The Women, Artists, and Cultures Behind Picasso

Pablo Picasso is a name well known across the world for his experimentation with art and development of cubism, but he didn’t do so alone, or ethically. Behind his work is heavy influences from African cultures and artists as well as his muses. Despite this, Picasso denied African influences and often mistreated the women that he based his paintings off of.

Over the course of his career Picasso was involved with several women of which six were mistresses that he cheated on his wives with. Many of these women were much younger than him, such as 17 year old Marie-Therese Walter who was his mistress when he was 45, and 21 year old Francoise Gilot who was his mistress when he was 61. Additionally, two of Picasso’s muses committed suicide and another had a breakdown causing her to be moved to a private clinic. Beyond the time he spent with these women, he also attempted to prevent two of them, Gilot and Fernande Olivier, from publishing memoirs about their relationships after they had ended and also cut off the artistic career of Gilot after their relationship deteriorated.

Picasso also took heavy inspiration from African art, and those inspirations do not tend to get the credit that they deserve. One of these was Baya Madieddine, an Algerian self taught artist who made art based on her own life and experiences and which inspired works of Picasso such as his Women of Algeria series. Beyond Madieddine, other works of Picasso were influenced by African art such as masks made by the Dan tribe of the Ivory Coast and the Pende people which resemble faces in Picasso’s Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon. While Picasso did initially acknowledge his visit to the Trocadero Museum and introduction to African art as important to his artistic journey, he later denied that African art had inspired his art and explained his art style influences as Iberian instead of African.

Although Picasso is a respected figure in the art world for his creativity and exploration of cubism, he was a problematic person, both towards the women in his life as well as the culture that he drew so much inspiration from.

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Sarah Vest

5 thoughts on “The Women, Artists, and Cultures Behind Picasso

  1. Coming from an art history background in the forms of multiple high school and college classes, in addition to looking into it on my own free time, I have found that appropriation is basically inevitable in the art world. Ideas and cultures with originally very profound and deep-rooted meanings can be easily copied for the surface level aesthetic by uninformed individuals with no further intention of getting to know the source better. This has happened all throughout history, and continues to happen today in many contemporary pieces. The widespread offense has often lead me to think about specifically, what would be negatively viewed as ‘appropriation,’ and conversely, what would be negatively viewed as ‘gatekeeping.’ I invite future viewers to ponder this question as I think views on this may shift over time and evolve with the sociopolitical climate. As for now, I personally believe that ‘appropriation’ may happen when the culture/background in question is deeply marred and tremulous, or is deeply etched into the identities of people. Gatekeeping may occur for subjects of a more shallow nature.

  2. I was not aware of Picasso’s wrongdoings whatsoever and it is wild to me that every day we find out more and more about people we put on a pedestal. I grew up hearing Picasso’s name and purely thinking of how wonderful his art is, only to discover that his inspirations were stolen and later denied. It is also incredibly disappointing how he treated the women in his life, and yet he has the audacity to paint them. How can you view people as works of art, worthy to spend hours of your life painting, and still treat them as inferior? It is simply disgusting the way the patriarchy acted especially in Picasso’s time and this article really illustrates how little we all know about infamous individuals.

  3. Aside from Picasso being a major influence in introducing the art of cubism, I have always known that Picasso was a problematic individual through word of mouth. However, after reading this post, I never realized that the problems were extremely terrible. For one, having a woman as young as 17 years old as a mistress can describe what kind of person Picasso might have been. It sounds awful predating on such young females let alone preventing them from speaking the truth about their experience being in a relationship with him. To make matters worse, Picasso does not acknowledge the culture in which his art is rooted, or the African culture, in which he has discredited a woman artist who embodies her culture and who has influenced Picasso’s art.

  4. Picasso’s influence on artwork cannot be understated. He is one of the few artists who are also a household name that is extremely recognizable. It is difficult to reverse his profound influence on popular culture and art culture, but is it worth it when his crimes are this bad? It seems like treating women badly is a continuous theme in his life as well as not admitting his African influence. It’s difficult to change the image of someone so well-known, especially when it’s completely unrelated to what he is known for.

  5. I find it interesting how in many historic and monumental depictions of history, men never want to give women the credit. Majority of the time, women are the real master minds behind the great work of a man.

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