Love Story: Olga Khokhlova and Pablo Picasso

Love Story: Olga Khokhlova and Pablo Picasso

About such relationships, they usually joke: “It's complicated.” The passionate union of a Spanish artist and a Russian ballerina was a source of inspiration and undoubtedly traumatic for both lovers.


Olga Khokhlova and Pablo Picasso met in 1917 in Rome during the rehearsals of the Parade ballet that was part of Sergei Diaghilev's Russian Seasons.

She was dancing, he was creating sets and costumes for the production. Picasso fell in love with Khokhlova from the first sketch and began courting the girl persistently. She was in no hurry to reciprocate as she was brought up in a different faith and with a different attitude towards intimacy and marriage. So, the expressive Spaniard, who had already experienced bitterness of the loss of his first wife and was striving to find a safe haven, decided to marry her.


After Parade premiered in Paris, Diaghilev's company went on tour to Barcelona, where Pablo introduced the ballerina to his mother, Dona Maria.

Dona Maria received her son's bride warmly, but warned her: "Poor girl, you have no idea what you are condemning yourself to. If I were your friend, I would advise you not to marry him under any circumstances. I don’t think there is a woman, who can be happy with my son, who is concerned only with himself.”

At the same time, the world saw one of the first portraits of Khokhlova - "Olga Khokhlova in the Mantilla". The bride wanted to "recognize her face" in her fiance’s paintings, and he returned to the classical style for her sake, which caused horror among his Cubist fans.

The revolution was raging in Russia, Khokhlova was now cut off from her family, so Pablo became the closest person she had. From Spain, Diaghilev's company went to South America, but Olga didn’t go with them. She stayed with her Pablo, and by the will of fate never went on stage again.

In 1919, Diaghilev wrote Picasso in a letter, “... What about Olga? Has she given up the art of dance forever? This is very sad! Massine regrets this as a choreographer, and I - as a former admirer... "


The couple's wedding was scheduled for May 1918, but a leg injury prevented it. Olga had a surgery and was in a plaster cast, so the celebration took place only in July in the Russian church on rue Daru in Paris. Sergey Diaghilev, Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau and Henri Matisse came to congratulate the newlyweds.

 They spent their honeymoon in Biarritz. Olga was sitting in a sun lounger most of the time, avoiding pressure on her leg, and Pablo was drawing her non-stop. After the vacation, they moved to an apartment on rue La Boétie in Paris, next to the gallery of Paul Rosenberg, Picasso's agent. The apartment was divided into two parts - one for women, which was elegantly and tastefully arranged by the Russian wife, and the other one for men, where creative chaos reigned and the workshop of the genius Spaniard was located.

Thanks to her manners and excellent upbringing, Olga gracefully entered the Paris society. It is believed that it was she who made a bourgeois out of Picasso, which caused indignation of his bohemian environment and hostility from friends.

The wife became Picasso's only muse and permanent model. He was painting a lot, but was dissatisfied with the role of a "salon artist" - he was stifling in the narrow limits.


In 1921, Khokhlova and Picasso had a son, Paul. His birth inspired Picasso to work, but at the same time brought discord into the family. Olga enjoyed and was proud of her roles of wife, mother and socialite. Picasso believed that his wife was pampering and spoiling their son too much, she was “grandstanding” for that high society he was weary of, he was sick and tired of his friends’ mockery.

In a frank conversation with one of the models, he bitterly mentioned: "You see, Olga likes tea, caviar and cakes. And I prefer sausages with beans."

Nevertheless, Picasso continued to paint a lot. His famous painting “Mother and Child”, portraits of his son depicting him as an antique character or comedic Harlequin appeared. However, the accumulated irritation and tension began to look for a way out: at first, these feelings were reflected in works, but in the summer 1923 the artist acquired an apartment upstairs and forbade anyone, including his wife, to go there.


In 1925, the family went to Monte Carlo, where they met Sergei Diaghilev. There, Picasso was enthusiastically drawing ballerinas, which inconceivably upset Olga, who had lost her ability to dance.

Nevertheless, in “The Dance” painting that became the turning point in both art and personal life, he portrayed his wife as a ballerina. The painting seemed to manifest a change in his attitude towards Khokhlova, he forgot about his promise to portray his almost ex-lover realistically. In her husband's works, she didn’t look perfect any longer, on the contrary, ugly sometime. He painted her either in a cubic style, or in the form of a horse, or a monster, pouring out his rage on the canvas. Thus ended the love of the ballerina and the artist, the neoclassical period that is also called the "period of Olga”, but their story didn’t end.


In 1927, Picasso met the young and beautiful Marie-Teresa Walter at the Galeries Lafayette. An affair began that was secret at first.

“I am Picasso. You and I will do great things together!” - the artist said, when he met his future mistress.

In 1930, Marie-Teresa settled in an apartment opposite Picasso's marital home. And it was at that time that the minotaur image appeared in the artist's works as a symbol of his double life - him being torn between family and passion.

In 1935, Olga and Pablo separated, by that time his affair was no longer a secret, his mistress even gave birth to his daughter.

Khokhlova was moving from one hotel to another, demanding an official divorce. But Picasso didn't go for it. Formally, because he didn’t want to lose his works, which were to be divided equally by law. Although the real motives remained behind the scene.


The former spouses were never able to build a quiet relationship. He remained the only love of her life.

“She wanted too much of me!” - Picasso was assuring his friends after parting with Olga.

 In 1952, the former ballerina and wife was diagnosed with cancer. She underwent treatment at the Beau Soleil clinic in Cannes, but the disease nevertheless gained and in February 1955 Olga Khokhlova died. Until her last moment, Olga was writing letters to her husband asking to visit her in the clinic, but he never did.

Olga was buried in the Cimetière du Grand Jas - the most beautiful cemetery in France, Pablo Picasso didn’t come to her funeral.

Was this love tragic or can it be rethought in terms of personal freedom? Was Picasso, when married to Khokhlova, his authentic self, was he drawing from his heart or did he put on the bourgeois mask as his wife wanted and betrayed himself? This story, as many of his pictures, leaves many questions that can no longer be answered.