“You have an interesting face. I would like to do a portrait of you. I feel we are going to do great things together,” said Picasso to Marie-Thérèse Walter when he first spotted her in a metro in the year 1927. Marie-Thérèse was just 17 when the 40-plus Picasso lured her to his studio. The relationship lasted for close to a decade, stirring Picasso to create some of the most erotic and sensitive works.
Picasso’s granddaughter, art historian and curator Diana Widmaier-Picasso, said in an interview that Picasso seemed to be “waiting” for Marie-Thérèse to appear, and that she was “the love of his life”.
Picasso drew and painted Marie-Thérèse consistently. He once described painting as another form of keeping a diary. By 1932, his “diary” was full of Marie-Thérèse. She appeared to be the centre of his creative universe.
Marie-Thérèse bore him a daughter, Maya. Picasso supported Marie-Thérèse and their daughter for a long time. Picasso never married her though he continued to paint her even after their affair ended. Art historians claim that Picasso had all intentions to divorce his wife Olga and marry Marie-Thérèse. His lawyers suggested that he leave Marie-Thérèse until the divorce comes through. Picasso did not paint at all during this period of separation.
Although there are several masterpieces by Picasso featuring Marie-Thérèse, it is the Vollard Suite (a collection of 100 etchings Picasso did in the 1930s) that displays not only his passion for this classical beauty but also his transformative journey as an artist.
In some of the etchings she is a sleeping beauty, in some others an enchantress, in a few a child guide and in many a passive lover. The most touching among the etchings are those where she appears along with a Minotaur (a man with a face of a bull).
In Minotaure caressant du Mufle la Main d’une Dormeuse (Bloch 201), the Minotaur is presented as a gentle lover, careful not to disturb the sleeping beauty but desperate to find out what she is dreaming about. Close to 15 etchings in this collection trace the journey of the Minotaur, from a powerful predator to a helpless, blind beast.
Was Picasso the Minotaur? Some art historians believe so, especially when they study the series. Picasso may have sexually controlled the very young Marie-Thérèse, but may have lived in constant fear of losing her. He often painted her as a child who was not always innocent. Some of the etchings in the Vollard Suite appear to even portray sexual violence.
Marie-Thérèse committed suicide four years after Picasso’s death.
All images of the Vollard Series are sourced from then Christie’s website.