness. He also promised that he would immediately end all affairs. And to prove that he meant it, he told her that at that very moment Geneviève Laporte was waiting for him in the restaurant around the corner and that he was going to go down and tell her that it was over. He went and quickly came back and cried some more. But Françoise did not cry; she realized that just as he was leaving Vallauris to come to her to confess and to ask for forgiveness, he had made an appointment to meet Geneviève in the neighborhood restaurant. Much as she would have loved to, Françoise could not believe that the man facing her with tears streaming down his face was a transformed man. Yet at the same time she decided, with her eyes open, to try once again. Yes, she said, she would stay.
The next day at six in the evening, as she passed the restaurant, Françoise saw Geneviève Laporte through the window, alone and waiting. The following day, she was again waiting, and the day after that. For two hours each night she waited for the man who had told her, "I've never wept over a woman," as he wiped his tears and left their "haven of bliss" to return to Françoise. He never came back to the restaurant, which had been one of their regular meeting places—not because he had really turned a new page but because he had had his fill of her. And there were so many others waiting in line, and time was running out.
At the end of March, Françoise returned to Paris alone to work on the sets and costumes for Heracles. In her free moments she saw a lot of Kostas Axelos, a young Greek philosopher she had met in the summer of 1948. "I was so lonely at the time, he was really a godsend," she said. "At first it seemed so natural and convenient, I didn't think at all about what it might lead to." Then, gradually, he started to challenge all her reasons for staying with Picasso. When she talked of duty, he told her that she was really a coward, avoiding all the trials of her own generation by living with someone who had soared above the battle. When she talked of being prepared to sacrifice her personal happiness, he told her that she was in fact choosing what was most convenient, a position that gave her power by association. When she talked of not letting down her children, he talked of her betrayal of herself. Trained in the arts of persuasion, he was a formidable challenger. "He fought me inch by inch, personally and philosophically," Françoise said, "with all the verbal weapons in his arsenal. Greece had always held a fascination for me, and here was Kostas, the young, handsome philosopher-prince!"
After a month Picasso arrived in Paris with the children. He knew that they were powerful reminders of the life he and Françoise had built together and powerful allies, silently pleading his case. He dutifully attended the opening-night performance of Heracles, sitting in a box with Françoise and Maya. At the end of the performance Françoise left the box to go onstage to take a bow. Axelos was waiting for her backstage; he kissed her, congratulated her, and disappeared into the night, while Françoise went on with Picasso to a gala dinner being given by André Boll, who had written the story of the ballet, in his elegant apartment on the Quai d'Orsay. It was her night, and as the guests were swarming around her to compliment and congratulate her, Picasso could be overheard muttering to himself, "Ballets always bring me bad luck."
At the rue Gay-Lussac, he was writing poems in Spanish, full of loneliness, violence, and pain. "It was suddenly a complete reversal of what our life had been like," Françoise said. "He was the one now waiting until I was ready to go back to Vallauris, and when I told him that I wanted to spend more time in Paris alone, he took the children and returned to the South of France to wait for me there. Kostas and I were still intimate friends but nothing more. One night in June, soon after Pablo had left, we went to see a Jacques Tati movie, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot. I found it so silly that after half an hour we left. That night was the turning point in our relationship. Kostas put aside the philosophical arguments and addressed me man to woman. He told me that he loved me and that even though I didn't love him yet, he could, for a while, love for both of us and help sustain me while I mustered enough strength to leave Pablo. We became lovers—I think less because of compelling sexual desire and more because he wanted to assert, before I returned to Vallauris, that our relationship was real on many levels, including the sexual one."
As soon as she returned to Vallauris, she was inundated with telegrams and letters from Axelos, all of them intended to strengthen her resolve and all of them ending, "I love you." Picasso asked her what was going on; she told him and added that she had decided to leave with the children on September 30. "I had finally reached the conclusion that my life with Pablo was like a sickness," she said, "and I knew that I had to eliminate everything that was sick in me." He repeated again and again that nobody left a man like him, a challenge that only made her all the more eager to leave. "Wait and see," she told him finally. "If nobody leaves a man like you, you are, in that case, going to see something you have not seen before."
