We don't always understand Pablo Picasso's work, but the human dimension behind it is -- for good or bad -- universal. In a cable special Thursday (Dec. 8), his grandson takes an intriguing view of the loves that shaped Picasso's life and work. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By Mike Hughes
For most artists,
there are two stories to tell – the art and the life.
For Pablo Picasso,
his grandson insists, there's only one. “His life as an artist and
as a man were exactly the same,” Olivier Widmaier Picasso said.
Some men wear their
hearts on their sleeves, but Picasso wore his on his canvasses and
sketch pads. Examine any period, said Olivier (as we'll call him to
avoid confusion) and you'll know which woman was his lover-and-model
and how he felt about her.
That emerges in
“Picasso, The Legacy,” a cable documentary that Olivier
co-produced and co-wrote. It includes experts and grandkids, plus two
-- Francoise Gilot,
an artist who was Picasso's lover for almost a decade. “She is (95)
years old and I was absolutely astonished by her energy,” Olivier
said. “She met him when she was 21” and he was 61.
-- Maya Widmaier
Picasso, 81, Olivier's mother. She told the stories she had heard
from her mother, Marie-Therese Walter, one of the profound forces in
By then, there'd
been others – eight years with the bohemian Fernande Olivier; three
with Eva Gouel, before she died of illness at 30; then marriage to
Olga Khokhlova, a ballerina and sophisticate.
Nine years into his
marriage, Picasso saw Walter enter a Paris department store. “He
waited outside for her for a long time; it was fortunate that he
waited,” said Olivier, who owes his existence to moment his
grandparents, then 17 and 45, met.
“She was very
young and athletic,” Olivier said. “She didn't know who he was
... To him, it was starting over.”
Picasso's wife, the
ballerina, had shown him a cosmopolitan life, Olivier said. “Pictures
then showed him dressed up in a three-piece suit. He was not very
the mood was different, he said. “It was seaside and bathing suits.
Everything was easy.” Or semi-easy, considering that the
relationship was kept secret from Picasso's wife.
Olga found out when
Marie-Therese became pregnant with Maya (Olivier's mother). She left,
but didn't divorce; Picasso spent almost a decade each with
Marie-Therese, Dora Maar and the remarkable Gilot.
Gilot was the
opposite of an easygoing teen-ager. “Francoise had ideas about
raising children and many things,” Olivier said. “She told me
that he said, 'No one leaves me.' She said, 'We'll see about that.'”
She left, took their
two children, wrote a book and later married Dr. Jonas Salk. Picasso
moved on. At 79 and a widower, he married Jacqueline Roque; they
would be together until his death at 91.
“I always remember
the moment my mother said, 'Your grandfather is dead,'” Olivier
said. “She was devastated.”
Olivier was almost
12 then and had never met the man. Still, Picasso's paintings lined
the walls of his home. “That was normal to me .... I had to get
used to seeing my mother and grandmother with their nose and both
eyes on the same side of their face.”
At the time, he and
his mother were using his dad's “Widmaier” surname. But the
French had just revised their laws, legitimatizing children born out
of wedlock; Maya became one of five heirs.
Since then, Olivier,
55, has studied Picasso's life. “He was not a womanizer,” he
insists. He was someone who loved women passionately, but not
permanently. “He was not aiming to hurt them.”
But many were hurt
and two committed suicide – Jacqueline at 59 and Marie-Therese
(Olivier's grandmother) at 68. Both outlived Picasso and have
permanent roles in art history.
said, Picasso's work was his strongest attachment, “He said his
life was spent alone in the studio. But there was always a woman
outside the door.”
-- “Picasso, the
Legacy,” 7 p.m. ET Thursday, Ovation Channel (via cable or