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How Picasso Bled the Women in His Life for Art

Sixteen years ago, Marina Picasso, one of Pablo Picasso’s granddaughters, became the first family member to go public about how much her family had suffered under the artist’s narcissism. “No one in my family ever managed to escape from the stranglehold of this genius,” she wrote in her memoir, Picasso: My Grandfather. “He needed blood to sign each of his paintings: my father’s blood, my brother’s, my mother’s, my grandmother’s, and mine. He needed the blood of those who loved him.”

After Jacqueline Roque, Picasso’s second wife, barred much of the family from the artist’s funeral, the family fell fully to pieces: Pablito, Picasso’s grandson, drank a bottle of bleach and died; Paulo, Picasso’s son, died of deadly alcoholism born of depression. Marie-Thérèse Walter, Picasso’s young lover between his first wife, Olga Khokhlova, and his next mistress, Dora Maar, later hanged herself; even Roque eventually fatally shot herself.“Women are machines for suffering,” Picasso told Françoise Gilot, his mistress after Maar. After they embarked on their affair when he was sixty-one and she was twenty-one, he warned Gilot of his feelings once more: “For me there are only two kinds of women: goddesses and doormats.” Marina saw her grandfather’s treatment of women as an even darker phenomenon, a vital part of his creative process: “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.”

It is curious then that a new exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in Paris, just off the Champs-Elysées on the nightclub-laden rue Ponthieu, called “Picasso and Maya: Father and Daughter,” is full of heartfelt wood sculptures and paper cutouts Picasso made for his daughter Maya, loving and colorful portraits of his shy mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, and a wall full of rarely seen family photographs: Picasso with his children at the beach, at Christmastime, at a bullfight; Picasso and Maya sitting together, looking at a camera; Picasso and Maya with their dog, Riki, on a Parisian balcony. A flip-book turned into a video has Walter posing and smiling for him. A pencil drawing of a childish Maya has her cheeks red with crayon, as if blushing.

Read the rest of this story at The Paris Review.

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