He refused to face the fact that she was indeed leaving—as if his refusal to empower reality with his attention would make it go away. On September 30, 1953, he watched silently and incredulously as the taxi arrived to take Françoise and the children to the station, the driver helped them with their bags, and first the children and then Françoise got into it. All along he had refused to say good-bye. As the taxi pulled away, he uttered one word only, "Merde, " and stalked back into the house.
Françoise's decision to abandon Picasso as death drew closer was a symbol of life leaving him, of death displacing the vitality that had always been his hallmark. He talked of her treachery to whoever would listen, as if, through venting his anger, he could master his grief. But he suffered alone, and on November 28, a month after his seventy-second birthday, he stopped talking, took his despair in hand, and started working. He worked feverishly, and in just over two months produced 180 drawings. The poet Michel Leiris called the series a "visual diary of a hateful season in hell, a crisis in his private life leading him to question everything." In these confessional drawings he is not only old and grotesque but ugly, dwarfish, flabby, and pathetic, trying to capture through his art the vitality that eludes him in life. He is extremely skillful, a superb craftsman, full of imagination and wit in all the different ways he portrays his model and himself, but an air of meaninglessness hangs over the whole enterprise of his art. And the young woman in the series, the eternal feminine in many different guises and disguises, knows it. She is amused by him but cannot take him seriously as an artist and certainly not as a lover. She is much more delighted playing with a monkey or fondling a cat, with its fur, as Rebecca West wrote, "soft against her smooth flesh, its nervous energy crackling against her serenity, her faculty of acceptance bringing the little animal into unity with herself. She is as strongly affirmative as a Greek goddess. " She is the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. And the painter's despair is not just that he is an old man who must give up "his place at the feast of sensual pleasure"; it is that he is an old man who will die without knowing why he has lived and why he has painted. Neither his gifts nor his endless sexual adventures have brought him any closer to the secret of life that the young woman seems to know and from which she seems to draw her serenity and her deep acceptance of everything, including the absurd little old man.
“Picasso was unhappy like only a Spaniard can be unhappy," said the writer Hélène Parmelin. "So the procession of women began. It was horrible. People would come to see us to tell us about this one or the other one that he should meet. I remember one day a very famous woman came to see me to tell me that since I was such a good friend of Picasso's, I should do something for him, and that she knew this young Spanish woman, marvelously proportioned, intelligent, who would be so good for him. I told her that that was not my profession. It was incredible what was going on."
The children watched and waited. "I accepted them all," Maya said, "the ones he brought home and the ones he collected while we were traveling. I used to say, 'She's the last one to date.' As they were getting younger and younger, I could really have fun with some of them." Paulo was less generous: "Whores for daddy" was his conclusion.
With Françoise gone, Picasso could not stand to remain in Vallauris. So in midsummer the court set itself up in Perpignan. In fact, he seriously considered staying there permanently, and the local Communists did their best to persuade him to do so. On August 19 he painted a beautiful portrait of his hostess, the Countess de Lazerme, but the rumor was that it was Rosita Hugué whom he wanted to marry. And then there was Jacqueline Roque, whom he had met at the pottery at Vallauris, where she worked as a salesgirl. Paule de Lazerme described her "watching him like a fox, clearly eager to fill the vacant place." Picasso treated her abysmally—when, that is, he bothered to take any notice of her at all. He made it so humiliatingly clear that he did not want her around that one day she finally decided to leave. Picasso came down to lunch looking and sounding relieved. During lunch Jacqueline called him from the road. "She threatened to kill herself," Picasso announced when he returned to the table, "if she could not come back to Perpignan." His response had been that she could do whatever she liked, provided she left him in peace. That night Jacqueline came back: "You told me to do whatever I liked; so here I am."
