FOCUS: Is Picasso being cancelled?

Fifty years after the Spanish artist's death, the debate around Pablo Picasso's ill treatment of women is heating up. Could he posthumously suffer the consequences of modern-day cancel culture?

FOCUS: Is Picasso being cancelled?
Spanish painter Pablo Picasso in Mougins (France) in 1971. (Photo by RALPH GATTI / AFP)

Pablo Picasso‘s track-record with women certainly would not make him a feminist pin-up today.

There were two wives, at least six mistresses and countless lovers — with a tendency to abandon women when they became ill, a voracious appetite for prostitutes, and some eye-popping age differences (his second wife was 27 when he married her at 79).

Some of the quotes attributed to him would probably cause Twitter’s servers to combust if he said them now (“For me there are only two kinds of women: goddesses and doormats”).

None of this is new — it has been recycled through books and articles from (sometimes traumatised) family members since soon after his death in 1973.

But in a post-MeToo world, it poses a challenge for those who manage his legacy.

“Obviously MeToo tarnished the artist,” said Cecile Debray, director of the Picasso Museum in Paris. 

But she added: “The attacks are undoubtedly all the more violent because Picasso is the most famous and popular figure in modern art — an idol that must be destroyed.”

Spanish painter Pablo Picasso posing with models during a ceramic exhibition  in Vallauris (southern France) in 1958.  (Photo by ARCHIVE / INTERCONTINENTALE / AFP)

‘Perverse, destructive’

Not that the issue is being brushed under the carpet.

The Paris museum has recently invited women artists to respond to the debate, including “Weeping Women Are Angry” by French painter Orlan (a reference to one of his most famous portraits, “The Weeping Woman”).

The sister museum in Barcelona is holding workshops and talks this May with art historians and sociologists to unpack the issue.

The experts are, however, critical of some recent hit-jobs on their beloved master.

An award-winning French podcast on the topic has reignited the debate, leaning heavily on a 2017 book by journalist Sophie Chauveau, “Picasso, the Minotaur”, for whom the artist was “violent… jealous… perverse… destructive”.

Debray said some of their claims were “anachronistic” and given to “conjecture and assertions without historical references”.

But she still welcomed the challenge, saying: “The history of art is nourished by the questions of our time and new generations.”

Christie’s employees in front of Picasso’s ‘Tete de femme au chapeau’ in 2011. AFP PHOTO / CARL COURT (Photo by CARL COURT / AFP)

‘Animal sexuality’

Nor is it simple to separate the artist from the art.

Of her grandfather’s women, Marina Picasso once wrote: “He submitted them to his animal sexuality, tamed them, bewitched them, ingested them, and crushed them onto his canvas.”

But, says another grandchild Olivier Picasso, depicting Picasso as a monster risks removing the agency of the women who loved him.

Some, like Marie-Therese Walter, were young and vulnerable muses who felt discarded (she later killed herself), he told AFP.

But others, like Francoise Gilot, knew exactly what they were getting with Picasso and had no problem walking away when they had had enough.

“Some came out of it well, but for others it went badly,” he said. “It’s all very complicated — these women don’t resemble each other.”

The paintings themselves show some of that complexity.

“There are violent works, others that are very tender, very soft… Each time, after exhausting his inspiration, he moves on to something else,” he said.

“Women were necessary to his creations and without them, there would have been something missing.”

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‘More to offer’ than war: Ukrainian art on display at museum in Spain

Dozens of modern artworks removed from Kyiv to protect them from Russian strikes that have already done huge damage to Ukraine's cultural heritage will go on display at a Madrid 's Thyssen-Bornemisza museum on Tuesday.

'More to offer' than war: Ukrainian art on display at museum in Spain

The works on show at the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum of Art as part of the “In the Eye of the Storm: Modernism in Ukraine 1900-1930” exhibition include oil paintings, sketches and collages.

Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza founded “Museums for Ukraine” which is seeking to showcase Ukrainian art, using the museum which houses her late father’s collection for the exhibition.

The Madrid exhibition is one of a number of showings of Ukraine’s cultural heritage across Europe, as well as an effort to raise awareness of the threat posed to the war-torn country’s artistic legacy as fighting grinds on.

Curators say it is one of the most comprehensive surveys of Ukrainian modern art in the period between 1900 to 1930.

Many of the works have hardly been seen outside of Ukraine. The exhibition will run at the museum until April 30, and then go on show in Cologne in Germany from September 2023.

‘Vision’ of Russia’s destruction

President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video shown at a preview Monday that “this is a vision of what Russia is trying to destroy”.

After weeks of intense preparation, the pieces were loaded into two trucks in mid-November just before the Ukrainian capital came under intense missile fire.

As it headed to the Polish border the convoy avoided passing infrastructure likely to be attacked, Thyssen-Bornemisza said.

When the convoy reached the border, they found it shut because a missile had just landed in a Polish village killing two people.

Thyssen-Bornemisza said she then asked Ukraine’s ambassador to Spain for help, who in turn contacted “every politician he knew between Poland and Ukraine”.

“It took them 12 hours that night — they managed to get through,” she said.

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, says over 200 cultural sites in Ukraine, including museums, have been damaged since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Krista Pikkat, UNESCO’s cultural and emergencies director, said in October that “cultural heritage is very often collateral damage during wars — but sometimes it’s specifically targeted”.

The Madrid exhibition is one of a number of showings of Ukraine’s cultural heritage across Europe. Photo: Oscar del Pozo

‘Talk about the war’

The exhibition follows a chronological order.

It starts with the 1910s when Ukraine was part of the Russian empire and ends in the 1930s when several artists died during purges carried out by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, said one of the show’s curators Katia Denysova.

Most of the works come from the National Art Museum of Ukraine.

Among the works on display is “Composition”, a Cubist-inspired painting by Vadym Meller and a realistic portrait of a soldier by Kostiantyn Yeleva.

“It is important for us to continue to talk about the war,” Denysova said.

“But we also want to show with this project that Ukraine has so much more to offer.”