BLOG Category: Relationships of Artists

Pablo Picasso: Lives and Loves
Yoko Ono and John Lennon: Creativity and Love - The Highlights
Freud and Bacon: Lives Lived Under Scrutiny
Examining the Muse

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 –

Yoko Ono and John Lennon: Creativity and Love – The Highlights

At its inception Ono and Lennon’s relationship was both romantic and artistic. In a meet cute worthy of a romantic comedy, Lennon and Ono met at a gallery where Ono’s work was being exhibited. Their first conversation centered on art; Lennon asked to participate in her piece, “Hammer in a Nail” and she said no. She didn’t know who the Beatles were, but the two eventually came to an agreement: Lennon would hammer in an invisible nail in exchange for an invisible five shillings.

Thus, one can easily say that artistic collaboration was at the core of Lennon and Ono’s connection, a companionship that materialized itself in art performances, album records, and a dedication to the promotion of global peace. Here are the highlights of their creativity:

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” — Yoko Ono.

Smile: August 1968

Smiling is special to Ono; she believes that smiling “is the simplest thing to make yourself healthy and make others feel good.” Ono suggests smiling in the mirror everyday and actually has a goal of taking a picture of every single person in this world wearing a smile.

She began working towards this dream by shooting SMILE (also known as Number 5), a 52 minute film, which records Lennon’s facial expressions in the garden of his English home. Funnily enough, although this film focuses entirely on one of the most famous men ever, when it was originally shown half of the audience walked out after the first half hour.

A few decades later, Ono has waded into the millennial generation with #smilesfilm, a participatory art project where people around the world upload a picture of themselves smiling. Anyone can tweet or instagram a photo of themselves smiling, add the hashtag, and become part of the project.

Watch all 52 glorious minutes of SMILE here.

Bed-In: March 25-31, 1969

In Amsterdam’s Hilton hotel, surrounded by hand-drawn signs, flowers, and angelic white pajamas and sheets, the couple invited the press to come in to discuss peace, for 12 hours a day. Although having one of the most famous musicians in the world and his famous artist wife lounging in bed all day sounds scandalous, Lennon and Ono were fully covered, and “looked like angels” (in Lennon’s own words.) The lack of sensationalism is even more notable when one remembers that Ono and Lennon were on their honeymoon at this time: in fact using the publicity from their wedding to bring attention to the Bed-In. Lennon was legendary for his dedication to promoting global peace during the Vietnam War era.

Ono released a 70 minute video containing footage of their two bed-ins, which can be watched here.

Double Fantasy: 1980

Double Fantasy, an album released by Lennon and Ono, served as a sort of comeback album for the former Beatle who had taken a break from creative endeavors to take care of their son Sean. Even though it ended up winning a Grammy, Double Fantasy was attacked by critics. Charles Shaar of NME said “sounds like a great life but makes for a lousy record.” Interestingly enough, it was Ono who was lauded for taking the most musical risks and not Lennon, the career musician.

John Lennon Died Tragically in NYC in 1980

After Lennon’s death Ono shut herself off from the world, going into complete seclusion. One of the darkest periods in her life, it took Ono a long time to mourn and recover. She credits smiling with helping her move on from her grief, taking her own advice and smiling in the mirror every day. Ono also dedicated herself to preserving Lennon’s memory. From working with the city of New York to create the Strawberry Fields memorial to John Lennon in Central Park (across the street from their apartment in the Dakota building on 72nd Street), to incorporating their shared passions into her artworks, she has never stopped remembering Lennon and promoting their shared message of peace.

Wish Tree: 1981-Present

Ono’s Wish Tree works are both an ode to Ono’s childhood in Japan and a renewal of the spirit of her and Lennon’s mission to promote peace and world unity through art. The participatory nature of this work is similar to that of “Hammer-in-a-nail,” the installation that brought Ono and Lennon together. Begun some time after 1981 this installation consists of the planting of a tree native to the region and an invitation to write down on paper and tie to the tree your wishes. Wish Trees have been planted all over the world and are still being planted today. After a tree has been filled with wishes Ono takes all the individual pieces of paper and buries them in the earth.

Arising: December 9th, 2013-Present

In Arising, Ono calls attention to the plight of women worldwide. Reminiscent of Bed-In, Ono uses the unusual, even shocking or scandalous, to bring the world’s attention to an important global issue; the reality of being a woman today. Advocating for peace towards women by exposing the harm done to them, Ono solicits contributions, asking women to send her photos of their eyes as “testaments of harm” that have been done to them solely for being female.