Her behavior for the rest of their stay at the Lazermes' showed that returning to Perpignan was the last time she would do whatever she liked. She started calling Picasso "Monseigneur," addressed him in the third person, kissed his hand, and was ready at any moment to spread herself out like a cloak for Monseigneur to walk on. She had clearly decided to accept every humiliation, stifle all pain, and subordinate both her life and her will to his, provided she could just stay around. By the time he took her with him to the rue des Grands-Augustins, at the end of the summer, he had decided to accept her offering. Having failed in his life with a goddess, he settled for the peace of living with a doormat. It was the peace of the grave, but he was a tired man. Dominique Eluard, Paul's third wife, explained, "Françoise had asked of him to stretch to a relationship which was on a higher level and in which she was much more than just the mistress and the vestal virgin. But ultimately I don't think that he was capable of having other than a macho relationship with a woman."
In October he painted Jacqueline in a Rocking Chair—a stocky, matronly little Jacqueline, a far cry from the idealized, long-necked, sphinxlike creature he had painted the previous June. Prophetically, he had shown Jacqueline not as she was but as she would soon become. She had chosen her fate and he had chosen a caretaker to hold the world at bay while he painted with no other goal than to hold death in check. She was a woman he could dominate; but he had not taken into account the tyranny of weakness.
While Picasso was at the Rue Des Grands-Augustins, Françoise called him, asking to come and see him. She wanted to be the first to tell him that she was getting married. She had known Luc Simon, the young painter she was going to marry, since her school days.
Picasso's first reaction was rage. "It's monstrous," he told her. "You think only of yourself." Françoise protested that she had also been thinking of their children. "Luc will help bring up the children," she said. "He is not their father, but he will be a good stepfather, and it will be easier for them to lead a normal life." Picasso's anger was now mixed with incomprehension. "Is that what you call a normal life?" he shouted. "The only normal life would be you, me, and the children."
"There was another purpose to my visit, and I wanted to complete it," Françoise recalled. "I told Pablo that before marrying Luc, I intended to set up a trust for the children, a conseil de famille with my father, Luc, and him as trustees. Since the children officially had no father I wanted to make sure they would be taken care of if anything happened to me. Also I wanted to establish that my marriage would not change Pablo's status toward his children."
Picasso did not want to stay in Paris and he certainly did not wish to return to Vallauris. So the search began for another house in the South of France. In the end he chose La Californie, an ornate turn-of-the-century mansion overlooking Cannes. The "king of junkmen," as Cocteau had called Picasso, took possession of his new kingdom in June and moved with him his jumble of trifles.
Claude and Paloma had come to La Californie for the summer, while Françoise was in Venice on an extended honeymoon. She had asked Picasso many times to take her to Venice, a place she had loved since she was a child. He had repeatedly said no; but now he could not bear the thought of her being there with her young, tall, and handsome husband—all attributes which made the thought that much more irksome to him. "To claim that when you love somebody, you can accept the idea of seeing her go off with some young fellow is very unconvincing," he had told Françoise after seeing Charlie Chaplin's Limelight. "I'd rather see a woman die, any day, than see her happy with someone else. … I'm not interested in these so-called Christian acts of nobility."
One weekend in the fall of 1955, when Claude and Paloma were with Picasso at Kahnweiler's house in the country, and Françoise and Luc were back in Paris, she received a call from him: "I'm not returning the children to you unless you give to Paulo all the drawings and etchings that are in your apartment." "You have to return the children first," she replied, "and then you can send Paulo to pick up the drawings." He returned the children, and the next morning she returned everything except The Woman Flower, which he had specifically given her as a present.
It was an open declaration of war, followed by the conspicuous absence of an invitation for Françoise to exhibit at the Salon de Mai and finally, in November of 1956, by a letter from Kahnweiler terminating her contract. "I began to feel as though I was living in a nightmare," Françoise remembered. The more good news Picasso received about Françoise's new life, as when he heard that she was pregnant, the more determined he was to destroy her. He made it clear that anybody who was her friend was his enemy. She soon got used to art dealers' apologizing for not exhibiting her work, explaining that they could not risk his displeasure. Any evidence that she could not only exist but flourish without him was for Picasso proof of his waning powers. He was addicted to having people be addicted to him, and although there were plenty around him who were, he was obsessed by the one stray sheep.
