“For me, there are only two kinds of women: goddesses and doormats,” said the 61-year-old Pablo Picasso to his 21-year-old mistress in 1943. Despite the age difference, Françoise Gilot, a talented artist in her own right, went on to become the mother of two of Picasso’s three illegitimate children and spent ten years with the difficult genius.
Picasso had numerous lovers, wives and mistresses throughout his long career. Each new love inspired him, and art historians have determined direct correlations between the start of new love affairs and a change in the artist’s style. A new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Picasso Sculpture, gives viewers the opportunity to witness how love galvanized his three-dimensional portraits of women and how these muses catapulted his artwork in continuously new directions.
The Fac(e)ts of Life
Picasso had many affairs, but only a handful of women assume a position of importance in his sculptural oeuvre. The first is Fernande Olivier, Picasso’s first long-term lover and the only one who knew him before fame and fortune struck. The pair met in 1904 and fell in love after smoking opium together. Each was 23 and it was the last time Picasso fell in love with someone his own age.
After leaving an abusive husband, Olivier moved to Paris where she became a popular model for several artists, including Picasso. She moved in with him a year later, after which he insisted she only model for him. The collaboration resulted in over 60 portraits during their eight-year relationship, including Head of a Woman (1909), which resides in the show’s first gallery (titled “Early Works and the First Cubist Sculptures”). Created after a vacation in the mountains where Picasso had painted Olivier many times in his brand new Cubist style, many consider the sculpture a seminal work.
Cubism, which was created by Picasso and his friend Georges Braque, dissects an object into small planes, like the facets of a gemstone, and then re-assembles the facets so that it appears as if you’re looking at the object from multiple viewpoints at the same time. Head of a Woman was the first time Picasso realized he could translate Cubism into three dimensions.
Once Picasso began achieving recognition, his interest in Olivier waned. In 1911, he began an affair with a 26-year-old, and the following year Olivier too had an affair. Citing Olivier’s affair as his reason for breaking off their relationship, Picasso left Olivier with no means of
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