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Arts

How Picasso obsessively portrayed the people he loved

The exhibition "Picasso Portraits" at London's National Portrait Gallery shows how much Pablo Picasso enjoyed portraying his friends and family members - but even more so his numerous lovers.

During his early years as an artist, Pablo Picasso (1881 -1973) frequently painted self-portraits. A look into the mirror sufficed. Obviously, the young Spanish painter didn't precisely suffer from a lack of self-confidence, even though he didn't receive much acclaim from the established art world at the time. But that changed quickly as he emerged as the most widely recognized artist of the 20th century - a genius of a particular kind.

He was a wonder child who learned a lot from his father who taught painting at an art school and who was familiar with all kinds of artistic techniques.

In 1889, Picasso created his first painting when he was only eight years old. He skipped a grade and started extra art studies while in school, to then study at the famous Art Academy of Barcelona. By then, he had already received awards for his art.

Life as an artist at Montmartre in Paris

But the young painter didn't stay there for long. He moved on to Paris, back then the center of the art world. He rented a studio in the Paris artists' district of Montmartre, where he met numerous painters, authors, actors, and quite soon his first and longtime gallerist, the art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who was to promote and sell his artworks throughout his life.

Kahnweiler also served Picasso as a model for numerous portraits through all of his artistic periods marked by permanently changing styles. One of these portraits can be seen at the current exhibition in London's National Portrait Gallery, accompanied by 130 other works of the Spanish artist who obsessively turned all his family members and friends into models - including his children and his numerous wives and lovers.

Picasso, a macho and artistic tyrant

Picasso was renowned as a dominant macho and artistic tyrant. He took possession of everything that surrounded him, including humans, animals, servants, material, items of daily life, turning just about anything into art.

Picasso's granddaughter Diana Widmaier (picture-alliance/dpa/W. Oliver)

Picasso's granddaughter, Diana Widmaier Picasso, poses next to a painting of her grandmother, Marie-Therese Walter, entitled "Woman in the Yellow Armchair" at the National Portrait Gallery in London

This wasn't easy for everyone. Many women ended up with broken hearts. It is said that his first wife, dancer Olga Khokhlova went crazy because of him. His muse Dora Maar suffered greatly from depressions. The previous mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, had committed suicide in the garage of her villa in Antibes. And his second wife, Jaqueline Rocque, killed herself by gunshot in October 1986.

Strong counterpart: Françoise Gilot

Painter Françoise Gilot, who was 40 years younger than Picasso, was the only woman who managed to counter his genius with her own artistic talent. She was his lover and muse from 1943 to 1953 and was the mother of his children, Claude and Paloma. 

She was the first woman to leave him. After a relationship of 10 years, she moved to Paris with their two children, where she emerged as a successful painter. 

She stirred a sensation a few years ago by publishing a biography about her life with Picasso, describing it as: "A disaster, but a very beautiful one."

Some of the portraits Picasso painted of her are also shown in the exhibition.

The National Portrait Gallery exhibition, "Picasso Portraits," runs in London through February 5, 2017, before moving on to Barcelona's Museo Picasso.

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