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Picasso and His Women

Report of the lecture given by Valerie Woodgate
on January 23rd 2013

Our speaker was Valerie Woodgate, who is a lecturer and guide at Tate Britain and a number of other London galleries.  She also lectures for the National Trust, on P&O Cruises and is a member of the teaching team at Dulwich Picture Gallery. 

She started her talk about Picasso’s Women by quoting a well-known artist who said that Picasso was a serial monogamist, with significant overlapping!

Picasso had two wives, Olga Khokhlova whom he married in 1918 and Jacqueline Roque whom he married in 1961, and four children by three women.  In addition to his wives, he had a number of other lovers. 

Portrait of Olga in an armchair, 1917

Oil painting of Jacqueline, 1956

Val took us through a history of Picasso’s women and his paintings of women in chronological order, starting with two large paintings done when he was 14 and 15 years old, one of which was a sick woman in bed.  To me, and I suspect to many of us, these were unrecognisable as Picasso’s work because they were painted in very traditional style, based on his traditional training.  They were also much larger canvasses than most of his later and well-known work. 

Picasso met his first great love, Fernande Olivier, in Paris in 1904 about three years after his Blue Period began and shortly before his Rose Period.  He painted Fernande many times. 

One of Picasso’s most famous and influential paintings of women is Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, painted in 1907.  It  depicts a brothel.  It is cubist in style but drew on Rubens and Cezanne.  It was also influenced by Egyptian art in which the head is always in profile. 

Val deconstructed the painting to some extent, pointing out where some of the aspects of the female form are shown at distorted-looking angles, as in most of his cubist paintings. 

Val discussed the women with whom Picasso had close relationships, and gave us very interesting insights into some of them.  As she put it at the start of her talk, the whole lecture consists of gossip.  The women she discussed, all of whom had tragic ends, included: 

-    Fernande Olivier
-    Marcelle Humbert, known as Eva
-    Olga Khokhlova with whom he had a son Paolo
-    Marie-Thérèse Walter with whom he had a daughter Maia
-    Dora Maar
-    Francoise Gilot with whom he had a son Claude and a daughter Paloma
-    Jacqueline Roque

Picasso painted his women many times in different styles and with great emotion.  Regarding his depiction of emotion, it was said that he put more emotion into the horse’s head in his painting Guernica (1937) than Rubens put into a whole crucifixion.

“Art is the lie that helps us realise the truth”  Pablo Picasso.

Maggie Atkins

Valerie Woodgate
Our first guest speaker of 2013