Monday, April 25, 2011

Picasso the misogynist

This may not get me many fans, but I'm going to tell you how I really feel about Picasso.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts here in Richmond currently (through May 22) has the only East Coast showing of an exhibit of Picasso's work from the Musee de Picasso in Paris which is being renovated right now. There are approximately 175 works by this man most people call the world's most important artist.  Don't get me wrong - it is an impressive show.  It is beautifully displayed.  The museum has done a fantastic job with the works, and Richmond is very fortunate to have them here.

That said, the exhibit has re-affirmed for me that I do not like Picasso's work.

When I was 21 and living in Freiburg, Germany, I learned there was an exhibit of his paintings of women in Basel, Switzerland, so I took the train an hour or so to go see it.  It felt like the opportunity of a life time, and I didn't want to miss it.  I wasn't an artist at the time, but, still, it called to me strongly.  When I got to the museum, I got out my journal, as was my wont, and began to look at the paintings.  I liked to write about art as I was looking at it so I could build up my opinions about it or sketch something I saw which I particularly liked.  After I'd looked at about 20 pictures, I noticed I was feeling pissed off.  It had occurred to me that Picasso hated women.  I didn't have any biographical data to back up that hunch, but it felt clear as day to me.  Occasionally he painted women realistically, but generally he fragmented them.  I didn't have a problem with cubism, per se, rather, it was the consistency with which he did it to women as well as the expressions he would put on their faces.

In the intervening years, I have read more about Picasso, and none of it has helped me revise my opinion more positively.  I have learned that he was almost never without a woman and, though he aged, the ages of the women didn't increase.  He had two wives, four children by three women, and several of his women died by their own hand.  In almost every case, he left the woman he was with for another woman.  The guy was a jerk.

What I've noticed is that the first paintings he would do of his woman would be realistic and relatively beautiful, then, the longer he was with them, the more fragmented the pieces would become. (The pictures on this page are all of the same woman, Dora Maar and are in chronological order.)   One speaker I listened to said that he didn't care what he painted - subject matter was irrelevant - he would just use it as an opportunity for him to get out his feelings.  I understand that well, but it seems to me like he was incredibly insensitive and boorish towards these women in the ways he painted them.

When I saw this current exhibit, I noticed that it is difficult to get a sense of the women's personalities from the paintings.  They have vacant stares (if they aren't horrifyingly grotesque).  Yet when I look at the men he painted, I have a sense of who they might have been.  I can make up a story about their personalities.  It is usually positive. 

I don't like feeling this way about Picasso because I want to admire him and think he's fantastic, but I just don't.  Looking at his art still leaves me feeling like I've watched films of women being abused and disrespected and disregarded - very skillfully.

(Below is a link to a very interesting website which outlines the many relationships Picasso had and which children he had with whom.  It'll give you more information about what a cad he was.)

And here's an article about the then-17-year-old young woman he had a 2 year affair with after Francoise had the sense to dump him.  Yikes!

And a review of a book by Arianne Huffington about Picasso and his loves.  I'm definitely not the first person to see him as a misogynist!


  1. Thank you for being bold enough to voice your opinion! I have been meaning to get to the VMFA exhibit before it's gone, but haven't yet, and reading your thoughts will absolutely give me another perspective to consider when I go. All I've heard so far are gushy, fawning, "it's life-changing!" types of reviews from people who have visited the exhibit. Reviews like that usually strike me as lacking depth and falling in step with whatever the accepted status of an artist is.

    I think you are on to something in your observations of the patterns in his work. It's probably also worth considering that even if somebody isn't a cad, their portrayals of another person would be more idealized early in the relationship and less so as time goes by. That said, your points about the women's personalities and the differences between his portraits of woman and of men are important. Now I can't wait to go see the paintings for myself.

  2. yep. i agree. i've never relly liked picasso or his work, other than the blue period.

  3. Very interesting, Susan. Thanks for giving us this perspective. I really appreciate it. I plan to visit the Picasso exhibit another time before it leaves VMFA - I suspect you're right on in your observations - can't wait to go back as a more informed observer this time!

  4. Lots of "Great Men" in truth hated women. Picasso is no exception. I'm sure if his works were racist, they would not have been rationalized away so quickly. I'm not a fan of his style, nor the mentality reflected in them.

  5. He was a real bastard, sadistically cruel to the women who loved him, and his dissections of women reflected his hatred. I don't like his work either. You don't have to like it, Susan, I think part of the issue was that people were always worshiping and adoring him; nobody stood up and said the Emperor Has No Clothes. The Crying Woman picture of Dora Maar is particularly awful, almost like a taunt, since it was he who had reduced her to that. His lovers were beautiful women; I wish they'd realised they could do better.

  6. If the world were fair Picasso would have been imprisoned for
    brutalizing women and sexually battering a minor. He should have at the very least been institutionalized for a mental disorder.

  7. There is an exhibit of his work that has been spun in such a way that they are calling it a depiction of his feminist attitude! That couldn't be further from the truth.

  8. I typed "Picasso hated women" in the search box, and found a woman who sees exactly what I see. My first introduction to Picasso was in Vienna in 2000. He began chopping up women when one of his lovers left him, she was his first "murder on canvas."

    The jerk was a pig.