Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

"Portrait of Dora Maar, 1937." Dora was Picasso's muse and lover for seven years.
By Gene Openshaw

Born in Spain, the son of an art teacher, the teenaged Picasso quickly advanced beyond his teachers. He mastered camera-eye realism but also showed an empathy for the people he painted that was insightful beyond his years. As a teenager in Barcelona, he fell in with a bohemian crowd that mixed wine, women, and art.

In 1900, Picasso set out to make his mark in Paris, the undisputed world capital of culture. He rejected the surname his father had given him (Ruiz) and chose his mother's instead, making it his distinctive one-word brand: Picasso.

The brash Spaniard quickly became a poor, homesick foreigner, absorbing the styles of many painters while searching for his own artist's voice. He found companionship among fellow freaks and outcasts on butte Montmartre. When his best friend committed suicide, Picasso plunged into a "Blue Period," painting emaciated beggars, hard-eyed pimps, and himself, bundled up against the cold, with eyes all cried out.

Picasso's Women

Women were Picasso's main subject. As an artist, he used women both as models and as muses. Having sex with his model allowed him to paint not just the woman's physical features but also the emotional associations of their relationship. At least that's what he told his wife.

In today's psychobabble, Picasso was an egotistic and abusive male, a sex addict fueled by his own insecurities and inability to connect intimately with women.

In the lingo of Picasso's crowd — steeped in the psychoanalysis of Freud and Jung — relations with women allowed him to express primal urges, recover repressed memories, confront his relationship with his mother, discover hidden truths, connect with his anima (female side), and recreate the archetypal experiences lived since the beginning of time.

After about 1910, Picasso almost never painted (only sketched) from a posed model. His "portraits" of women were often composites of several different women from his large catalog of memories, filtered through emotional associations.


Gene Openshaw is the co-author of Rick Steves' Europe 101: History and Art for the Traveler.