Picasso: A genius who 'crushed' women

30 Dec

In seven decades of prolific artistic activity, Pablo Picasso created thousands of paintings and sculptures in many avant-garde styles.


He remains one of the top-grossing artists in auctions worldwide; his works are valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. His "Woman Sitting Near a Window" sold for $103 million (€98 million) at Christie's in New York in May 2021, while in 2015, his "Women of Algiers" sold for $179 million.

In 2023, an international cultural program will mark the 50th anniversary year of the famous artist's death. Under the banner "Picasso Celebration 1973-2023," special exhibitions will be held not only in his home country, Spain, but also in France, Germany and the US, among other countries.

While his artistic genius is unmistakable, those reviewing his legacy have increasingly been discussing his misogyny in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

A painting prodigy

Picasso was born on October 25, 1881 in Malaga, in southern Spain. His father, Don Jose Ruiz y Blasco, was an artist in his own right and earned his livelihood painting birds and animals and as an art teacher. He began teaching his son drawing when he was just seven years old.

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At 13, Picasso started studying at Barcelona's School of Fine Arts, Escola de la Llotja, where his father was also teaching, and two years later, he painted his first large-scale oil painting, called "First Communion," for an exhibition in the city. The work is considered his first masterpiece.

In 1897, he moved to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid, but preferred to study artworks at the Prado museum, where he closely looked at paintings by Diego Velasquez, Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer and Francisco Goya. Picasso moved to Paris in the early 1900s.

Artistic periods

Picasso's artistic life can be divided into many phases. The first phase, known as the Blue Period, lasted from 1901 to 1904 and is widely recognized to have been triggered by the suicide of Picasso's friend, the Spanish poet Carles Casagemas. The first painting during this period, called "The Death of Casagemas" (1901), is emblematic of its somber mood and shades of blue that characterized it.

The Rose Period (1904-1906) followed, with Picasso painting in hues of pink, light blues and orange. That year, he completed "Portrait of Gertrude Stein," shortly after meeting the American writer.

The phase is widely described as a happier stage in the artist's life, and it is during this period that he met Fernande Olivier, a French artist who later became his muse and mistress.

Venturing into cubism

With his controversial "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" (1906-1907), Picasso gained worldwide fame as a leader of modern art. The bizarre distortion of the female body shapes smashed all previous notions of perspective. The painting is seen as a pioneering work of cubism.

Together with Georges Braque, Picasso would further develop cubism in the years that followed. His creations during this period include "The Girl with the Mandolin" (1910) and "Still life with a Bottle of Rum" (1911).

Statements against war

Among Picasso's most famous works is "Guernica" (1937), a painting that has become synonymous with anti-war expression. He painted it in reaction to the Nazi bombing of the Basque city in northern Spain, ordered by General Franco. "Guernica," while using cubist elements, also marked the painter's move to surrealism.

Other anti-war works include "The Charnel House" (1944-45), seen as  dealing with the Holocaust, and "Massacre in Korea" (1951), as well as the doves of freedom, a motive he had been drawn to since he was a child.  

Picasso's toxic masculinity

In the past years, and especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement, Picasso's misogynist attitudes towards his lovers have come under scrutiny. Art commentators, such as Shannon Lee in Artspace magazine, believe Picasso's misogyny needs to be recontextualized in his work: "Picasso himself remarked that all his work could be categorized into seven distinct styles, each one a document of his relationship with the seven women in his life — Fernande Olivier, Eva Gouel, Olga Khokhlova, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Dora Maar, Françoise Gilot, and Jacqueline Roque."

Picasso, Lee writes, "created an exceptionally miserable life for just about every woman he claimed to love." Lee also quotes Picasso's granddaughter Marina, who wrote "Picasso, My Grandfather" (2001): "He submitted them to his animal sexuality, tamed them, bewitched them, ingested them, and crushed them onto his canvas. After he had spent many nights extracting their essence, once they were bled dry, he would dispose of them."

Picasso depicted himself as the mythical Minotaur in several of his paintings; his muses were the victims of beastly aggression. "Honestly, these days, it's pretty hard to feel bad for a guy who draws a mythological version of himself as a 'beast' literally raping women on countless occasions," Lee writes in Artspace.

Francoise Gilot, an artist who Picasso fell in love with while he was in a relationship with Dora Maar, is seen as the exception to the rule. Gilot bore him two children, Claude and Paloma, and is credited as the only woman to have left Picasso. At the age of 81, Picasso married his second wife, Jacqueline Roque, who was 46 years younger than him. They lived together until his death. She committed suicide shortly afterwards.

The final years

Picasso's final years were characterized by a frenzy of artistic activity and an expression of the artist's obsession with eroticism, according to the website of the Musee Picasso Paris. In 1966, an exhibition of the artist's paintings and sculptures in Paris also featured "The Couple," which shows a man and woman embracing and is a seminal piece tackling the theme of love and sexuality.

Three years later, an exhibition at the Palais des Papes, also in Paris, triggered a scandal for the eroticism in the paintings and their giant formats.By 1972, the artist appeared to be preparing for death: He created a series of portraits with his head replaced by a mask, sometimes taking on the appearance of a skull and crossbones.

Picasso died on April 8, 1973, in Mougins, near Cannes. 


Edited by: Elizabeth Grenier

Author Manasi Gopalakrishnan

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