At La Californie Picasso and Jacqueline settled in to a life of being devoured in the process of devouring each other—she by her smothering possessiveness and he by crushing first her spirit and then her humanity. "When everything went wrong, everything went wrong," Hélène Parmelin wrote.
To an unimaginable degree. The whole world was nothing but trash, friends and enemies alike, there was no truth anywhere, nothing mattered, all was rotten, everything was spoiled, all he asked of the world was to be left in peace, and the bit of chalk he had put down there had disappeared. Jacqueline, I said I would see no one. Do you mean to say so-and-so came, Jacqueline? Well, why did you send him away? . . . Why did you let so-and-so in? I said I would see no one.
The Spoiled Child had met his match in the Terrible Mother, all too eager to enclose him in her deathly womb, the better to foster all that was dark, cruel, gross, and meanspirited in him. Even when he shut himself away to work, Jacqueline clung to him from behind the closed doors. "It's not merely that he might happen to want something," she said. "But I wouldn't be happy thinking that he might want something merely because I wasn't there." "One had to stay at La Californie, one's mind's eye on Monseigneur," Parmelin wrote. "Not go even to the bottom of the garden. Not even outside the house. Besides, at fixed times, he had to be given his pills, or his drops: he was taking homeopathic medicines for whatever was the matter with him. What was the matter with him? Nothing. But he took the medicines. Small doses. Moreover he might want something." If things went well for him, things went well for her. She sank herself in him with a monomania that excluded even her own daughter, who had to subsist on the few emotional crumbs her mother could spare. "When one is lucky enough to have Picasso in front of one, one doesn't look at the sun!" she snapped when, one night, someone pointed out the beauty of a sunset. Jacqueline became his secretary, housekeeper, and press-clipping service, and the translator of his will into action; and Picasso became the tool through which she could assert her will over the rest of the world, the means through which she could experience a sense of power that, even if her imagination had not been as limited as it was, she would never have imagined possible.
The main source of her power was her role as gatekeeper, although a lot of the time the gatekeeper only conveyed Monseigneur's wishes. He was away, asleep, working, on the beach, at the bullfights, in Paris—any one of those authorized excuses would be used to send away the old friends or the new admirers that he did not want to receive, or at least did not want to receive at that moment.
In the summer of 1957 Jacqueline fell sick and had to have a stomach operation. From now on she would frequently be ill. She had problems with her stomach, problems with her eardrums, gynecological problems; often she felt so exhausted she could barely drag herself to bed. When she was sick, she slept in the room next to Monseigneur's, so as not to bother him. And he would presage in his work the stages of her recurring cycle of sickness and recovery. "Isn't it curious," he said, "that by the time she is ill I am painting pictures in which she appears to be well again? I don't understand it. I always seem to be ahead of events." It was hard to distinguish cause and effect.
In the summer of 1960 Françoise began trying through lawyers to gain some basic rights for her children—starting with the right to use their father's name. During her prolonged negotiations with Maître Bacqué de Sariac, Picasso's lawyer, Françoise received an extremely unexpected proposal from Picasso. "Would you consider divorcing Luc Simon and marrying him?" Maître de Sariac asked on his client's instructions. "That would certainly be the easiest way to regularize the status of the children. Then you could divorce, but at least the children would have been legitimized."
"For the sake of the children": that was the argument to which Picasso's emissary kept returning as Françoise listened to him week after week during the final months of 1960. Paulo and Claude joined the chorus encouraging her to say yes. At first Françoise was incredulous and could not bring herself even to contemplate the offer. But gradually Picasso's proposal, like an earthquake, began to change the landscape of her life. Almost despite herself, she began to look at her life with new eyes. During the day she worked in her studio in her family home in Neuilly. Her father had died in l957, so only her mother was there now. She would return to the rue du Val de Grâce in the evening, and she and Luc would have dinner with the children. "We were very well behaved in front of them," Françoise said, "but after they had gone to bed, there was argument after argument." Luc, who had been like a father to Claude and Paloma, was not happy about their taking Picasso's name. Picasso's hostility toward him since his marriage to Françoise had permeated the art world and had been devastating to his career; and now the children he loved would carry the name of the man who had done everything he could to destroy him.
