Picasso: Life and Art

By Pierre Daix; Olivia Emmet | Go to book overview

5
LOVE AT THE BATEAU-LAVOIR
1904-1905

Picasso settled down in that curious structure whose top story opened onto the place Ravignan, on the peak of Montmartre, while the other floors were reached through a different entrance some twenty meters below, in the Rue Garreau. Max Jacob gave the building the name by which it is known to history: Bateau-Lavoir (Laundry Barge). Picasso took over Paco Durrio's studio when the latter moved to new quarters in the impasse Girardon, where he could have a kiln for his ceramics. Picasso's new studio was on the top floor, which meant that with its large panes, the place roasted in summer and froze in winter. And for the first time in Picasso's history, one hears an intimate feminine voice. Fernande Olivier, who was living in the building, met him during the summer of 1904. By the end of 1905 they were sharing life.

This voice at first expresses astonishment: "Everything exuded a sense of work; but work in such a mess, my God!"

She describes what she found:

In one corner, a box spring on four legs. A rusty cast-iron stove with a yellow earthernware bowl on it, used as a hand basin. Next to it, a deal table with a towel and a butt end of soap. In another corner, a wretched little trunk painted black made a far-from-comfortable seat. And then a rush-bottomed chair; several easels; canvases of every size; tubes of pigment scattered about the floor; brushes; tins of oil; a bowl for nitric acid; no curtains.

In this instance, we can accept Fernande's account absolutely as well as her explanation that Picasso preferred to work at night, with an oil lamp because there was no electricity. By day the place was "a steady parade of Spaniards." She describes Picasso's "gang," which had instantly regrouped. There was Manolo, "bohemian; a bit of a wag; always on the lookout for a place to sleep, a meal, a crafty dodge of one kind or another that had something in it for him"; and Pichot, "who looked like Don Quixote, full of wit; a steely ironist with a heart of gold"; and Canals, whom Picasso

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