Their 'Cruel, Crazy Love' Never Died, Says Maya Ruiz-Picasso of Her Father and Mistress Mother
In his loves as in his art, Pablo Picasso was a man of prodigious capacity. When he died in 1973 at age 91, he left an astounding 16,000 works in his private collection alone. His love affairs could also fill a catalog, with two wives and two longtime mistresses heading the roster. Recalls his eldest daughter, Maya Ruiz-Picasso, now 45: "He shared himself very well."
Maya's mother was Marie Thérèse Walter, the daughter of a Parisian insurance broker and sequentially the second among the top quartet of Picasso women companions. Their 20 years of unwed intimacy (from 1927 onward) inspired one of Picasso's most arresting artistic periods. In tribute to both parents, Maya has put on display in Geneva part of her collection. The show, Picasso Intime, features 89 canvases, drawings, water-colors and bronzes; their estimated value: $38 million.
The exposition focuses on Marie Thérèse, at times shown reposing nude or nursing her child. "He was completely taken by my mother's profile," says Maya. Picasso first spotted Marie Thérèse standing in front of a Paris department store when she was 17. He was then 46 and already an artist with a burgeoning reputation, but it took him a full six months to win her over. "When my grandmother found out Mother was seeing a Spaniard, she told her to be very careful," laughs Maya.
Picasso was then married to the Russian ballerina Olga Koklova, by whom he had a son, Paulo. While the marriage had clearly become strained, the laws of Picasso's native Spain prevented a divorce. But this did not dissuade the artist from renewing the joys of parenthood. Picasso reveled in bathing and diapering his baby Maya, and a photo that he took of her first steps remained by his bedside through his life. To Marie Thérèse he exclaimed: "Hurrah for the life that could never separate us." In this case, however, life did not imitate art. By the time Maya was 12, her parents had split up, although, Maya reveals, they continued to meet until 10 years before Picasso's death and never stopped writing love letters. "It was very disgusting in a way," she says. "But their love was above all justice."
Picasso's next affair was a seven-year liaison with Françoise Gilot which produced a son, Claude, now 34, and a daughter, Paloma, now 32. In their growing-up years, all the Picasso children of whichever mother summered together. "It wasn't complicated," Maya insists. But their sense of family closeness was torn asunder in 1961 when, after Olga's death, Picasso took Jacqueline Roque as his second wife. "She couldn't stand the children of the others," Maya says with undisguised resentment.
Maya insists that the "crazy, cruel, immense, marvelous, tender love" between her mother and Picasso was never extinguished. "He wrote to her just days before he died," she says. Four years later Marie Thérèse, aged 68 and deeply depressed, took her own life.
In 1960 Maya married Pierre Widmaier, a retired sea captain who now runs a boating school in Marseilles, where the couple live with their children: Olivier, 20, Richard, 17, and Diana, 10. Three years before Picasso's death, Maya joined Claude and Paloma in a challenge of a French law denying parental recognition to children born out of wedlock ("I cried for eight days before starting the trial against my father"). Ultimately each was awarded 9.35 percent of Picasso's estate. "I never thought of inheriting anything," says Maya, "and now it's coming from every direction."
From her treasured collection of hundreds of Picassos, Maya next plans to put together a show of her own childhood as seen through her father's works. After all, she notes with understated logic, "I had a papa who painted."
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