9. Picasso, like many other men of the time, frequented sex workers and shocked the world with paintings of their intimate time together.
Early 20th century Spain had a very different culture than the modern United States when it comes to prostitution and brothels. It was not at all uncommon for men to go to church Sunday morning, visit the brothels in the afternoon, and meet up for drinks in the evening to discuss religion, politics, and their experiences at the brothels earlier that day. Brothels and sex work just didn’t have the taboo than that they do now.
Picasso was introduced to brothel culture early in life by a father who was renowned to frequent brothels quite frequently. His father, who was also an artist, would spend a significant number of his evenings at brothels while his mother and sisters raised Picasso. Picasso himself lost his virginity to a sex worker at the age of 13 or 14.
Picasso’s familiarity with, and interest in, sex workers were put on display for the world to see in 1907 when he introduced the cubist painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, which featured Parisian sex workers in various stances. It caused a minor uproar upon its revelation, due to both the subject matter and the African imagery and style infused into the more traditional Picasso-style cubism.
10. Picasso’s granddaughter described him in an unforgiving way, hinting that years of abuse may have led two lovers to crippling depression.
Picasso’s own granddaughter, Marina Picasso, unflinchingly described the brutal nature of her grandfather’s relationships with women when she said, “He submitted them to his animal sexuality, tamed them, bewitched them, ingested them, and crushed them onto his canvas. After he had spent many nights extracting their essence, once they were bled dry, he would dispose of them.”
Picasso displayed a trend throughout his life towards his intimate partners: the moment they became ill or ceased to inspire his creativity he lost interest and moved on. After Fernande Olivier became sick, he left her. As his first wife’s, Olga Khokhlova, mental illness became worse the painter took more lovers on the side and redoubled his efforts to divorce her. When Eva Gouel also fell ill, he again took on a new lover and neglected her.
Only one woman in Picasso’s entire life was documented to have left him. All the others were either abandoned or had to share his attention with other women. Many of the women served to inspire and fuel a unique period of his art, such as the Rose or Blue period and were cast aside as soon as the interest in both them and the art they inspired waned.
Khokhlova eventually found out about Walter, and the couple split but remained married. Khokhlova was socially ambitious and wanted to work on “taming” Picasso into a suitable husband. Due to the obsessive nature of Picasso’s relationship with Walter, Khokhlova eventually moved to the south of France with their son but continued to be fixated on Picasso.
Khokhlova continued to send Picasso hate mail, even after their separation. When their son, Paulo, became Picasso’s chauffeur she began living out of a suitcase and following the two around Europe. Many of Picasso’s friends considered her “mad” due to her behavior. She asked to see her husband later in life as she was nearing her death, which he refused. She died in 1955.
After Picasso left Fernande Olivier due to her illness, he began seeing a friend of hers, Eve Gouel. Gouel was also known as Marcelle Humbert. After the two started a relationship, they left Paris to avoid running in the same artistic circle as Olivier. Gouel is the least known of all Picasso’s numerous lovers. Little is known about her personality, history or relationship with Picasso. He never painted her, unlike his other partners, and she appears only in a couple of photographs.
Gouel had some talent as a businesswoman and helped market and sell Picasso’s works. However, she was always quite frail and sickly. It is believed now that she was either suffering from tuberculosis or some form of cancer, as she had a wasting illness. In 1915, her illness reached the point where she needed to be hospitalized. However, instead of supporting his seriously ill paramour, Picasso took another lover.
While Goule was still in the hospital, Picasso began an affair with his neighbor, Gaby Lespinasse. Picasso’s concern throughout the period of Eve’s illness was chiefly himself, with him describing his life with Gouel as “hell” in a letter to a friend and patron. Eve died from her disease in Paris on December 14th, 1915.
Picasso quickly became obsessed with Walter and hid her away from a secret apartment and told no one about their relationship. She became one of his great muses, inspiring many of his paintings. It is believed his wife may have become aware of Walter by finding one of his numerous sketches and portraits of her.
In 1935, while Picasso’s first wife was struggling with unknown “gynecological troubles” and having surgery, Walter became pregnant with Picasso’s child. They had a daughter named Maya the same year. Soon after, Picasso met the surrealist painter Dora Maar. When the two women met and demanded he pick between them, he encouraged them to fight over him physically and remarked later that it was one of his favorite memories. Picasso continued to support Walter and their daughter after they moved away from him. Walter committed suicide after Picasso’s death.
However, despite the seemingly natural pairing of two troubled artists, Picasso turned his attention to another woman after spending almost a decade with Maar. This time, it was a woman 40 years Picasso’s junior and 20 years younger than Maar: the young artist FranÃ§oise Gilot. Picasso left Maar for Gilot in 1946, after which Maar fell into a deep depression.
Maar eventually suffered what was known at the time as a nervous breakdown. Her depression and reclusiveness became so severe that she sought out psychiatric help. She was subjected to electroshock therapy which was, at the time, a conventional treatment for severe depression and other mental illnesses (and sadly often for homosexuality). After her medicine, she became a devout Catholic and was described as nun-like in her chastity and behavior.
Picasso managed to hide the existence of Walter from his wife and even from his closest friends for many years. While many of his friends knew that he had a mistress who was also serving as an artistic muse, they didn’t know her name or even her appearance beyond what they saw in sketches and portraits. Picasso reportedly did not find the athletic and unassuming Walter intellectually stimulating, so perhaps this partly explains why he seemed to make no effort to introduce her into his artistic circles as he did with so many of his later mistresses.
Ultimately, Walter was hidden away from both the art world and Picasso’s personal world for almost a decade. In that time, she inspired numerous paintings, sketches, and etchings. Walter gave birth to their daughter, Maya in 1935. Picasso’s first wife learned that Picasso had a pregnant mistress earlier that year and moved with their son. Picasso left Walter shortly after the birth of their daughter in favor of a new and younger mistress. Walter’s life tragically ended in suicide four years after Picasso’s death in 1973.
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