February 27, 2013

Picasso, the Muse, and the Successful Hat

Most of us know that Picasso was exceptionally prolific throughout his long lifetime. The total number of artworks he produced has been estimated at 50,000, including 1,885 paintings.1 But where would he be without his muse? Without lots of musi, the old lecher! I'd like to pay tribute to five of the vibrant ladies of whom most of us have never heard. Now may they live forever in our memories. We begin with the first muse, from 1904–1912, and the quote that inspired this post:

“A hat should provoke some witticism from a man on the street or it is not a success.” 2
-Fernande Olivier, the first of Picasso’s eight major musi

Ah, hats. A woman's plumage. I love this quote, although I searched far and wide to find one portrait of Ms. Olivier with a successful hat, and did not. This dismal-looking portrait, Fernande Olivier in Head Scarves, painted in 1906, was as close as I could get. Not much good for getting noticed by a man on the street – rather washed out and house-wifey looking – but Picasso seemed to like it. If anyone can find a painting of Ms. Olivier wearing a great hat, do share it with us.

I did find several portraits of some of Picasso’s other muses in successful hats. Although she’s technically not wearing a hat, Picasso’s 1937 portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter has become my favorite. She was the artist’s main muse from 1927-1940. The piercing cool blue of her startling eyes, juxtaposed against the clear, pure, white of her complexion, and the soft, pink blush on her cheeks represents an innocence, accented by the simplicity of her garland. This portrait is titled “Marie-Thérèse with a Garland.”
The next hat certainly looks successful, with vivid colors and a fancy flower, but the woman wearing it looks none too happy.  Dora Maar, a successful photographer who met Picasso when she documented the painting of Guernica, was his main inspiration from 1936-1944.  Picasso painted her this way in 1937 and called it Weeping Woman, and although I think the hat is very successful, no one, even a muse, is pretty when they cry. Picasso said, “Dora, for me, was always a weeping woman...and it's important, because women are suffering machines.3 (Emphasis, mine.) Yep, Picasso, you old fart, that pretty much sums us up. 

The hat at the left is my favorite hat, elegant in its simplicity, stunning in its design. I think it would be successful on just about anyone. Picasso painted this portrait, also of Dora, in 1939. He titled it Woman with a Green Hat, and it looks like she feels a lot better. I have often wondered how such creative geniuses have so little imagination when it comes to titling their masterpieces.

But please don’t confuse Dora's chic chapeau with Woman in a Green Hat (right), which Picasso painted in 1947 during his 10-year liaison with François Gilot. I like this one, too – the green is a gorgeous shade – but I have trouble seeing how any of us could pull it off. Especially the eye sitting precariously up on the brim there. (BTW, did you know that Cap’n Crunch’s eyebrows are on his hat?? Did Quaker Oats steal the idea from Picasso? Compare. Discuss.)
Copyright 1963 Quaker Oats

Picasso met his final muse, Jacqueline Roque, in 1953, and they were married in 1961. For 20 years, until his death in 1973, Picasso created more works of art based on her than on any other muse. This one is called Jacqueline Roque en Costume Turc, and was painted in 1955. A hat to end all hats - at least in this blog. Jacqueline literally had the last word. When Picasso died, she prevented his children, Claude and Paloma, from attending his funeral. 

It is important to remember that many of his muses, some successful artists in their own right, died penniless and alone, often by their own hand. The life of a muse is not all it’s cracked up to be (see “Muse: A Job Description”). Most of their end-of-life stories are not pretty, so I will not go into them here.

I do, however, invite you to visit two sites: The Saper Galleries' “The Women of Pablo Picasso”, and BJWS.blogspot.com, a phenomenal site I came across which gave me a fresh perspective on the old man’s talent and follows the evolution of his women in portraiture.

Until the next time, ladies, don’t underestimate the power of a successful hat!!

May your muse be just around the corner
and put a smile upon your face.
- Mona L. :)

1Wikipedia on Pablo Picasso
2The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein
3Malraux, André: Picasso's Mask, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976


  1. Not even sure what a muse really is, my friend, but sure enjoy your musings on the muse idea, and think it's pretty funny stuff too, with all due respect, for the depth of material and thought. Keep it up! alm

  2. My dear friend,

    Here is the Free Dictionary's definition of Muse:

    Muse (myz) n.
    1. Greek Mythology Any of the nine daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus, each of whom presided over a different art or science (see my post, "The Gift of the Musi").
    2. muse
    a. A guiding spirit.
    b. A source of inspiration. (Mona Lisa is perhaps the most famous muse of all time. See "Muse: A Job Description", ibid.)
    3. muse
    A poet.

    Please keep reading and enjoying my blog!

    Mona L. :)