Thursday, 12 January 2017

Picasso's favourite mistress

Marie-Thérèse Walter

From time to time I would like to explore the figure or subject behind a painting
This week I have chosen a beautiful portrait by Picasso

Dream, January 24, 1932

On 8th January, 1927 - at six o'clock in the evening, on a boulevard in Paris - Picasso met a young, adolescent girl with cobalt blue eyes and a precociously voluptuous body

When he introduced himself she claimed not to know who he was. Picasso was obliged, therefore, to take her to a nearby bookshop and show her a book about him

They met, by arrangement, a few days later outside the Saint-Lazare Metro station. Within a week they were lovers. 

Marie-Thérèse in a beret, pencil 1930

Picasso was forty-five and Marie-Thérèse just seventeen-and-a-half years old and still, technically, under-age

At first, Marie-Thérèse's mother objected to her daughter's association with a married man (Olga Picasso was still very much on the scene) but later acquiesed and for the next nine years conived in her daughter's adulterous relationship with Picasso

Olga (Picasso) in an armchair, 1918

Pablo Picasso was, after all, the most famous artist on the planet and very rich into the bargain. What mother would not regard her daughter's interests as paramount?

The impact Marie-Thérèse made on Picasso's life was profound and lead to an experimental period in his art of great intensity

Marie-Thérèse Walter at Dinard, 1929
Photo by Picasso

Their passionate - and at times, sexually violent - relationship also produced some of his most inspired work - not least a series of erotic, yet tender portraits of his new lover

The sculptor and his model, 4 August, 1931

The evidence for the early development of their relationship is a sketchbook covering their first four months together in which, in each drawing, he sought to capture the essense of his new, very young lover

The problem, of course, was to keep their secret from Olga

Olga, Paulo and Picasso, 1932

In one painting, dated 1929, he shows Marie-Thérèse (on the left) emerging from a beach-hut, to be met by a flabby-breasted, bony-ribbed Olga on the right:

Bathers outside a beach cababa, 1929

In 1935, Marie-Thérèse became pregnant

When  Olga was informed by a friend that her husband had a longtime mistress who was expecting his child, she immediately left Picasso and, with their son Paulo, moved to the South of France

Picasso and Olga never divorced (for legal reasons, largely determined by Picasso) but lived separately until her death in 1955

Girl before a mirror, 1932

Marie-Thérèse's daughter by Picasso - called Maya - was born on 5 September, 1935

Marie-Thérèse and Maya stayed with Picasso at Juan-les-Pins in the South of France during April and May, 1936 and then at Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre near Versailles where Picasso visited at weekends and sometimes during the week to play with his daughter

The Sculptor, December 1931
In 1935, Picasso fell in love with Dora Maar - a photographer and model

Once, Marie-Thérèse and Maar met accidentally in Picasso's studio when he was painting Guernica, which Maar had been photographing during its composition

Asked about this in later life, Picasso remarked that he had been quite happy with the situation.  When they demanded that he choose between them, he told them that they would have to fight it out between themselves - at which point the two women began to wrestle

Picasso described it as one of his 'choicest' memories.

Seated woman, 1927

In 1940, Marie-Thérèse and Maya moved back  to Paris and throughout the war years Picasso supported them financially but he never married his long-term mistress

On 20 October 1977, four years after Picasso's death, Marie-Thérèse committed suicide by hanging herself in the garage at Juan-les-Pins

The illustrations for this article are taken from A Life of Picasso (Volime III) by John Richardson, published by Pimlico (2009)

For more images of Picasso and Marie-Thérèse, click on the link below:

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