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She Inspired His ‘Art’

The Global Community shall mark the 50th death anniversary of Pablo Ruiz Picasso (October 25, 1881 – April 8, 1973), in April 2023. An exhibition recently opened at the Picasso Museum in Paris six months before the event. Other exhibitions shall also be organised in different parts of the globe in the next one-and-half years.

The ongoing exhibition in Paris is showcasing some of Picasso’s works on Fernande Olivier, the first girlfriend of the Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist and theatre designer. Olivier (born Amélie Lang; June 6, 1881 – January 26, 1966) was a bohemian French artist and model who became the mistress of Picasso in Paris in 1904. She was known primarily for having been the model of the Spanish painter, and for her written accounts of her relationship with him. Picasso reportedly painted more than 60 portraits of Olivier. The exhibition hall of the Picasso Museum has been decorated with Olivier’s obituary pages, and paintings and sculptures by Picasso and his fellow artists.

Meanwhile, Olivier’s writings have triggered controversy, as visitors are discussing the complexity of Picasso’s relationships with his girlfriends. In her writings, Olivier mentioned that Picasso was a jealous person, as the painter used to lock her inside the house while leaving his residence. It was also her duty to look after Picasso when he worked throughout the night. At the same time, Olivier, who spent eight years (from 1904 to 1912) with the legendary Spanish painter, did not forget to mention that Picasso used to keep tea and books ready for her before leaving the house.

Museum Director Cécile Debray has said that it is not fair to judge the past through the prism of today’s MeToo Movement. He has urged visitors not to consider Olivier only as a victim or a sufferer, as she and Picasso had spent a lot of good time together.

Olivier had experienced numerous traumas and storms in her early life. Her parents abandoned Olivier. She was also married off to a tyrannous person. Escaping from her husband, Olivier discovered a much softer and loving person in Picasso. She reportedly changed her name from Amelie Lang at the age of 19, and went to Paris, without a formal divorce.

Olivier penned a book, titled ‘Picasso and his friends‘, 20 years after the end of their relationship. She wrote a very straightforward description of young Picasso and the people, who comprised of Picasso’s Gang. She described all these through 60 short chapters, most of which are only two- or three-page long. She did a good job of short, pithy word portraits of many who surrounded Picasso. The book is also illustrated with many sketches, including some of her own, and photographs of those people and places. In her publication, Olivier mentioned that Picasso always used to carry a pistol with him and was not afraid to use it. If the street were too crowded on his way home and he wanted to be alone, he’d sometimes clear the street by firing a few shots into the air. “He rarely spoke during meals; sometimes he would utter not one word from beginning to end. He seemed to be bored, when he was, in fact, absorbed (with thinking about his current project),” she wrote.

Olivier further mentioned that Picasso “had a wallet with all his notes (money) in it, which he could not bring himself to leave at home. He kept the wallet in an inside pocket of his coat; and to make it safer, he fastened the top of the pocket firmly with a huge safety pin. Every time he had to take out a note, he would undo the pin as unobtrusively as he could“. According to Olivier, Picasso “has never really lived for anything else, but his art. This rather sad, sarcastic man, with his tendency towards hypochondria, has not so much consoled himself – for he seemed always to be weighed down by some great sorrow – as forgotten himself in his work, and his love for it“.

Meanwhile, Debray is of the opinion that the way Picasso is portrayed as a giant these days is not true.

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