Diana Widmaier Picasso: “I have discovered endless things about my grandfather that I did not even suspect, such as his superstitions and his fetish side”

Do I have to cancel Pablo Picasso? No, it’s not a trick question. Not even tricky. The question is there, lurking annoying as flies even in academic circles that advocate the separation between work and artist, officially at least since 2017, ascribed to the #MeToo label. It was then that, taking advantage of certain concerns, the French writer, journalist and theater director sophie chauveau public Picasso, the minotaur (Gallimard) and released that “I have discovered the monster: a tyrant in the domestic sphere, perverse and jealous, who is represented as a minotaur, particularly cruel to women and children.” Nothing that was not known, on the other hand: in 2001, marina picasso I had already given him his Picasso, my grandfather (Plaza & Janés), a biography served cold as revenge against a man whom she blames for destroying her family.

“He subjected them to his animal sexuality, he tamed them, bewitched them, ingested them and squeezed them onto his canvases and, when he had left them dry, after extracting their essences night after night, he discarded them,” he wrote about the women who ended up hating love the most celebrated plastic artist of the 20th century.

Explosive cocktail from the recycling of alleged own quotes (“For me there are only two types of women: goddesses and doormats” or “Women are machines of suffering”), testimonies of traumatized relatives, not a few books and many more sensational articles, the controversy is now inevitably revived on the wings of revisionism woke up, to the point that those who deal with the legacy of the genius from Malaga have had no choice but to take the bull by the horns, and never better said. “The history of art is nourished by the questions of our days and the new generations”, concedes the historian Cecile Debray. Director of the National Picasso Museum in Paris since October 2021, last May she launched a program of collaborations with contemporary artists to “question the posterity of Picasso and collect the burning debate about his work.” The first to do so was performer french multimedia Orlanfamous for turning her body into a support for denouncing sociocultural and political oppression of female identity, with Weeping Women Are Angry (The crying women are furious), a pair of series that hybridize painting and collages photographs on display until the beginning of September. An exhibition that coincides, coincidentally, with the heartfelt tribute that Diana Widmaier Picasso (Marseille, 1974) pays tribute to his mother in the same museum, Maya Ruiz-Picasso. And it’s not just any tribute.

Picasso and Maya, in Golfe-Juan (1953-1954).

Edward Quinn

Finally, here is an exhibition that speaks of the women of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) not as mere passive objects, but as genuine subjects who contributed decisively to his creative experience. “History usually considers Maya, like my grandmother Marie-Thérèse, simple muses, but from the biographical perspective of Picasso that is more than limited. My intention has been to restore her active roles, as daughter and partner respectively. So much so that the presence of Maya stimulated and increased the artist’s fascination with childhood”, says Diana Widmaier Picasso in an exclusive conversation with Vanity Fair Spain. An interest that, in effect, is evidenced by the exhibition, which presents portraits and sketches of Maya as a child, in addition to the drawings they created together or the toys he devised for her, unsuspected testimonies of a father-son relationship already explored by the granddaughter five years ago Picasso and Maya: Father and Daughter, at the Gagosian gallery in Paris. The one in the Picasso Museum, entitled Maya Ruiz-Picasso, daughter of Pablo, is even more complete, says: “We have collected 12 of the 14 portraits he painted of her. And an unprecedented representation of his Maya and Marie-Thérèse sketches from the 1930s, along with sculptures, cutouts, and memorabilia such as letters, poems, photographs, and personal items that illustrate a new face of my grandfather’s personality.”

Fruit of Picasso’s relationship with Marie-Therese Walter —the model for whom he abandoned his first wife, the dancer Olga Khoklova—, María de la Concepción Maya Ruiz-Picasso (Boulogne-Billancourt, France, 1935; Widmaier in the surname after marrying the shipping magnate peter widmaier) is one of the heirs that has made the existence of the Parisian museum possible. The institution, which has the largest collection of works by the quintessential icon of modern art —almost 300 paintings, covering all his periods—, was founded in 1979 so that the artist’s children and grandchildren could save themselves the astronomical taxes derived from their inheritances ceding the pieces that have touched them in grace to the French state at a given time. The last of such interested donations (daciones, they are called in legal jargon) was made by Maya again at the beginning of the year, nine works that under the heading New Masterpieces are displayed as part of her daughter’s project/tribute. “The idea was to celebrate something like the Maya Ruiz-Picasso season, with two significant exhibitions. The first, on the ground floor of the museum, houses these pieces from my mother’s collection, her greatest contribution to date and which greatly enriches the funds”, explains Diana Widmaier Picasso, who grew up surrounded by such a large legacy:

