Bad Men, Great Artists: How to Reconcile one with the Other
Pablo Picasso was an awesome artist. No one really argues about that. He was the founder of Cubism, a movement which lay the foundation of much Twentieth Century art, and he is probably the best-known and most influential artist of his time.
That’s great. But what does it mean that his personal life was not so stellar? Now, we may never know the whole story, but people around him tended to commit suicide.
The list includes one of his mistresses, a son, a grandson, and one of his wives.
What we do know is that he was an inveterate womanizer. Beginning his sexual career in the brothels of Malaga at around 13 years old, he was said to have a voracious sexual appetite. Fine. Good work if you can get it. But it seems that this characteristic generated trouble in his relationships and took a toll on those around him.
In 1935 he left his wife, Olga Khoklova, for his pregnant mistress, Marie-Therese Walter. He refused to divorce Olga, for fear of loosing half his wealth. Olga drank herself into an early grave, dying in 1955, still married. Now, linking her death and his ideas about divorce is not scientifically sound, but you could be forgiven for any post hoc ergo propter hoc (after that therefore because of that) bias here.
The mother of two of Picasso’s children, his mistress Francoise Gilot, some forty years his junior, left him after ten years of cheating and abusiveness. This we know from her memoir, after the publication of which he never spoke to their two children again.
When he was 79 he married his 35-year-old mistress. She shot herself thirteen years after his death.
My aim is not to villify Picasso. There is probably plenty of he said/she said going on here. But probably not enough to warrant a Trumpian there is blame on both sides moment. Clearly his personal life was complicated, his relationships difficult, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that he was a hard person to be with — or without – and very possibly according to plenty of other anecdotal information, he was an abusive bully.
If we are to look at all this data, then, and conclude that he was what might be technically referred to as an asshole, how might that alter our impression of the genius that he is…