BLOG Category: Muses

Pablo Picasso: Lives and Loves
Examining the Muse
Pollock, De Kooning, Johns, Warhol, Kline - Their Muse and Lover

Pablo Picasso: Lives and Loves

Erotic Scene (1902-3)

There may be some things you won’t say, or do, or even contemplate, in front of genteel strangers, but peculiar things can happen at an art gallery. You can find yourself in this type of polite huddle when you are in front of Picasso’s Erotic Scene (1902-3).

The picture contains a self-portrait, the artist was 21 when he painted it, but he seems to imagine himself as a younger boy, reclined on a bed with arms casually behind his head, while a naked woman leans more than a trifle suggestively over his lower regions.

The subject of Erotic Scene was risqué enough for Picasso to deny for many years that he painted it, yet scholars maintain that he did, and it’s not such a surprising painting from one who, at a young age, was so sexually experienced, and whose life would have so many loves. No matter which period of Picasso’s oeuvre one studies, from the Blue Period that shaped the Erotic Scene, through the Cubist years and on into the Neo-Classicism of the 1920s, one might be just as tempted with tales of the great master’s love life as much as with the works that he has created. Viewing his paintings through his personal life would still offer us a rich picture of his work, since it has often been noted how a new woman in Picasso’s life signaled an observable departure in his work.

Consider touring Picasso’s love life through a sequence of his fabulous portraits – a few declared as such, most hidden – that reveal his changing moods and amours. While he was in Rome, making sets for the Ballets Russes, he met former dancer Olga Khokhlova; they married in 1918, and his relationship with her coincided with a turn to Neoclassicism in his work, and imaginings of a lost Golden Age on the Mediterranean. Together they had a son, Paulo, and Picasso’s joy in fatherhood was manifest in compositions celebrating women and maternity such as Woman in White (1924). But the artist soon wearied of fatherhood, and of his wife, and as his feelings soured his contact with the Surrealists led him to produce Head of a Woman (1927), a biting satire of Olga. That same year, at the age of 45, Picasso’s attentions were drawn to a 17-year-old girl he met on a Paris street, Marie-Thérèse Walter. His previously cold and dispassionate Surrealist style warmed, to produce sunny, joyfully erotic images of his new love, such as The Dreamer (1932). But again, as his ardency waned, his palette cooled, as in later portraits like Woman Asleep at a Table (1936). And, finally, as was his pattern, Marie-Thérèse was replaced, this time by the fiery and cerebral Surrealist photographer Dora Maar.

Even when Picasso wasn’t painting his women, his thoughts of them were shaping his work: one apocryphal tale has it that in Lent of 1930, the young and pious Marie-Thérèse swore off sex, and Picasso became so enraged he painted a Crucifixion. While this tale is subject to scrutiny, there is little mystery behind Man with a Lollipop (1938), the comic figure who appears with his many depictions of women of the 1920s and 1930s. The composition mocks those who, late in life, return to childhood in order to find replacements for lost erotic love: here it is as if Picasso claims such a fate will not be his.

La Fornarina by Raphael (1518-20)

But which liaison brought the most to his art? The popularity of his portraits of Marie-Thérèse would suggest that it was this unlikely match that brought out the best in him – especially as evidenced in the latest auction price paid for her painting. Or maybe it was the variety of those different experiences which sharpened his art: his works have different erotic images sprinkled throughout: depictions of Venus, of nudes, even a series of prints imagining Raphael in embraces with the young woman who appears in his famous La Fornarina (1518-20). But the sorry tale of the Picasso dynasty – stories of suicide, instability, and unhappiness – suggests that brief encounters with the master weren’t so healthy for his women, nor were they so beneficial for the children to have such as legend as their father. Picasso’s art may have flourished, but other lives weren’t so lucky.


The Loves:

Fernande Olivier photograph
Head of a Woman (1909-10)

Fernande Olivier (1904-1912)

An artist and model who posed for over sixty portraits by Picasso over the course of their passionate and tempestuous relationship, Olivier and Picasso met at the Bateau-Lavoir in 1904 and were living together the year after. Olivier was the model for some of Picasso’s most famous forays into Cubism, including  being one of the demoiselles in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Once Picasso became a successful artist he left Olivier as she reminded him of more difficult times.

