New exhibition exposes Picasso’s complex relationship with first partner

Fifty years on from Pablo Picasso's death - and five years after the #MeToo movement started highlighting celebrities' abuse of women -- a new exhibition in Paris focuses on one of the early partners of the controversial artist.

fernande olivier pablo picasso
Fernande Olivier was abandoned by her parents and raised by an unloving aunt, then forced into a marriage with a violently abusive husband before she fled and eventually met Picasso. Photos: Wikipedia/AFP

If Picasso’s reputation has taken a battering in the post-MeToo world, it is in part due to his treatment of Fernande Olivier, his first serious partner.

But for Cécile Debray, director of the Picasso Museum in Paris, we cannot just view the artist through the prism of modern-day sensibilities.

Possessive and jealous, Picasso would lock Olivier in their ramshackle Paris apartment when he went out and made sure she doted on him while he worked long into the night.

This should not however overshadow the story of their time together, say the organisers of a new exhibition at the Montmartre Museum, in the north of Paris.

The new show puts pages from her memoirs alongside dozens of paintings and sculptures by Picasso and others from that famous artists’ circle.

“Picasso, due to a sort of morbid jealousy, kept me as a recluse,” Olivier wrote in her diary. “But with tea, books, a divan and little cleaning to do, I was happy, very happy.”

But her writings show she was more than a victim, said Debray.

‘A strong woman’

Debray, who is overseeing the anniversary celebrations, has criticised recent “ahistorical” attacks on the artist for his treatment of women.

“It was a relationship almost of equals,” she told AFP.

“Certainly, he was jealous, worked a lot… but he was also tender and loving, the only lover of that type that Fernande Olivier ever had.”

He was more than just the “minotaur”, the monster, that some recent accounts have portrayed, said Debray.

Their relationship ended after eight years in 1912, just as Picasso was gaining serious renown.

Twenty years later, Olivier published a book about the period, “Picasso and his Friends”, which the artist tried to ban.

Her memoirs revealed a difficult life beyond their time together.

She was abandoned by her parents and raised by an unloving aunt, then forced into a marriage with a violently abusive husband before she fled and eventually met Picasso.

“They provide a look at the condition of women generally at the start of the century that is very raw and realistic, as well as of a hard worker who did many little jobs to stay independent beyond her marriage,” said Debray.

“She was a strong woman, very intelligent in her writings and her vision of society and artists.”

The Montmartre Museum exhibition is the first of several planned around Paris for the anniversary of Picasso’s death on April 8.

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The story of the Spanish village that went from being called Black to White

The curious story of how the small Murcian town of Blanca, meaning white, changed its name from Negra, meaning black, instead.

The story of the Spanish village that went from being called Black to White

The town of Blanca sits within the lush Ricote Valley, hemmed in by rocky mountains and surrounded by rivers and palm trees, but this hasn’t always been its name.

Located on the banks of the Segura River, the town has been inhabited for centuries, evident from the 12th-century Moorish castle that still looms over it. After the Reconquest, the town, known as Negra at the time, was occupied by the Order of Santiago.

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At the foot of the castle, the old part of the town still retains its medieval feel, with its tangle of narrow streets and historic buildings. Among these are the Church of San Juan Evangelista, built in 1508 on top of an old Mudéjar mosque, the baroque-style Ermita de San Roque, the neoclassical casa del Conde and the Teatro Victoria. 

The town sits in a patchwork landscape between the contrasting orchards, water, and, mountains and the first theory states that it was originally called Negra because it was built on top of a subterranean water source named the Fuente Negra.

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According to Turismo de Blanca, it was baptised this by the Arabs when they occupied the valley and many of them lost their lives during the capture. 

The town of Blanca sits along the Río Segura. Photo: Serdnaserdna / WikiCommons

The most widely accepted theory though is that it was named after the Peña Negra, the black volcanic rock, on which the town stands.

It was not until 1382, under the mandate of the Order of Santiago, that Negra was renamed Blanca.

There are several reasons for the change. The first is that Don Fabrique, Master of the Order of Santiago, had a close relationship with his sister-in-law, Queen Doña Blanca de Borbón, and wanted to name it after her.

The second is that when the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death ravaged Spain, the town did not want to be associated with the name Negra or Black, in case people were scared to go there. 

Whether it was changed so as not to be associated with the plague or named after Queen Doña Blanca de Borbón, the name Blanca has stuck some 641 years later.

Blanca lies a half-hour drive north of the capital of the region, Murcia city and an hour’s drive west of Elche in the Alicante province.