Opening tomorrow at the National Picasso Museum in Paris, “Olga Picasso” focuses on the period where the ballet dancer was Picasso’s muse. In 1912, Olga Khokhlova entered the prestigious and innovative Russian Ballet directed by Serge Diaghilev. She met Pablo Picasso in spring 1917 while he was working, at the invitation of Jean Cocteau, on the decor and costumes of the Parade ballet (music by Erik Satie, theme by Jean Cocteau, choreography by Léonide Massine). On July 12, 1918, the couple married in an Orthodox Church on rue Daru, with Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob, and Guillaume Apollinaire as witnesses.
The exhibition features a selection of paintings, drawings, photos, and more archival material that trace the love story and the depiction of Picasso’s model through different styles and media.
As the perfect model during Picasso’s classical period, Olga was first portrayed by thin, elegant lines marked by the influence of Ingres. Synonymous with a certain return to figuration, Olga is often represented as melancholic, sitting, reading or writing, no doubt an allusion to the correspondence she maintained with her family that lived during a tragic moment in history. After the birth of their first child, Paul, on February 4, 1921, Olga became the inspiration for numerous maternity scenes, compositions bathed in innocent softness.
Olga’s figure transforms, however, after Picasso’s encounter with Marie-Thérèse Walter, a young, seventeen-year-old woman who would become his mistress. In 1929, in the painting Le Grand nu au fauteuil rouge, Olga is nothing but pain and sorrow. Her form is flaccid with violent expression and translates the nature of the couple’s profound crisis. The spouses finally separate for good in 1935, a year the artist temporarily stops creating paintings, but stay married until Olga’s death in 1955.