Eva Gouel (1912-1915)

Gouel and Picasso’s relationship had a scandalous start, they met in 1911 while both involved with other people, and began their affair before they left their respective partners. During this time Picasso left secret love notes in his paintings for Gouel, who was the model for many of his works, notably the cubist work Ma Jolie (Ma Jolie was Picasso’s nickname for Gouel). Sadly their love affair was short lived. Gouel died of tuberculosis, or cancer, in 1915. Picasso described her last weeks in the hospital as “hell” in letters to his good friend, Gertrude Stein.

Olga Khokhlova photograph (1918)
The Woman in White (1924)

Olga Khokhlova (1917 – 1927)
A dancer with the famed Ballet Russes company, Khokhlova and Picasso met when he designed the costumes and sets for the Ballet Russes’ production of Parade (1917). She was 26 years-old and he 36. Picasso married Olga in 1918, but the relationship waned in the late 1920s. They had a son, Paulo in 1921, but formally separated in 1935. Here, in Woman in White, he depicts her at one of the heights of his love for her. Through amorous eyes, she is illustrated softly in a glow of femininity and maternity.


Marie-Thérèse Walter photograph (1929)
The Dreamer (1932)

Marie-Thérèse Walter (1927-1936)
Picasso’s affair with Marie-Thérèse began in 1927 and lasted for nearly a decade, making it one of his longest relationships. However, his wife Olga did not discover the affair until much later when a friend told her that Picasso was expecting a child with his long-time lover. Walter and Picasso’s daughter, Maïa, was born in 1935. In The Dreamer Picasso is caught up in the throws of his passion for Walter, using warm colors to depict her sensuous body in repose.

Dora Maar photograph (1941)
Portrait of Dora Maar Seated (1937)

Dora Maar (1936-1944)
Picasso met the Surrealist photographer in 1936, at the famed Parisian cafe, Les Deux Magots, and their relationship lasted until some time after he met a young painter, Françoise Gilot, in 1943. Although primarily remembered for her relationship with Picasso, Maar was a talented artist in her own right, known for Surrealist photography and abstract painting. In this painting of Maar, Picasso depicts her on a throne, the Queen equal to the artist’s King.

Sylvette photograph (c. 1954)
David Sylvette (1954)

Sylvette David (1954)

Only nineteen years old when she met the decades older Picasso on the Cote d’Azur, Picasso was instantly attracted to David. Following in the footsteps of Picasso’s previous companions, David served as both muse and model to the artist. She inspired what is known as the “Sylvette Series” of over sixty paintings and portraits. Interestingly, David’s relationship with Picasso was never consummated as she was too shy to even pose in the nude for him. This lack of carnal passion spelled the end of their time together, especially after Picasso met Jacqueline Roque.

Jacqueline Roque photograph (1956)
Jacqueline with a Headband III (1964)

Jacqueline Roque (1953-1973)
Picasso met Jacqueline on the French Riviera in 1952 where she worked at a ceramics studio. Roque was 28 years-old to Picasso’s 72.  After Picasso’s first wife, Olga Khokhlova died in 1961, he and Roque married, remaining together until his death. He created over 400 portraits of her, the most of any of his loves. Roque is called the “muse” of Picasso’s old age.


The Life and Art of Picasso –

Examining the Muse

Who are those people – repeated, disassembled, studied over and over again, taken apart and put back together, sometimes appearing in portraits, sometimes appearing only as a limb or a torso. Who are those muses that seem, in some artists’ career, to be more an obsession than just a subject?

Below is a glimpse into the relationships between six modern artists and their lovers, and the impact they had on their lives.

Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera

Diego on My Mind (Self Portrait as Tehuana), 1943 (oil on canvas)

The “Frida and Diego” relationship is notorious, and though Kahlo is remembered largely for her self-portraits, Diego’s face has cropped up often.

