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Re-evaluating Picasso: Visionary painter or art-world villain?

By in Culture
Pablo Picasso in 1962.

When thinking about modern art, many people’s minds immediately go to Pablo Picasso. He was an artistic chameleon and a pioneer of the cubist movement. It is undeniable that Picasso was extremely influential on the art of the 20th century, but what was the cost of this influence?

“Women are machines for suffering,” Picasso told one of his mistresses, Françoise Gilot. The two embarked on an affair when he was 61 and she was 21. This was a tell-tale sign of his feelings towards women and one of many that he gave her. “For me, there are only two kinds of women: goddesses and doormats.”

Marina Picasso, the grand-daughter of the famous artist, wrote a book titled Picasso, My Grandfather. She saw how her grandfather treated the women in his life, believing that he would bleed them dry and then be done with them, all in service of his art.

Women, to Picasso, were tools for his art. He cheated on and abused many of his lovers, and he drove at least two to suicide. Women were not the only ones to suffer at the hands of Picasso. He has also been accused by surviving family of driving his own son into alcoholism.

His son, Paolo, depended on his father for money, and so did Paolo’s eventual wife and children. They often lived in poverty despite their famous name. Picasso’s grandson Pablito also committed suicide following the painter’s death, drinking a bottle of bleach after being barred from his grandfather’s funeral.

Picasso lived a violent life, and those around him suffered for it. Yet, despite the suffering of the men surrounding him, it was the women in his life who bore the brunt of his art.

“He submitted them to his animal sexuality, tamed them, bewitched them, ingested them and crushed them onto his canvas. After he had spent many nights extracting their essence, once they were bled dry, he would dispose of them,” Marina Picasso wrote.

Picasso is widely credited with founding the cubist movement. However, he was not alone in the beginning of this style. From 1908 to 1914, Picasso was almost inseparable from Georges Braque. This time together was sacred to both, with Braque saying, “Picasso and I said things to one another that will never be said again … that no one will be able to understand.”

Picasso is usually the name attached to cubism as he was more extroverted and more commercially successful than Braque. However, the style would likely never have been were it not for the partnership between the two men. It was a relationship of artistic give and take, and the two worked together closely. So closely, in fact, that Braque’s Portrait of a Woman and Picasso’s Nude Woman, both painted in 1910, are almost identical.

Picasso is dead, having passed away on April 8, 1973. He will no longer benefit from the consumption of his art. So is there still something wrong with enjoying his work? Arguably, no. The real problem lies in romanticizing and idolizing him. A man who destroyed the lives of so many to produce his work should not be held up as an idol.

He was endlessly influential, and this cannot be ignored. But this does not mean that his condemnable personal life should be either. Context is an important part of art. Much of the context surrounding Picasso’s art traumatized those around him.

Amber Adrian-Jackson

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

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