• gerard van weyenbergh

Picasso meets Olga Khokhlova, his first muse

"I can no longer bear the miracle of not knowing anything in this world and having learned nothing but to love things and eat them alive. Picasso only takes a bite of everything around him. First victims of this insatiable appetite: the women he loved and from whom he fed to build his work. The most mysterious of them, the Russian dancer Olga Khokhlova (1891–1955), met in 1917 and left in 1935, inspired the Picasso museum to take a new course. Under the melancholy black gaze of Olga, the works of the 1920–1930 period reveal themselves in a new light, more intimate, more painful too. if their meeting is worthy of a romantic comedy, the disillusionment will be rapid and the separation violent.

The idyll begins at the beginning of 1917. Picasso must create the decor and costumes for Parade, the ballet created by his friend Cocteau for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. He left to join the troupe of dancers in Rome to work on the project. This is where he meets Olga's slender figure. The beautiful is 26 years old. Daughter of a colonel in the imperial army, she is, like Picasso, an immigrant. She left her family behind to follow her rising star career in the prestigious Russian troupe. Conquered, regaining a taste for life after sinister years marked by the war and the death of his partner Eva Gouel, Pablo follows her with the troop to Madrid, then Barcelona.

Then, it's Olga who follows Pablo to Paris, when she injured her leg and needs to rest. They married in July 1918 with Cocteau, Max Jacob, and Apollinaire as witnesses. Olga gave up dancing to lead a bourgeois existence and devote herself to her husband and their son Paulo, born in February 1921. Picasso became a father at 40 years of age. His work is tinged with new feelings. It is the period of the "giants," who run on the beach with an aerial step despite their gargantuan forms.

In the early 1920s, Picasso is on the rise, and Olga shines by his side. They are at all receptions, invite a lot, and spend their summer on the Côte d'Azur. This new worldly and easy life satisfied the artist for a while. Then he gets bored. Life with Olga stifles him; he prefers to shut himself up in his workshop on the fourth floor at 23, rue La Boétie. Olga feels that she is losing him; the crises, more and more violent, multiply, she blames him for his absence, his indifference. In 1927, Picasso met a very young girl, Marie-Thérèse, who would become his muse, his mistress, and give him a little girl, Maya. He rents an apartment to her on rue La Boétie, and when he takes Olga and Paulo on vacation to Dinard, he lodges Marie-Thérèse in a family pension. Life with Olga becomes hell.

It was in the early 1930s that the figure of the Minotaur appeared in his work. He identifies with himself and the bullfighter. In Minotauromachy, it shows a wounded, weakened, and suffering man. "His work allows him to exorcise all the tensions of the couple," sums up Emilia Philippot one of the three curators of the exhibition. She immersed herself in the archives of Bernard Picasso (grandson of Paulo) and the famous suitcase where Olga kept the exchanged love letters. The Paris museum will exhibit some of them, as well as a series of family films. Moving images that betray the distance growing in the couple, even if Olga does everything to save appearances. From the beginning of the 1930s, Picasso began divorce proceedings, but Olga refused; Picasso would also have to leave her half of his work. The couple then contented themselves with a legal separation in 1935, the year of Maya's birth.

Until her death, Olga will therefore remain Madame Picasso. Interned on several occasions to treat her nervous breakdown, she writes letters to him almost daily (to which he never responds) and produces collages, a mixture of photos of happy days and their grandchildren. She remained faithful to him until she died in 1955. For his part, after a story with the artists Dora Maar and then Françoise Gilot, the ogre Picasso met Jacqueline Roque, whom he married in 1961. Beaux Arts -