The revenge of the women of Picasso’s circle | Babelia

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'Lola, sister of the artist' (circa 1896), by Pablo Ruiz Picasso.
‘Lola, sister of the artist’ (circa 1896), by Pablo Ruiz Picasso.PhotoGasull

The 20th, and not the 21st, was the century of women. Compared to the emancipation movements that have emerged in the last 150 years, the recent demonstrations for equality and against gender violence are almost anecdotal. Everything had been written in the constitutional declarations of women’s suffrage in New Zealand, in the Nordic countries, in the USA, and even before, in the 18th and 19th centuries, when women fought alone to overcome the anxiety of authorship.

In the field of art, it is disconcerting to see that, sometimes, the cure is more doubtful than the symptoms. For example, when the recent recovery of the names of many authors is observed, supposed muses of great masters who continue to aspire to escape from their condition, angels of the home turned into demons, whose lives had to be silenced. They were the ghosts that secretly occupied the male condominiums and now hatch as chrysalises in international auctions and exhibitions. We must consider the thawing of a canon that ignored them commendable, but the value system that governs that change continues to make us uncomfortable. In politics, in economics, in peace and in war, we continue to be Lady Macbeth demanding that the gods strip us of sex (today it would be “gender”) in favor of typically masculine ambition and power, which we dare not dismantle.

The case of Picasso is paradigmatic. For two years now, various international institutions have highlighted the role played by two artists in their own right who were part of his first circle: Dora Maar, Picasso’s lover between 1936 and 1946, and Françoise Gilot, the artist’s companion between 1943 and 1953 and mother of Claude and Paloma Picasso. They are now joined by the painter’s sister, Lola Ruiz Picasso. On his place in the life and work of the artist, the Museu Picasso in Barcelona is exhibiting a modest but fundamental exhibition that serves to close the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the donation of the artist’s personal collection to the city, protected in the family homes of the Vilató Ruiz couple.

Lola’s portraits symbolize the artist, in an identification between the young woman and her older brother

Lola acted as custodian of a large documentation, correspondence, photographs and paintings that include the works of her formative stage and extend to the paintings of 1917 (Harlequin) which he did together with the Ballets Russes. In total, 900 works. Curated by Malén Gual, the exhibition explains apparently unimportant but essential facts. Actually, it is more of a cabinet exhibition to understand the scope of a sharpened sensitivity, at times eccentric, which in his letters to his brother used to place an almost ecstatic emphasis on the daily life of Barcelona that Picasso left behind, in 1904, to settle permanently in Paris.

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View of the exhibition dedicated to Dora Maar at the Tate Modern (London), in 2019.
View of the exhibition dedicated to Dora Maar at the Tate Modern (London), in 2019.Alamy Stock Photos

Lola was the daughter, sister, mother and grandmother of painters. She was an embroiderer and also a painter; not good, really. Hyperactive woman, gave birth to six children. In contrast, she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis that did not make her lose that explosive prompt for which she was nicknamed The Earthquake. Picasso portrayed her up to 66 times. The first drawing is from 1894 and appears in one of the artist’s notebooks made in A Coruña. From that year is Portrait of Lola: Picasso is 13 years old, and the model, 10, although in the image she seems older, because he disguises her with a mantilla to hide her childlike air. That was Picasso’s first oil painting. In the selection of scenes and postures of Lola that we see in other sketches and paintings, we find a particular psychohistory: the painter builds a feminine ideal, makes it evolve and gives the model the freedom to become different types of women. The portraits also symbolize the artist’s own image, in an identification between the young woman and her older brother that is quite classic. From the notes shown in the showcases, it is deduced that the two had a similar humor and character.

The case of Dora Maar will be different. It is the woman who cries, the woman tortured, although never victimized. A highly valued photographer in the surrealist group when she meets Picasso, she documents the entire execution process of the Guernica, he changes the camera for the easel —he will not return to photography until he is eighty—, he paints portraits of Picasso and interprets the ones that the artist makes of her. The lack of love pushes her to a dilapidated life, hidden in the Provencal villa of Ménerbes that Picasso had given her. In an ingenious play on words, her surroundings nicknamed her Picassiette for his stinginess and his way of pecking from other people’s dishes in his rare social encounters. Today she is considered one of the most genuine surrealist photographers. In 2019, the Pompidou Center dedicated its largest retrospective to date: 430 works that traveled to the Tate Modern and the Getty in Los Angeles.

'Paloma à la guitare', by Françoise Gilot, exhibited at Sotheby's auction house in London, in May 2021.
‘Paloma à la guitare’, by Françoise Gilot, exhibited at Sotheby’s auction house in London, in May 2021.John Phillips (Getty Images for Sotheby’s)

For her part, Françoise Gilot was a 21-year-old artist when she met Picasso, who was 61. The painter, sitting at a restaurant table with Dora Maar, turned to that young woman to offer her a bowl of cherries. Gilot told her that she was a painter: “That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all day. I am also a painter. Gilot asked him for engraving classes. The relationship lasted nine years. She was the only woman who left Picasso and she still lives to tell about it. At 100 years old, he appears in the media as a influencer and his work is exhibited in galleries and museums in the US and Europe. A few weeks ago, his oil Dove on the guitar (1964) was auctioned at Sotheby’s for $1.3 million (€1.1 million), six times the asking price. Neither Maar nor Gilot hid their works in kitchen cupboards. They always glimpsed an escape. They were thinking muses, interpreters and critics of their own fictions, monsters. His fight was not against the influence of his predecessors, but against the interpretation that has been made of them.

‘Lola Ruiz Picasso’. Picasso Museum. Barcelona. Until February 27th.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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