Picasso’s Women: Fernande to Jacqueline by John Richardson

John Richardson would not have been surprised to know that a Google search of “Picasso and women” turns up a staggering 38.2 million results. By comparison, the same search of Henri Matisse, the artist Picasso both admired and envied, gets 11 million hits, fewer by around 75 percent. And Georges Braque, best known for having introduced Cubism with Picasso, yields a meager 3.48 million. Richardson, inarguably the Picasso biographer, put forth his thesis succinctly in the first volume of his biography of the artist: “After seeing at first hand how closely Picasso’s personal life and art impinged on each other, I decided to try charting his developments through his portraits.... The successive images Picasso devised for his women always permeated his style.”

This was hardly hyperbole. From early affairs to his first sustained lover, Fernande Olivier, to his second wife and greatest muse, Jacqueline Roque Picasso, Pablo Picasso was relentless in expressing his every feeling about the women in his life on canvas and in sketches, bronze sculpture, ceramics, and even jewelry. As the artist famously said, “My work is like a diary.” For Richardson, then, addressing Picasso’s commingling of women and art has helped the rest of us wrestle with and understand Picasso’s protean genius. It was a bull’s-eye reckoning of the man whom Richardson knew until Picasso’s death, in 1973, at the age of 91.