Looking back over the years since her marriage to Luc, Françoise saw clearly for the first time how much Picasso's vindictiveness had poisoned their lives. Was it really possible, she began to wonder, to put an end to his corrosive resentment? To have a life where she could talk to the father of her children without going through lawyers? To be able to function in the art world without the stigma of Picasso's enmity? An awful burden lifted from her at the thought of life without the shadow that Picasso, the destroyer, had cast over her world.
There was something else that Picasso's proposal made her confront: that much as she loved Luc and mistrusted Picasso, she had never loved anyone with the intensity with which she had loved Picasso. And Luc knew it. He had even written a letter to Picasso, telling him that "Françoise may be my wife, but she will always be yours." Life had not been easy with the Furies of Picasso's vengeance pursuing her, but Françoise had been able not only to survive but to heal her wounds and to grow. And with the benefit of distance she had seen ways in which she might have been able to achieve greater intimacy and depth in her relationship with Picasso. She saw the mistakes that she had made. What if she had learned Spanish? She remembered how enchanted he was every time he saw her take an interest in anything Spanish, as when she had translated Góngora's poems; being able to speak the language of his birth would definitely have brought them closer together. What if she had been more flexible, if she had opened her heart more, if she had mistrusted less? What, above all, if spiritually she had reached a place where she could have loved him unconditionally without losing her own center, where she could have surrendered fully without capitulating to domination, and from which she could have led him away from his own self-destructiveness?
Maybe she was dreaming. Maybe it was too late and there were too many ghosts from the past. But if she accepted Picasso's proposal, then at least her children would be legitimized, she would disarm some of Picasso's hostility, and Luc would be able to follow his career without the curse of having Picasso as an adversary.
In January of 1961 Claude and Paloma were legally awarded Picasso's name. At the end of February Françoise asked Luc for a divorce. On March 2, in utmost secrecy, Pablo Picasso and Jacqueline Roque got married in the town hall of Vallauris in the presence of Paul Derigon, the Communist mayor, and Maître Antebi, a lawyer from Cannes, and his wife. The banns, at Picasso's request, were not published on the door of the town hall. Jacqueline had been Madame Picasso for twelve days before the news hit the newspapers. During that time Picasso had carefully refrained from informing Maître de Sariac, who had continued clearing the path for his client's marriage to Françoise.
On March 14 Françoise opened her morning paper and read that the man she was preparing to marry had been married twelve days ago. The news made her shiver. She suddenly felt touched by evil. In a state of emotional upheaval, Françoise decided to go ahead with the divorce, even though there was no longer any immediate reason for it. She had never before seen so unequivocally Picasso's power of destruction.
Marriage transformed Jacqueline from victim to victor, and crossing the line from mistress to wife unleashed the destructiveness that had been nursed in her through seven years of being treated as something subhuman. She was now Madame Picasso and the mistress of all she surveyed. A sinister assertion of her new power was the campaign she immediately began against his children.
Claude and Paloma had always provided a bitter reminder of the woman she replaced, of the woman she hated more than any other. They were also reminders of the fact that she was never going to have her own children by Picasso. She had tolerated their presence for the holidays, as she had tolerated everything and everybody that had been part of his life while she was uncertain about how permanent a part she would be. But now she knew and the world knew, and there would no longer be any brakes on the exercise of her will. Also, the children were fast becoming adults—clever, attractive, and now, to her horror, carrying their father's name. They were increasingly hard to tolerate, and she no longer had to tolerate them. She started feeding Picasso lies, about how little his children cared for him, how their minds had been poisoned by their mother. She even said the fourteen-year-old Claude was a drug addict and should not be allowed to join them for the Easter holidays. Both children were promptly disinvited.
