Here’s a switch -- a Picasso show that’s not all about him but rather about the six women in his life – each an artist in her own right -- who affected the work that made him famous. “Picasso: The Artist and His Muses” at the Vancouver Art Gallery in Canada showcases his 60 portraits of them to demonstrate that change in his bed partners coincided with changes in his painting and the story of art.

The saga begins with Fernande Olivier.


That’s when Picasso shifted from his gloomy Blue Period to the cheery Rose Period full of harlequins and circus performers. Next came Olga Koklova, a ballet dancer, who brought on Picasso’s Neo-Classical style and a host of sculptural images of motherhood. Following pairing, Picasso hooked up with Marie Therese Walter. When that tie ended, Picasso began taking apart the female form -- Cubist style.


With the ruin of the Walter affair, he painted the quintessential model of ruin, “Guernica.” Dora Maar, his next lover, a Surrealist photographer who documented the making of the anti-war painting, also helped him paint it.

Two takeaways. Take your pick.

As exhibit curator Katharina Beisiegel told the Globe and Mail, a Canadian paper, “I would be very happy if you take away from this exhibition that these women were truly part of the creative process.”That might not be the only takeaway.

Picasso was a cruel lover who left a string of bodies in his wake. Dora Maar suffered a nervous breakdown. Olga Khokhlova also endured emotional problems; Marie Therese Walter was left destitute and killed herself. So did his number six, Jacqueline Roque, after he died.

One who lived to tell her story

“In the end,” Picasso famously said, “there is only love. However it may be." But wait, that’s not the end of the story.

Francois Gilot, Picasso’s number 5, who he met when he was 60 and she was 21 and with whom he had two children, survived to tell the story. You can read all about it in the new bio “The Woman Who Says No: Françoise Gilot on Her Life With and Without Picasso -- Rebel, Muse, Artist” by Malte Herwig. Now 94 and living in New York, she said in a recent interview for the Guardian that her relationship with Picasso “was not a sentimental love.” Their togetherness lasted a decade before she walked out on him – the only woman who ever did that to Picasso.


“I live my own life in my own way.” That’s been her way for a long time. She doesn’t like to be known for her relationship with Picasso. A painter in her own right, she said, “I was considered astonishingly good” and that was before she met Picasso. “I knew how to draw. I was never an amateur in what I did.” Gilot lives in New York and is still painting.

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