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Picasso's women. Fernande Olivier


«I'm Fernande Olivier. His first partner. From the beginning of the 20th century. I was with him for seven years from 1904 to 1911. I was his faithful companion in the years of poverty when he was nobody, but I couldn't be there in the years of prosperity»



Fernande Olivier met Pablo Picasso in Paris. She was a muse, manager, cook and much more in a house high up in Montmartre that the poet Max Jacob had dubbed Bateau-Lavoir because it genuinely resembled one of the Seine's washerwomen's barges. It was a noisy, dilapidated building made of wood, zinc, and dirty glass, where stoves' chimneys were prominent. The house barely had any light and had only one water source for all its tenants. In summer, it was a real oven; in winter, a snowfield. This would be where the Malagan painter spent his first five years in Paris.



And it was there that he met Fernande Olivier, who was the same age as him, 22 years old, with beautiful green eyes that quickly caught the painter's attention. Beautiful, known among artists for her laziness, stout, she was also a splendid cook and such a good manager that she managed to feed Picasso and his friends on just two francs a day. She never wanted to accept the painter's marriage proposals. Picasso, Fernande and a large group of friends – many of them Spanish – lived a poor, fun, hard-working bohemia, in a strange artistic community. The group started to become known as 'The Picasso Gang'.


Day by day in Paris and a visit to Spain

Near the Montmartre junk shop where Picasso sold, and also bought paintings, was the Medrano circus. His familiarity with its people was a new source of inspiration for the tireless painter, in the transition from his blue to his rose period. The harlequin character would become the main protagonist of his paintings. Clowns, acrobats, horses... All the inhabitants of that autonomous world, turned into painting, reflect the feeling of happiness and peace that Pablo Picasso had found in his love for the beautiful Fernande. He would never tire of portraying her, as he did with his other women. Despite the difficulties and hardships of everyday life, his life with that woman was an oasis of peace.





In the summer of 1909, Picasso could no longer resist his desire to return to Spain. Accompanied by Fernande and his work gear, he took the train to Horta de San Juan, a small town in the province of Tarragona where he had already been eleven years earlier with Pallarés, another painter friend. Before secluding himself in the village, he stopped for a few days in Barcelona to introduce Fernande to his parents. He longed for those hills rising over the Ebro, the peace of the countryside. He also wanted to get away from the noise of Paris to paint in solitude.


Return to France and end of the relationship

When Pablo Picasso finally returned to Paris at the end of that summer, after enduring the murmurs of the neighbours about his relationship with Fernande Olivier and even the 'strangeness' of his paintings, he carried in his luggage a few paintings that were already the prologue to cubism. Many of them were surprising portraits of his inseparable companion. But their personal relationship was beginning to wither.



Picasso was growing tired of Fernande Olivier. The hunger that united them no longer existed. He was beginning to become famous. And he was going through a phase in which he wanted to withdraw from bohemian life and settle down with an attractive, manageable girl. He took advantage of the opportunity given to him by Fernande Olivier, who had a love affair (almost on a bet) with a young Bolognese painter, Ubaldo Oppi, to start a strategy to get rid of her. He found his opportunity at a party for 'The Picasso Gang', where a new woman who fascinated Picasso appeared. Fernande Olivier sniffed out the danger, but it was too late.



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