The complicated relationship between art and love; artists and lovers

Love is complicated.

We blame it on lifestyle, work pressures, stress, lack of options… The list is endless.

I sat in the Albertina Museum in Vienna one hot summer afternoon admiring the works of some of the most renowned artists in history. It was breathtaking. Suddenly I heard a soft sniffle right to me. A beautiful Parisian girl sitting on the same bench as me looking at the same piece of art as I was, with a tear gently running down her cheek. My heart reached out to her but I didn’t say anything. I looked at what she was seeing and tried to figure what could have evoked such an emotion.

It was Picasso’s ‘Nude Woman with Bird and Fluteplayer’. A 1967 piece that shows a somewhat disfigured yet very prominent portrait of a nude woman looking at a man playing the flute as a dove looks on. Some interpret the piece as the artist himself wooing her, the dove a symbol of sexual awakening.

Nude Woman with Bird and Fluteplayer (2nd from right) displayed at the Albertina Museum, Vienna.

Next I heard whispers and realized her friend who was looking for her, had finally found her. They were in a deep French conversation but I figured it had to do more with a boy friend problem than art inspiration.  Well, such are the follies of modern day love. Sitting in front of a Picasso, crying over a boy!

As they walked away, I continued to stare at the painting. I couldn’t help but wonder; is love complicated just in our so-called Tinderage? What was love like then?  Who was Picasso thinking of when he painted this nude? Was he possibly in love? Or was he in for the chase? What inspired him most? Does the love story of an artist differ much from ordinary everyday romance?

Love is the greatest refreshment in life

Pablo Picasso had a very complicated relationship with the women in his life. An article in The Telegraph by Mark Hudson reflects the various women in his life and the complex relationship he had with each of them; how it impacted his art and his growth as an artist. An exceptional read, the excerpts are as follows:

Of the seven most important women in Picasso’s life, two killed themselves and two went mad. Another died of natural causes only four years into their relationship. Yet while Picasso had affairs with dozens, perhaps hundreds of women, and was probably true to none. “Women are machines for suffering,” Picasso told his mistress Françoise Gilot in 1943. “For me there are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats”.

Women are machines for suffering.

For me there are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats.

Fernande Olivier who he met in 1904 was his first great love. Picasso moved from the poetic romanticism of his Rose Period to a new way of working inspired both by the dynamism of modern Paris and by the enduring values of Mediterranean culture on which he was to draw all his life.

In 1906, Olivier accompanied him to the village of Gosol in the Spanish Pyrenees, where the cubistic traditional architecture and her strong, sensual features were endlessly analysed in a vast body of drawings that led to the most influential painting of the 20th century – Demoiselles d’Avignon.  As Picasso worked on this definitive canvas in the suffocating heat of his Montmartre studio, he was consumed with jealousy and anger towards Olivier who had temporarily walked out on him – this emotional violence feeding into a work that blasted the Renaissance idea of fixed perspective out of the window and changed the course of Western art.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.jpg
Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon, originally titled The Brothel of Avignon). The Museum of Modern Art, New York City. The painting showcases 5 nude women from a brothel in Barcelona. Their face shows no emotion, two of them are masked even. The painting was perceived as immoral and provoked the beginning of Cubism as a form of art.

In 1912, Picasso began seeing her close friend, Eva Gouel. Picasso’s time with her coincided with the moment of synthetic cubism, in which observational elements were combined into semi-abstract compositions, often including collage or text. While Picasso never painted Gouel, he paid homage to her in several of these paintings, by including the words Ma Jolie – my pretty one – which is perhaps the most overtly affectionate artistic gesture he made to any of his women.

Image result for picasso painting ma jolie

Picasso’s marriage to the Russian dancer Olga Khokhlova in 1915 coincided with a complete reversal in his artistic direction – from world-changing abstraction to relatively conservative neoclassicism. His portraits of Khokhlova have a restraint and serenity inspired by the 19th-century master Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. As their relationship disintegrated and she became increasingly delusional, his depictions of her and women in general grew ever more hateful – tortured masses of teeth, limbs and vaginas.

Dora Maar was Picasso’s partner during the period of his greatest political engagement, her inner turmoil standing in for Spain’s agony during the Civil War in Tate’s iconic Crying Woman. She made a photographic record of Picasso’s work on the monumental masterpiece Guernica, and her unmistakable features appear in the banshee-like head swooping into the painting. But in Picasso’s most telling images of Maar, her features are disturbingly reconfigured – growing out of each other in all the wrong places – as though she is literally breaking down in front of us.

Guernica, 1937. Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid. The mural sized oil painting is regarded as the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in the history of art. The mural shows the suffering of the people with prominent visuals of a gored horse, a bull and flames. The painting became famous and widely acclaimed, and it helped bring worldwide attention to the Spanish Civil War.

When Picasso threw her over for the much younger Françoise Gilot in 1943, Maar suffered a complete mental collapse, followed by nun-like seclusion. “After Picasso,” she famously declared, “only God.”

After Picasso, only God.

The last of Picasso’s great loves was Jacqueline Roque. Picasso created more than 400 portraits of the demure Roque, who he married in 1961.Picasso met Jacqueline Roque in 1953 at the pottery when she was 27 years old and he was 72. He romanced her by drawing a dove on her house in chalk and bringing her one rose a day until she agreed to date him six months later. She committed suicide in 1986, 13 years after Picasso’s death.

Jacqueline with flowers, 1954 by Pablo Picasso
Jacqueline with Flowers, 1954. Picasso Museum, Paris.The painting celebrates the presence of the new muse in Picasso’s life, Jacqueline Rocque.


I suppose Love in Cubist times isn’t too different from Love in the Tinderage. Love is love. A feeling so empowering, it leaves you powerless. It engulfs you, takes over your senses and throws you over the edge! But it also confuses you makes you question yourself, makes you wonder if you can perhaps feel a little more deeply. Can your heart beat a little faster? Is this the most you can feel? Are you with the right person? Will you ever find the right person? What exactly is the right person?

Love… remains complicated.

©Nazneen Dharamsey, 2016. All rights reserved.


* The most commonly accepted periods of Picasso’s work are the Blue Period (1901–1904), the Rose Period (1904–1906), the African-influenced Period (1907–1909), Analytic Cubism (1909–1912), and Synthetic Cubism (1912–1919), also referred to as the Crystal period.

*Source: The Telegraph and Wikipedia

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