IMAGINE PEACE TOWER: October 9, 2007-Present

The Imagine Peace Tower is the culmination of Ono’s decades long work in spreading her and Lennon’s message of peace to the world. It is  an outdoor artwork situated in Viðey Island in Reykjavík, Iceland that “emanates wisdom, healing and joy. It communicates awareness to the whole world that peace & love is what connects all lives on Earth. Not only is the tower a literal beacon of peace, it is also another way in which Ono continues to remember Lennon. When the tower is lit from October 9th (Lennon’s birthday) until December 8th (the date of Lennon’s death) and on February 18th (Ono’s birthday), she and Lennon are joined in a striking beam, bursting from the tower like a Northern Light. Further, Ono uses the tower to synthesize her works into one harmonious creation: all of the wishes tied to her wish trees are buried in front of The Imagine Peace Tower and her newest 2016 installation, Arising, will be exhibited at the Reykjavik Art Museum, near the tower.


Learn more about Yoko Ono on The Art Story.

Freud and Bacon: Lives Lived Under Scrutiny

For a quarter of a century, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon were the closest of friends. Their lives were characterized by an intense mutual scrutiny of each other and each other’s work, resulting in some extraordinary paintings and a deep but volatile relationship.

Although Francis Bacon was over a decade older than Lucian Freud, their meeting in the mid-1940s sparked an instant and lasting friendship between the two men. For the next 25 years, they would see each other almost every day. Freud’s second wife later recalled that she saw Bacon for dinner “nearly every night for more or less the whole of my marriage to Lucian. We also had lunch.”

When they weren’t painting, they spent much of their time at the Gargoyle Club (and later the Colony Room) in London’s Soho, drinking, gambling and arguing. They would sometimes run into other members of bohemian circles, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Freud later recalled memorable instances such as waking up with his head in a toilet in one of their Soho haunts.

On one occasion, Freud lost everything he owned gambling, including his car, which he went home to fetch so that he could bet it. Bacon could be similarly profligate, sometimes literally throwing money at people who asked for it and buying extravagant rounds of drinks. He would say, “”Champagne for my real friends – real pain for my sham friends!”

In the studio, they constantly scrutinized each other’s work, offering comment and criticism but not always liking what they saw. As Bacon later put it, “Who can I tear to pieces, if not my friends? …If they were not my friends, I could not do such violence to them.” As two figurative artists working at a time when abstraction was the pervading fashion, their practices drew on these mutual processes of looking and criticizing to inform their painting.

However, although they were painting in the same tradition, their ways of working couldn’t have been more different. When Lucian Freud first sat for a portrait by Bacon in 1951, he was fascinated by the older artist’s hurried and spontaneous approach. Bacon’s paintings of Freud bear little physical resemblance to the sitter, but instead depict something closer to a psychological sketch or essence.

Conversely, when Bacon sat for Freud the following year he was amazed at how long Freud took with the painting. Bacon sat consistently for three months. For Freud, however, this was fast work; in 2007 he finished a portrait that had taken 16 solid months to complete. Sadly, Freud’s portrait of Bacon was stolen in 1988 when it traveled to an exhibition in Berlin. Freud later designed a “wanted” poster for his missing painting, and posted them around Berlin in the hope that it would be found, but it remains lost.

In 1969, Bacon painted a large triptych of Freud. It was sold in 2013 for $142 million, breaking the record for the most expensive artwork ever bought at auction. However, the painting which later made Freud and Bacon the darlings of the art market originally marked the end of the pair’s long friendship. Soon after it had been completed, Freud and Bacon fell out, reportedly over Bacon’s dislike of Freud’s wealth and snobbery. As two highly strung characters with a love of arguing, it is almost surprising that they didn’t fall out earlier.Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud 1969

Although they respected each others early work, neither had any love for the others’ later creations. Freud caustically labeled Bacon’s paintings from the 1980s “ghastly”, and the feeling was entirely mutual. Nevertheless, although they eventually rejected each other’s friendship, they remained tied in the eyes of the public and the art market. Furthermore, and rather touchingly, Freud had an early work by Bacon hanging on his bedroom wall for most of his life. He said, “I’ve been looking at it for a long time now, and it doesn’t get worse. It really is extraordinary.”

Learn more about Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud on the Art Story artists pages.

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).


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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

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