Portrait of Olga

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‘It was through Diaghilev that Picasso met his first wife, the Ukrainian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, when he was working on the designs for Parade in Rome in the spring of 1917. Like all the dancers, she was used to posing before a camera and a smitten Picasso photographed her repeatedly in Rome, in Paris where Parade was premièred in May, and in Madrid and Barcelona where the Ballets Russes had engagements that summer. He also drew her repeatedly, sometimes naturalistically, sometimes in an abstracted style derived from synthetic Cubism. Drawing her was a way of getting to know her and, by experimenting with different approaches, discovering the right image for her in his painting’. [1]

‘There is therefore much more in these Works tan Picasso’s supposed return to a classical inspiration. His overwhelming admiration for Ingres is, of course, well known, as was his desire to emulate the Neoclassical master. But this ‘Neoclassical’ label is somewhat simplistic, effectively overlooking the highly significant human aspect that fuelled this fascinating period in the artist’s work. Olga or Paul, or both at once, were the focus of a substantial segment of Picasso’s corpus. We are aware of just how quickly the happiness of the early 1920s soured—starting in 1927, after the death of Lydia and the arrival of Marie-Thérèse Walter in Picasso’s life—and was replaced by a stream of portrayals that seem to illustrate, with an unbelievable strength, the psychoanalytic dialectic between Eros and Thanatos, brought to light by Freud. The final chapters in Pablo and Olga’s shared life seem to be a pure and simple illustration of this inseparable complex between affection and aggression, love and hate. Picasso’s work during the last years the couple lived together reveals a staggering power and violence, combining crucifixion and scenes of bullfighting, in which a horse is eviscerated by the horns of a bull’. [2]

[1] COWLING, Elizabeth. Picasso. Portraits. [Cat. exp.: National Portrait Gallery (London), 2016 and Museu Picasso (Barcelona), 2017]. London: National Portrait Gallery, 2016, pp. 117 and 120.
[2] PISARRO, Joachim. ‘Picasso never had a Neoclassical period—just an Olga period’. In: PHILIPPOT, Émilia [et al.]. Olga Picasso. [Cat. exp.: Musée national Picasso-Paris, 2017; Museo Pushkin (Moscow), 2018 and Museo Picasso Málaga, 2019]. Paris: Gallimard and Musée national Picasso-Paris, 2019, p. 21.


What was happening in 1923?

  • Picasso, Olga and Paulo spend the summer at Dinard, in Brittany.
  • Howard Carter discovers Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt.
  • Primo de Rivera leads a coup d’état in Spain.
  • The Walt Disney Company is established.

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