Frida’s fascination with her husband seemed not so much a fascination with Rivera himself, but with his effect on her, so much so that many of her portraits included her placing Diego’s face on her forehead, (in her mind) or on her breast, (in her heart).


include ‘share2.htm’;

Salvador Dali and Gala

Leda Atomica, 1949 (oil on canvas)

Salvador Dali’s wife, whose real name is Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, was nicknamed Gala by the artist for its endearing association to olives. After meeting Dali in 1929 her biography became permanently fused with her husband’s.

The artist, convinced Gala was the antidote for his mental turmoil, often used her as a subject in his work and typically depicted her with a sense of power, presiding over the canvas. After Gala’s death, Dali ceased to paint with women models, maintaining loyalty to his muse.


Rene Magritte & Georgette Berger

Georgette Magritte, 1934 (oil on canvas)

The early years of Rene Margritte’s and Georgette’s marriage were happy and she spent many hours posing (typically nude) for her new husband who previously had little interest in using live models.

Rene, generally a private and introverted person, was coaxed into social situations by his wife, which ultimately earned him great commercial success as a painter. But in the rocky stages of their marriage, Rene suffered both in social spheres and in his studio.


Amedeo Modigliani & Jeanne Hebuterne

Hebuterne, 1918 (oil on canvas)

Amadeo & Jeanne met in art school in 1916, during Jeanne’s first year there. After a brief courtship and hurried marriage, Jeanne modeled exclusively for her husband.

Their poverty stricken life was spent mostly in Amadeo’s tiny studio. In those two years, the bulk of Modigliani’s now renowned works were born. Modigliani died young, at thirty-five, a result of severe alcoholism and meningitis. Jeanne, unable to overcome her grief, committed suicide the very next day- she did not live to see her twenty second birthday.


Tamara de Limpicka & Suzy Solidor

Portrait of Suzy Solidor, 1933 (oil on canvas)

The Art Deco queen was one of the few successful women artists in the roaring twenties who openly declared herself a bisexual. Many of Tamara’s lovers, women working in Paris’s club and cabarets posed for her in the studio.

Among them was Suzy Solidor, whose success as a singer and actress rivaled the painter’s. Suzy was referred to by artist friends as, “the most painted woman in all of Paris”. At that time, she had already sat for Picasso, Braque, and Dufy, but it was Limpicka’s portraits of Salidor that stood out in her collection, and Salidor remains the only subject (short of Limpicka’s late husband), who had made it onto Tamara’s canvases several times.

Francis Bacon & George Dyer

Portrait of George Dyer Talking, 1966 (oil on canvas)

The popular myth is that Bacon met Dyer in 1964 when the young man, twenty years Bacon’s junior, was burglarizing his apartment. In reality, they probably met at a bar. Like the painter, Dyer was a long-time alcoholic and his brooding state soon turned unbearable for both the painter and his lover. By 1970, Dyer stayed away from Bacon and his social circle, making appearances only to pose and ask for drinking money.

In 1971, Dyer committed suicide, and the death brought on a grieving process that is remembered now as Bacon’s most celebrated series: The Black Triptychs. Though the artist typically denied conversations about his inspiration, the triptychs, he confirmed in an interview, were born of Dyer’s death.

If this article enticed you to do some personal research, check out: Lover: Portrait by 40 Great Painters by Juliet Heslewood here. The book covers many artists spanning several movements and offers rich, historical information about their lovers and muses.

Written By: Darina Sikmashvili

include ‘share2.htm’;

Pollock, De Kooning, Johns, Warhol, Kline – Their Muse and Lover

The only survivor of Jackson Pollock’s deadly car crash in 1956 also happened to be his lover. In fact, she was an artist herself, but is better known today for relationships—sometimes sexual—with several well-known artists in the 1950s and 1960s.

Ruth Kligman’s unusual and little-known story is interwoven into the history of modern art. In addition to her sexual relationships with Pollock and Willem de Kooning, she had strong friendships with Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and Franz Kline.

The enchanting and gregarious Kligman met Pollock at a small gallery in New York where she worked as an assistant. She was only 26-years old when she began seeing the infamous “Jack the Dripper,” who was her senior by almost two decades.