The isolation of Picasso took place by stages, but it began with the discounting of every emotional claim. What Jacqueline wanted was Picasso all to herself, and she was ruthlessly clear about how to achieve her goal, since what he wanted was to lose himself in work. Later she would refer to Picasso's paintings during their life together as their "children," and she wanted nothing to interfere with the production of more and more children—certainly not the presence of real children from his past. There was a window on the second floor of Notre-Dame-de-Vie, their home in Mougins, looking down on Picasso's studio. From that window Jacqueline watched for hours as Picasso made their children. These were her great moments—just she and Monseigneur and the prospect of more and more of their children populating the earth.
For Picasso, who in October of 1961 celebrated his eightieth birthday, work was the only weapon he could pit against death, his great adversary. He went on working— paintings, drawings, linocuts, seventy Jacquelines in 1962 alone -- but it was work born of panic and of the frenzy that panic brings. Both in his life and in his work he was retreating. It was the time of giving up, settling down, and going back: giving up the hope of unearthing reality and truth, settling down as if life's gravity had taken such a toll that he had to marry his caretaker, and going back to the mother who would order his reality, meet his every wish, and demand nothing in return except to possess him. He did not even have to maintain the fiction of loving her. He could be as estranged, emotionally absent, cruel, or unfair as he felt like, and she would still be there taking care of him, because that is a mother's job. He started calling Jacqueline Maman. And of all the women in his life, Jacqueline looked most like his mother, and came to look more and more like her as she grew stockier and sturdier with every year. Picasso liked her to give him his bath, and threw violent temper tantrums if she was not there when he wanted her.
In his work, too, he was regressing—not to an earlier stage of his own life but to an earlier, much earlier, stage of man. The people populating his canvases were not modern; they were not even Egyptian or Greek. They were the old Mesopotamian people seen in the art that has survived from those ancient times: stout, squat, with hardly any neck, and, above all, with the pupils suspended in their eyes, nowhere touching the lids—big, black holes, just emerging from the cosmic darkness, fearfully watchful and still in the grip of a primeval terror.
Two of the key people in his long life died in 1963: Braque in August, Cocteau in October. Picasso went on working. Perhaps work could command death out of his orbit. If not work, then what? His children, far from giving him a sense of life going on, were a bitter reminder of his life coming to an end. During the Christmas holidays he told Claude that this was the last time he could visit him. "I am old and you are young," he explained. "I wish you were dead."
Paloma went back for the Easter holidays. "No, you cannot see him," she was told. That Christmas of 1963 was the last time either child would spend time with their father. "Monsieur was 'out' for ten years . . ., " Paloma said, "the person I loved most in the world."
“He had a warrior's mentality," Picasso's cousin Manuel Blasco said. "Fight during the day and fornicate at night." In November of 1965, in conspiratorial secrecy, Picasso was taken to the American Hospital in Neuilly for gall-bladder and prostate surgery. From then on there would be only fighting. For a warrior who had worn his virility like a badge, the end of his sexual life was a terrible calamity. It looked as though the operation might signal the end of his fighting days, too. During the rest of 1965 and up to December of 1966 he drew and he etched, but he did no painting. It was the longest he had ever been away from the battlefield. "When a man knows how to do something," he told the bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín, "he ceases being a man if he stops doing it."
He had kept death at bay, but not the despised signals of his inescapable mortality. He had had to give up his Gauloises, his life's most constant companion; his failing eyesight meant that his magnetic gaze was more and more often hidden behind glasses; his growing deafness gave him one more reason to avoid people; and the deep scar from the operation, which, once the curtain of secrecy had been lifted, he defiantly displayed to the few still allowed to visit him, was a constant hateful reminder of what he had lost forever. "Whenever I see you," he told Brassaï, "my first impulse is to reach in my pocket to offer you a cigarette, even though I know very well that neither of us smokes any longer. Age has forced us to give it up, but the desire remains! It's the same with making love. We don't do it anymore, but the desire is still with us!"
