The first thing I learned from Friday’s performance of Picasso’s Women: Picasso was horrible to the women in his life. His relationships with women were abusive and sometimes downright degrading, with multiple marriages, ongoing (and sometimes overlapping) affairs and on-and-off relationships with his children. Picasso has been quoted as seeing women either as “goddesses or doormats.”
Irish playwright Brian McAvera wrote Picasso’s Women to give the women who loved and aided Picasso’s career a voice to tell their stories. There was Olga Khokhlova, a Russian ballerina and aristocrat who was Picasso’s first wife. He abandoned her and their child when he met Marie-Therese Walter, a woman he started having an affair with when she was seventeen years old. Picasso refused to divorce Khokhlova, choosing instead to remain legally married so he wouldn’t have to split his wealth with her. Walter bore Picasso a daughter, and was also abandoned when Picasso met his next lover, the noted photographer Dora Maar. When Maar was diagnosed with mental health problems, he had her confirmed to an institution where she was treated with electroshock therapy. During his relationship with Maar, he began an affair with painter Francoise Gilot and, predictably, abandoned her as well. A few lovers later, there was Gaby Lespinasse, a woman who was already in a relationship with another man when she began a brief affair with Picasso.
These and other women are brought to life by McCavera’s series of eight monologues, each dedicated to a different woman in Picasso’s life. A scenic reading of selected parts of the play featuring the characters of Khokhlova, Walter, Maar and Lespinasse were performed on Friday night as part of Femart’s theater programming, under the directorship of Arbnesha Grabovci-Nixha.
Khokhlova’s character, described as angry and shrewish by Picasso’s friends, is depicted with humour and grace. “Does any woman want to be unbearable?” she asks the audience, as she describes negotiating with her separated husband for things like paying electricity bills or paying attention to his child. Walter, a child herself when she began her relationship with a 45 year old Picasso, is guileless, a believer in his love for her and their child (the real Walter would end up hanging herself in a garage in 1977). Maar, a respected artist before her relationship with Picasso began, accuses him of having fake political convictions (Picasso, an opponent of both the Franco regime in Spain and the Nazi occupation of France, lived in Paris during the Nazi regime. He was allowed to continue working, and some say he was granted special treatment because of his celebrity. His old friend Max Jacob, a poet and one of the earliest supporters of Picasso’s work, wasn’t so lucky. As a Jew, he was summarily arrested and died while being sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp). Gaby Lespinasse simply describes him as a “dog.”
The stories of great men are filled with similar anecdotes that most people never hear and never know. Most of us only know of Picasso as the great master of the Cubist Movement, the creator of Guernica and one of the most important names of 21st century art. Picasso’s Women reminds us that greatness is always aided by those who give their love, support, creativity and intellectual energy to the creator. All these women gave something of themselves to Picasso’s work, and it’s only fair that we should at least know their names and their stories.
For more images from the performance click here.