Picasso, Jacqueline Roque and Lump
Photo by David Douglas Duncan
Picasso's saddest love
Jacqueline Roque, Picasso's enigmatic last muse, had a reputation as a scheming dragon. But an outstanding exhibition in Paris reveals the extraordinary beauty he saw in her, says Richard Dorment
12:01AM GMT 14 Jan 2004
Of all the women in Picasso's life, the most enigmatic is Jacqueline Roque, the wife of a French colonial official whom he met in 1952 and whom he married (after her divorce and the death of his first wife, Olga) in 1961. Just as Fernande is associated with the cubist period, Olga the neo-classical 1920s, Marie-Therese the surrealist '30s, Dora the early '40s and Françoise the post-war years, Jacqueline became the muse of Picasso's old age.
They were together for the last 20 years of his life, and for 17 of those years she was the only woman he painted. Although there are more pictures of Jacqueline than of any other single person in Picasso's work, relatively little has been written about her or the nature of her relationship with the artist.
And much of what has been written (and said) is scurrilous. In the soap opera of Picasso's life, Jacqueline has been cast in the role of the scheming other woman.
When she took up with Picasso, she was 27 and he nearly 70. The most famous artist in the world, he was then living in the South of France with Françoise Gilot. Two years after the affair began, Françoise left him, taking with her their two illegitimate children, Paloma and Claude.
When Françoise published her bestselling Life With Picasso in 1965, the artist retaliated brutally by disinheriting the children, whom he had adored. This in turn meant that, after Jacqueline married Picasso, she stood to inherit, with his one legitimate son, Paulo, a half-share of the unimaginable wealth in his estate.
Pablo Picasso anda Jacqueline Roque
Photo by David Douglas Duncan
Unfairly or not, Jacqueline has been accused of attempting to ensure that none of his illegitimate children had access to their father or his fortune. It is a matter of fact that she closed the gates of the Chateau de Vauvenargue to them during Picasso's funeral. While it is readily acknowledged that she protected him from the students, tourists, dealers, admirers, scholars, movie stars and madmen who wanted to meet the great man, this only reinforced her reputation as a dragon.
Now an exhibition to inaugurate a new exhibition space in Paris, the Pinacoteque de Paris, casts a kindlier light on Jacqueline. Picasso Intime, La collection de Jacqueline is the private collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures Picasso gave to her, which are being shown in France for the first time.
The first surprise for someone who has a mental image of Jacqueline as the dour widow she became after Picasso's death is how beautiful she was - or, at least, how beautiful Picasso makes her appear.
According to John Richardson's hugely entertaining memoir of Jacqueline published in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, she was in fact small and dark. But in a monumental charcoal drawing of 1954, she is shown in profile, a classic Mediterranean beauty with a long neck and upright bearing. Soft chiaroscuro lends her a serenity and luminosity that serve to symbolise his great love for her.
But, in a second drawing from the same year, he turns the young woman whom he had only recently begun to live with into his widow. Jacqueline is shown all in black, her head covered in a scarf, one half of her face in light, the other in shadow, an honorary Spaniard.
These two pictures summarise what you might call the theme of the years with Jacqueline as seen in this exhibition: not the turbulence, violence, sexuality, tears and anguish that characterised all his previous relationships with women, but domesticity, humour and marital tenderness in the face of approaching death.
Clearly, Jacqueline was a stimulus to the exuberant creativity of Picasso's last years. Her exotic looks and habit of sitting cross-legged with her legs drawn up to her chest inspired Picasso to see her as an odalisque. When Henri Matisse died in 1954, Picasso believed that his rival had "bequeathed" him his odalisques, and immediately painted Jacqueline in Turkish costume.
Her faintly oriental features reminded Picasso of one of the women in Delacroix's famous canvas Women of Algiers, so it was she who helped inspire his famous series of variations on Delacroix's masterpiece.
These are the years when Picasso was obsessed with the old masters. In the wonderful portrait of Jacqueline painted in the year of their marriage, for example, she is shown seated in an armchair, her massive figure looming up close to the picture plane. Although her body and face are faceted like the folded sheet-metal sculptures he was making in 1961, the monumental composition feels like a homage to Cezanne's great portrait of his father.
In a pair of swiftly painted pendant portraits from 1965, Jacqueline is portrayed as an adoring Joan to Picasso's ever-so-slightly doddering Darby, in a sort of parody of Dutch bourgeois portraiture.
And over and over again he paints her as a sphinx, as an Egyptian deity, as an icon.
But this is not simply a show of portraits of Jacqueline. Over the years, Picasso presented his wife with paintings and drawings from every period of his career, beginning with a self-portrait of 1906. There are magnificent 1907 charcoal studies for the mask-like heads in the Demoiselles d'Avignon. His gift of an exquisitely refined 1917 neoclassical self-portrait seems to say, "Here, you see how handsome I once was." For Picasso's gifts to Jacqueline appear to be a kind of visual biography he shared with the last love of his life.
Remember that Picasso had already submitted to the blackmail of one former mistress, Fernande, and suffered the betrayal of another, Françoise. When Picasso told the story of his life to Jacqueline, it was not in words, but in images.
Was it painful for her to see the 1909 charcoal studies of the head of Fernande Olivier? Or to receive a superb crayon drawing for one of the masterpieces of the cubist period, Woman Seated in an Armchair of 1914, which showed a much loved mistress dying of cancer? If so, he spared her nothing.
Here is Picasso's mad first wife Olga, not so much kissing Picasso as taking a chomp out of him like some wild, man-eating primate, turning the picture the colour of blood. There is a superb study of a Minotaur-Picasso raping the supine Marie-Therese, and a tenderly erotic drawing dating from 1942 - the Dora Maar period - of a naked man lying on a bed beside a seated woman.
Of all the major women in Picasso's life, the only one whom this Leporello leaves off his list is Françoise.
In 1958, Picasso bought the Chateau de Vauvenargue in the shadow of Mont Sainte-Victoire in Aix en Provence. At once his palette darkened to ochre, dark greens, sombre reds, and Spanish blacks. And so, almost by osmosis, Jacqueline became associated with these forbidding colours, the colours of approaching death.
But the dark tonality of many of the portraits in this show should not distract us from seeing the gaiety in Picasso's portraits of her with an afghan hound, or the primary reds, yellows and greens in Woman in a Hat of Yellow and Green, a picture that returns to the harlequin theme.
During his lifetime, this profoundly submissive and obsessional woman spoke openly of Picasso as God, addressed him as Monsignor, and often kissed his hand. By the time of his death on April 8, 1973, she had already taken to the bottle, but now her drinking became worse and she would sit in a darkened room, sobbing, or address a photograph of her husband as though he were still alive. In 1986, she committed suicide.
What we see in this show is like a series of love letters - intense, emotional, private, revealing. Beautifully shown in the superbly renovated space (the former museum of Baccarat glass) and supplemented by a slide show of Jacqueline's photographs, it documents one of the saddest love stories of the 20th century.