The desire and the frustration and the rage and the self-lacerating despair were funneled into his work, and sex in anticipation, sex in action, sex in retrospect became the dominant motif of his painting—once he had sufficiently recovered from what he called the "goring" to start painting again. The reports from Notre-Dame-de-Vie were that Picasso was back to normal -- his own extraordinary normal, of course. In the same way that he had all his life pretended to be an excellent swimmer, he now pretended, as best he could, to be untouched by age. "He only knows how to float and splash about a bit along the shore," wrote Roberto Otero, a bullfighting aficionado who had succeeded in penetrating the fortress of Notre-Dame-de-Vie. "Still, the imitation is so realistic that from a distance nobody could tell if his 'swimming' is authentic or not." And his imitation of being "fresh as the morning dew" was so convincing to all those who wanted to be convinced that the myth of the perpetually vital genius lived on. "One is reminded of the last days of some old vaudeville star: everything, creaking now, is still invented as superlative," the art critic John Berger wrote.
The horror of it all is that it is a life without reality. Picasso is only happy when working. Yet he has nothing of his own to work on. He takes up the themes of other painters' pictures. … He decorates pots and plates that other men make for him. He is reduced to playing like a child. He becomes again the child prodigy.
Picasso was sick, and the couples that filled his work in 1969, kissing, copulating, and suffocating each other, bore the stamp of his sickness. His body was a sack of ills and frustrated desires. The body that had for so long served him so admirably had turned against him. He could not see well, he could not hear well, his lungs fought for breath, his limbs fought for the strength to sustain him, and he fought for the unconsciousness of sleep. But a sickness much more frightening than the inevitable sicknesses of a man close to ninety was the soul-sickness of a man close to death and utterly disconnected from the source of life, a man staring at death and seeing his own fearful imaginings.
On June 30, 1972, Picasso faced the terror that consumed him and drew it. It was his last self-portrait. The next day the art historian Pierre Daix came to visit him. "I made a drawing yesterday," he told him. "I think I have touched on something there. … It is not like anything ever done. " He took the drawing and held it up to his face, and then put it down, without comment. It was a face of frozen anguish and primordial horror held next to the mask that he had worn for so long and that had fooled so many. It was the horror he had painted and the anguish he had caused and which, in his own anguish, he continued to cause. Two months after he drew his last self-portrait, Pablito, his first grandson, tried to see him. He arrived on his motorcycle and showed his identity card. He was turned away, and when he persisted, the dogs were let loose on him and his motorcycle was thrown into a ditch.
On April 1, 1973, Picasso wrote to Marie-Thérèse, telling her again that she was the only woman he had loved. Was he seeing her then as she had first been for him—a vision of beauty and purity, a promise of entering together a forbidden world where abandoned sexuality would lead to a heightened state of being? Or was the letter a Mephistophelian April Fool's joke, the last lie with which to secure her bondage to him, disorient her a little more, and put one more nail in her cross? Perhaps he wrote her from mere force of habit. Perhaps he spoke the truth.
On the Sunday morning of April 8 Jacqueline called Pierre Bernal, Picasso's cardiologist in Paris. Dawn had barely broken. Bernal took the first plane to Nice. Florenz Rance, the local doctor, was already there when he arrived. Sitting up painfully against the pillows, in his beige pajamas, Picasso was gasping for breath. The fingers of the hand he extended to the doctor were blue and swollen. While Dr. Bernal was confirming with his instruments what his professional eye had already seen, Jacqueline, trailing her long red dressing gown, paced up and down the room. The cardiogram showed rattles in both lungs and a dangerously large congestion in the left lung.
"I knew the minute I walked in," Bernal said, "that it was the end. He asked me no questions. He did not realize that he was going to die. I tried to make Jacqueline understand that it was going badly."
