Magazine article The New Yorker

Granddaughter

Magazine article The New Yorker

Granddaughter

Article excerpt

Four years ago, Diana Widmaier-Picasso, a granddaughter of the artist, was awakened in the middle of the night by the sounds of burglars who had broken into her house in Paris. After she made a quick tour and saw nothing amiss, she went back to sleep. The following morning, she discovered that several works by her grandfather had been stolen, including "Maya a la Poupee." (The thieves had been hiding in the dark.) The 1938 painting, which has rarely been on public view, is a split-visaged portrait of the daughter born to Picasso and his mistress Marie-Therese Walter--Maya, who is Diana's mother--wearing pigtails and a plaid jumper and holding a doll. Six months later, investigators recovered the picture in France. Now it can be seen at the Gagosian Gallery on West Twenty-first Street, where Widmaier-Picasso has helped put together an exhibition devoted to her grandmother's presence, as model and inspiration, in Picasso's career.

"They arrested people trying to sell it on the street--in the Seventeenth," Widmaier-Picasso, an art historian, recalled the other day, standing before the painting. "That is how professional art thieves operate. The one in charge had two nicknames, and they're both interesting: the Locksmith and Goldfinger. It was like a Western." The case deepened her appreciation for the B.R.B., or Brigade de Repression du Banditisme. "They treated it like the kidnapping of a person in the family." She nodded toward the canvas. "Now the person spends a lot of time in a safe."

Widmaier-Picasso, who is thirty-eight, wore high-heeled sandals and a black sundress with accordion pleats. She led the way to a room dominated by several paintings of Marie-Therese, a curvy, blond woman, in varying states of repose--with her chin in the air, burying her head in her arm to steal a nap, pensive in a fauteuil. "You recognize her--she appears more than once in 'Guernica,' " she said. Picasso and Marie-Therese met outside Galeries Lafayette in 1927, when she was seventeen and shopping for a Peter Pan collar. He was forty-five and married to Olga Khokhlova, a former ballet dancer. "I am Picasso," he said, by way of introduction.

"She was his muse, more than any woman," Widmaier-Picasso said. "Long after the affair ended, my grandfather continued to paint Marie-Therese's image into his work. …

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