Sex, love and art were interconnected in the world of Pablo Picasso, and while some of his supporters would argue he had a demonstrably tender side towards women, it would be difficult to deny that the serial philanderer, by and large, used his wives and mistresses as a means to a self-serving end — that end being his artistic identity.
"There are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats," Picasso once said.
Among his many lovers, here are six notable women who inspired some of the Spanish artist's greatest masterpieces and helped him become one of the most consequential artists of the 20th century.
Born Amélie Lang, Fernande Olivier suffered from a difficult childhood and married an abusive husband to escape her domineering aunt. At 19 she left her husband, changed her name, and fled to Paris, where she met Picasso and became his model and lover around 1904, influencing his Rose Period and early Cubist works.
Olivier's inspiration is exemplified in Picasso's Les Démoiselles d'Avignon (1907) and Head of a Woman (Fernande) (1909), among other works. In fact, Picasso went on to produce over 60 portraits of Olivier before their erratic relationship ended in 1912, with both parties cheating on one another.
By the time they parted ways, Picasso was at the height of his popularity, and Olivier decided to capitalize on their relationship by publishing a serialized memoir in a Belgian newspaper. To prevent her from divulging any more intimate details of their time together, Picasso offered her a pension, which she accepted. The full memoir was released in 1988 after the two were no longer alive.
A blue-blooded Russian ballet dancer, Olga Khokhlova met 36-year-old Picasso when he served as a costume and set designer for her dance company. Smitten with the artist, Khokhlova married him on July 12, 1918, and the couple set up residence in France. A few years later, the former dancer gave birth to Picasso's first child, a son named Paulo.
During this period with Khokhlova, Picasso expanded beyond cubism, fusing it with more realistic forms. Khokhlova inspired him to explore nurturing themes like domesticity and motherhood, but still, by the time his son Paulo was born in 1921, Picasso was already fleeing into the arms of multiple women, including Marie-Thérèse Walter, who became pregnant in 1935.
Although Khokhlova demanded a divorce, Picasso refused to divide his assets with her. Feeling she had no choice, she stayed married to him until her death in 1955.
Picasso was 45 years old when he laid eyes on 17-year-old Walter walking out of a department store in Paris. For Picasso, seeing the contours of her face and body wasn't purely a matter of lustful desire. Rather, he was fascinated by the fact he had already begun drawing her exact curves two years prior to illustrate, what he considered, the shape of the ideal woman.
Soon after Walter and Picasso became lovers, Picasso began secretly etching their initials in his portraits. After 1930, he made Walter more conspicuous in his works, proceeding to display her curves in sentimental, celestial fashion in his drawings, sculptures and paintings, accented with gestures of eroticism. In 1935 Walter gave birth to his first daughter, Maya, whom he cherished and drew extensively.
One of Walter's most notable legacies can be seen through Picasso's neoclassical drawings Vollard Suite (1930-1937) and the brightly hued painting Le Rêve (1932), but her time as Picasso's muse would end around 1944. The artist would eventually leave Walter for French photographer Dora Maar.
Shortly after Picasso's death, Walter committed suicide by hanging herself in 1977.
A surrealist photographer and anti-fascist political activist, Maar caught Picasso's attention while he was involved with Walter, and he began artistically collaborating with her during the World War II era.
Unlike Walter, Maar challenged Picasso: She was political, intellectual and headstrong. The two lovers began experimenting with photography and painting, and Picasso's art reflected Maar's intense influence on him through his use of harsh angles, deconstructed shapes and bold colors. When Picasso produced Weeping Woman (1937), it was a political statement, and he used Maar to represent his character in many drawings and paintings. As a photographer, Maar captured the making of Picasso's war-themed oil painting Guernica (1937).
Maar's relationship with Picasso was contentious, physically abusive and full of jealousy (he would pit Maar and Walter against each other). By 1946 Maar and Picasso had gone their separate ways, causing Maar to have a nervous breakdown and become a recluse. She'd later turn to Roman Catholicism, making her famous statement: “After Picasso, Only God.”
Part of what destroyed Maar and Picasso's relationship was his affair with painter Francoise Gilot, who was only 21 at the time she met the sexagenarian in 1943. Gilot and Picasso moved in together and eventually had a son and daughter.
During this time, Picasso's paintings were familial in nature, and he represented Gilot through floral depictions and sculpture, most notably, Femme Debout. However, their relationship was difficult for Gilot who endured years of Picasso's abuse and his many affairs. In 1953 she left him and wrote a book about their relationship, enraging the artist who consequently, disowned their children.
Gilot went on to marry medical research Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine and has led a successful painting and teaching career.
After much wooing by Picasso, Jacqueline Roque, 26, gave in to the persistent 71-year-old's romantic overtures. In 1961, six years after the death of Khokhlova, Roque married him, and the two stayed together until his death in 1973.
Although Picasso used Roque in his art, her semblance was more symbolic During this time, he was more focused on the abstract, mixing various cultural and artistic elements together. Still, he painted Roque over 160 times and used her in over 400 works — the most portraits of any woman in his life. After his death, she went on to manage his estate.
Roque fought with Gilot over Picasso's estate, refusing to allow her or her children to attend his funeral, but eventually, the two women made peace with each other and even worked together to found the Musée Picasso in Paris.
In 1986 Roque fatally shot herself.