“All those wonders were at home. They have been part of my life. I have been able to admire them every day and, of course, they spurred my interest in art. My mother used to tell me stories about them, like the portraits of my paternal great-grandfather, Don Jose Ruiz [ejemplo de temprana gravedad clasicista, fechado en 1895]and my maternal great-grandmother, Emilie Marguerite Walter [alias Mémé, alegre sublimación cubista de 1939], which hung in his bedroom. Each one in his own way, they are very intimate paintings, emotional even, that demonstrate the importance that Picasso gave to the family”.

Picasso and Maya at the Belvédère clinic, Boulogne Billancourt, on September 6, 1935.

Picasso, family man, who would have thought. “Maya and Marie-Thérèse were a haven of peace in my grandfather’s life, especially in the context of the Spanish Civil War and World War II,” continues her granddaughter. “I know that my grandparents maintained a close bond throughout their lives. Preparing the exhibition, I was very surprised to discover their epistolary relationship, which lasted until Picasso’s death. I would say that he retained a strong artistic and emotional attachment to Marie-Thérèse”.

Diana Widmaier Picasso was born a year after her grandfather died. What she knows about him, of course, she had to learn: “I only knew some details disclosed by the family mythology and by the often erroneous anecdotes that the books tell. I think that my work as an art historian who seeks to understand in depth the work of Picasso has a lot to do with these gaps”. Doctorate in History of Art and Law from the Sorbonne, the one who was going to be an auction auditor (she worked in the department of old masters at Sotheby’s in London and Paris) ended up getting involved in her grandfather’s legacy in 2003. Since then, she works in the elaboration of a catalog raisonné on Picasso’s sculpture. “Suddenly, I felt that she was an obligation, perhaps because she had grown up surrounded by his works. It was also a need to reconnect with my family’s history,” she admits. This double exhibition at the Museo Nacional Picasso has been revealed definitively for this purpose. “Collaborating with my mother has been very special. She always told me and my brothers stories about her and her father, but being able to interview her has brought us both even closer. You always think you know everything about yours, and you don’t, ”she says. “Maya has been extremely generous in sharing her memories, photos and personal files of her. I have discovered endless things about my grandfather that I did not even suspect, such as his superstitions and his fetish side. For example, he would never throw away his old clothes, not even his hair or nails when he cut them, for fear of losing part of his essence”.

Pablo Picasso and Maya before the sculpture Tête de femme (Dora Maar) during the shooting of Mystère Picasso, by Henri-Georges Clouzot, in Nice in June 1955.


Such an organic presence is now exhibited in the most intimate part of the exhibition, to be visited until December 31 on the first floor of the Hôtel Salé parisién (the most extravagant and extraordinary example of French 17th century architecture, Mazarin style) where it is located. the museum, along with a large selection of photographs from Maya’s family album that confirms the close father-son bond. Seeing Picasso holding his newborn daughter in her arms, in a snapshot taken by Marie-Thérèse herself in the hospital, produces an unusual tenderness. And check how father and daughter continued to share moments well into the fifties, on vacation on the Côte d’Azur —where she coincided with her stepbrothers Paul, Claude Y Pigeon— strikes down many black legends. “Artists tend to have a very free lifestyle, and it is the people who choose whether to admire it or fear it. It is the people who agree to deposit, identify their fantasies or the reality of their lives with the art they create. Hence, all kinds of confusion and misunderstandings occur, especially among young people who have not lived through certain moments. I try not to judge the personal experiences of others, especially if they refer to other times. Picasso was born at the end of the 19th century and lived in a society that could not be more different from the current one”, argues the granddaughter regarding this possible cancellation of the grandfather. “The only thing I can say is that when my mother saw the finished exhibition, she knew that she had been moved by this tribute that brings together the pieces of a shared memory with her father.”

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