"We have already saved him," she said. "You are here. We are going to save him. He doesn't have the right to do this to me, he doesn't have the right to leave me . . . " These were the words she kept repeating through the morning, like an incantation: "He doesn't have the right to do this to me, he doesn't have the right to leave me . . . "
"Where are you, Jacqueline?" Picasso cried from his bedroom. His heart and his lungs were both fast giving out. He tried to talk, but he was suffocating. His words, coming through his gasps for air, sounded like wailing, hard to understand. He mentioned Apollinaire and seemed far away from Notre-Dame-de-Vie, in the spectral world of his past. Then he was once again back in his room "Where are you, Jacqueline?" He turned to Dr. Bernal. "You are wrong not to be married. It's useful." They were his last coherent words.
“When I die,” Picasso had prophesied, "It will be a shipwreck, and as when a huge ship sinks, many people all around will be sucked down with it."
On the morning of Picasso's burial Pablito, excluded from his grandfather's funeral, drank a container of potassium-chloride bleach. He was taken to the hospital in Antibes, where the doctors found that it was too late to save his digestive organs. He died three months later, on July 11, 1973, of starvation.
On October 20, 1977, in the year of the fiftieth anniversary of their meeting, Marie-Thérèse hanged herself in the garage of her house in Juan-les-Pins. She was sixty-eight years old. In a farewell letter to Maya, she wrote of an "irresistible compulsion." "You have to know what his life had meant to her," Maya said later "It wasn't just his dying that drove her to it. It was much, much more than that. … Their relationship was crazy. She felt she had to look after him—even when he was dead! She couldn't bear the thought of him alone, his grave surrounded by people who could not possibly give him what she had given him."
Just after midnight on October 15, 1986, Jacqueline called Aurelio Torrente, the director of the Spanish Museum of Contemporary Art, in Madrid, to discuss the final details of the exhibition of her personal selection of Picasso's paintings that was to open in Madrid ten days later. She assured him that she would be there for the opening. At three o'clock in the morning she lay on her bed, pulled the sheet up to her chin, and shot herself in the temple. She had left behind a list of everyone she wanted at her funeral .
These events were part of the dark, tragic legacy Picasso left behind in his life. The legacy of his art has to be seen in conjunction with the legacy of our time. He brought to fullest expression the shattered vision of a century that perhaps could be understood in no other terms; and he brought to painting the vision of disintegration that Schoenberg and Bartók brought to music, Kafka and Beckett to literature. He took to its uttermost conclusion the negative vision of the modernist world—so much that has followed has been footnotes to Picasso. His tragedy was that he longed for the ultimate in painting and died knowing that it had eluded him. Unlike Shakespeare and Mozart, whose prolific creativity he shared, Picasso was not a timeless genius. He was in fact a time-bound genius, a seismograph for the turmoil, doubts, and anguish of the twentieth century. From the time that he shook the art world with Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Picasso was out of love with the world. He saw his role as a painter as fashioning weapons of combat against every emotion of belonging in creation and celebrating life, against nature, human nature, and the God who created it all. "How difficult it is," Picasso had said soon after his eighty-fifth birthday, "to get something of the absolute into the frog pond." But however difficult, is it not the highest function of art to try to get something of the absolute into the frog pond of this world? With prodigious skill, complete mastery of the language of painting, inexhaustible versatility, and monumental virtuosity, ingenuity, and imagination, Picasso showed us the mud in our frog pond and the night over it. Yet there is a sense in all great art that beyond the darkness and the nightmares that it portrays, beyond humanity's anguished cries that it gives voice to, there is harmony, order, and peace. There is fear in Shakespeare's Tempest and in Mozart's Magic Flute, but it is cast out by love; there is horror and ugliness, but a new order of harmony and beauty evolves out of them; there is evil, but it is overcome by good.
Picasso's advanced age was filled with despair and fueled by hatred. As for his art, he had told André Malraux that "he had no need of style, because his rage would become a prime factor in the style of our time." And his rage has become the dominant style of our time. As we move toward the beginning of a new century, what will Picasso, so irrevocably tied to the age that is dying, have to say to the age being born?