Many will trace Pablo Picasso’s life through his shifting in artistic experimentation. Yes, Picasso demonstrated his innovation through changes in theory and technique, style and color. He even co-founded an artistic movement, the Cubist movement.
But what was Picasso’s main inspiration? What remained the catalyst for these shifts in artistic perspective and experimentation?
There is no definite answer to this, yet we can be sure that Picasso’s art was influenced by many factors. With that being said, have you ever noticed how Picasso moved from woman to woman almost as often as he moved from style to style? This observation reveals an obvious correlation, that Picasso’s life, including his artistic life, was influenced by the women he fell in love with.
Let’s explore some advocates of his artistic development, his muses, and the ones who made it possible for him to say: “Art is not the application of a canon of beauty but what the instinct and the brain can conceive beyond any canon. When we love a woman we don’t start measuring her limbs.”
A brief, young love with Madeleine
Picasso believed in the effect of color to exemplify emotion. He revealed this during his Blue Period, a period revealing sorrow, poverty, sadness, and pain. A most famous painting from this period is his The Old Guitarist, an azure painting of a skeletal man seemingly weeping over his guitar. We identify the distance, or perhaps sorrow and isolation, through the blueness eminent in the piece over the downcast glance of the old man.
Though maybe not considered a muse, the inspiration for this Blue Period could have very well been the death of his friend, Casagemas. The suicide left Picasso painting blue as a mark of his realization of the fragility of life.
A brief romance is to blame for Picasso’s turn away from blue. After his death, a painting of a girl was found on cardboard in his studio. The painting, rather than blue, shows a plethora of orange and light pink undertones. The dichotomy is apparent when looking on his blue paintings, their sense of lost hope, and then on this painting, given life and a return of vitality. Her name was Madeleine, and thanks to her, Picasso began to see the world in rose, and began his renowned Rose Period. Picasso supposedly never spoke of this brief love, but there was something powerful there considering his shift in emotion, in color, within his work.
Picasso was soon able to sell most of his paintings from his pink period and, probably with the importance of his painting in question, traveled back to his Spanish roots. He left with a new love interest, Fernande. Also around this period, Picasso began to develop a hand for primitivism and cubism both in painting and sculpture as a reaction to the rise of the photo. Picasso used Fernande in his experimentation with cubism and to achieve his main goal: to go beyond the reality presented by the photo, later leading to abstraction. Soon, however, Picasso would find a new muse to replace Fernande and for his artistic experimentation. He was forced to flee from the jealousy of Fernande with his new love.
Eva (Ma Jolie)
This love marks a shift from Picasso’s cubism to his use of abstraction. A painting titled “Ma Jolie” (meaning “my pretty one”) displays Picasso going beyond even cubism. He eventually painted an evocation painting, a painting of painter and model, the painter being colorless, but the model, rather, in colorful ecstasy.
Around the time Picasso’s work became coined as surrealism, Picasso became dazzled by a woman who came to town as part of a ballet company. Her name was Olga Khokhlava, and Picasso would eventually end up marrying her. Olga became subject to his artistic experimentation, and was first to be painted in a swollen matter. Yes, Picasso began to paint his figures swollen, giving them a very alien look, from another world even. Olga eventually bore Picasso a child, Paul, and we can even see him being painted in this swollen manner. Though Picasso’s family life, especially his child, served as the means of artistic renewal, his marriage couldn’t satisfy the artist for long.‘
During the eventual decline of Picasso’s marriage, he laid eyes on his ideal muse for the first time. It was the young, the 17 year old Marie. Picasso was very aware that he could not let anyone know that he had an underage girl as his artistic model, especially not Olga. His dilemma of being torn between two different women showed on his canvas.
When Marie was finally of age, Picasso felt liberated; he was now free to paint her openly, without worry, in her nakedness. Her figure is widely known to be among his most famous works. Her muse-ship also marks the period of Picasso’s turn to a figure of ancient mythology, the Minotaur, who appeared in paintings pursuing sexual activity with Marie.
Though Picasso had other loves, like Francoise Gilot and Jacqueline Roque (an eventual wife), for example, the above muses are of special importance because they help define specific shifts in this master’s mode of artistic experimentation. Pablo Picasso would not have achieved what he did without them.