If I had been a young woman anytime from 1915 to 1945, and Pablo Picasso was attracted to me, I would have jumped into bed with him (all 5’ 4” of him), probably had a long-term affair, and become distraught by his inability to truly commit himself to me.
I just watched Genius, a National Geographic Network series about Picasso, and was enthralled—but not surprised—by his spell over women. He was stimulating. Smart. Sexy. Wealthy. And famous. But he usually lost interest in women whom he had once passionately pursued, and would often have two lovers simultaneously. Two of his mistresses once physically fought over him, which he enjoyed watching. One of the women was Dora Maar, a renowned photographer, poet and painter, who was Picasso’s mistress for nine years. She was so in love with him that she actually went crazy, and underwent electroshock treatments, when he rejected her. The other woman, a model with whom Picasso had a daughter, committed suicide four years after his death.
Picasso married twice, the first time to a Russian ballerina with whom he had a son. She took the child and left him when she learned his mistress was pregnant, but Picasso wouldn’t divorce her because he didn’t want to share his fortune, which included his paintings. Besides, he no longer desired her.
Francoise Gilot, a mistress with whom Picasso had a 10-year-affair and two children, was an entirely different story. Herself a gifted artist, she wanted to achieve fame for her talent, not just for being Picasso’s lover. Four decades younger than Picasso, Francoise left him when he became increasingly tyrannical and cold. “ ‘I wanted a bit more affection, maybe; not love, but affection. So anyway, I was not satisfied,’ ” she told an interviewer for The Guardian newspaper two years ago. Picasso and Francoise became estranged, meeting only once more a year later, when she handed over their children for a visit.
When the interviewer asked Francoise if leaving Picasso was liberating, she answered, “No, because I was not a prisoner. I’d been there of my own will and I left of my own will.” Before she left, Francoise told Picasso that she came when she wanted and would leave when she wanted. He answered, “nobody leaves a man like me.”
Francoise, now 96 and living between Paris and New York, has achieved fame in her own right. Paloma Picasso, a businesswoman and jewelry designer, is her daughter, and Claude Picasso, a movie director, is her son.
I would not have been as strong as Francoise. Would you?