At the time, Pollock was at the peak of his fame. He had become the poster child for a new painting style dubbed Abstract Expressionism, and his work and unusual painting technique were an inspiration to many artists. And yet, Pollock suffered from alcoholism and was growing weary with his celebrity.

Kligman, who was an abstract artist herself, was greatly inspired by Pollock. Two years later, in 1958, she would go on to study at the Art Students League.

“Broken Cosmos,” Ruth Kligman, 1950.

Living in Springs, New York near Pollock’s home in East Hampton, Pollock and Kligman played muse to one another. Their romance was not secretive. The composer Ned Rorem described their relationship as “two narcissists depicting each other.”

Kligman and Pollock were lovers for only a few months before he crashed his car into a tree, with Kligman and another friend inside. Kligman was thrown out of the vehicle, seriously injured but alive. Pollock and the other passenger died.

Kligman was devastated after Pollock’s death. In a 1999 interview with Elle magazine, she said that she “loved him best and last.” But one year later, Kligman began a relationship with another Abstract Expressionist: Willem de Kooning.

“Ruth’s Zowie,” Willem de Kooning, 1957. Image via the Willem de Kooning Foundation.

In 1957, she visited her new lover’s studio. Browsing through his canvases, she stopped in front of a large blue and yellow work and exclaimed “Zowie!” Because of her enthusiasm for the work, Willem de Kooning named it in her honor.

Left to Right: Jane Freilicher, Ruth Kligman, Willem de Kooning.

An attraction to creativity (and a personal desire for it) is how Klingman described the natural attraction that she had for modern artists, and she befriended several other artists of the period. While at a restaurant with de Kooning during their affair, she met Jasper Johns, who was widely known to be gay, and was immediately taken with him. The two became friends and possibly, albeit briefly, lovers. He said of her that “she seemed to express a genuine erotic affection for well-known artists.”

In the 1960s, she drew the fascination of Andy Warhol: she looked like Elizabeth Taylor and was an artistic muse to some of the best-known artists of the previous decade. She claims they had a crush on each other and Warhol writes of her in his diaries. They were close through 1964 and supportive of each other in the art world. She opened a gallery in Greenwich Village and premiered one of Warhol’s short films, “Blow Job,” there in March of that year.

Still from “Blow Job,” Andy Warhol, 1964. Image via the Andy Warhol Foundation.

She was also a friend to Abstract Expressionist Franz Kline. The two had a playful relationship and Kline once called Kligman “Miss Grand Concourse,” referring to the major Bronx thoroughfare that was known for its flashiness and seduction. Despite his catty comment, the two seemed to be close friends.

The nickname, however, had an edge to it as several in the Astract Expressionist circle felt that Kligman had perhaps too hastily began a relation with de Kooning after the death of Pollock. She had other unflattering nicknames as well; Elaine de Kooning called her “Pink Mink” and Frank O’Hara dubbed her the “death car girl.”

Kline, however, also respected Kligman’s ambition as a painter. During a chance meeting at the Cedar Tavern in New York’s East Village, she once told Kline she had just painted her best work. He bought her a drink and gave these words of advice: “They think it’s easy. They don’t know it’s like jumping off a 12-story building every day.”

Kline’s studio became Kligman’s home after he died in 1962 and left her his apartment. She continued to live there until her own death in 2010.

Ruth Kligman by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1972. Image via the Getty Museum blog.

Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1930, proximity, confidence, and a genuine interest in art allowed Kligman to slip seamlessly into the New York scene. While she may have been muse to several of the biggest names of the mid-century art world, hanging around with painters and poets in the Cedar Tavern in the East Village and rubbing elbows at gallery shows, Kligman was not a groupie. She was herself a dedicated artist, a mentor, and a confidant – she soaked all the art knowledge she could from these talented men.

Controversy over the authenticity of “Red, Black and Silver,” a painting that Kligman claims is Pollock’s last work and a gift to her, has tested art forensics in recent years:

The New York Times wrote a detailed obituary of Ruth Kligman in 2010: