Painting a Vivid Picture of Life with Picasso; Loving Picasso - the Private Journals of Fernande Olivier (Abrams. Pounds 24). Reviewed by Richard Edmonds
Byline: Richard Edmonds
Fernande Olivier was the first of Picasso's serious lovers. Beautiful, wayward and highly intelligent she told of her experiences with the artist in a colourful diary which until now has remained in the original French. But at last, after an eight year gestation period, the diaries have appeared under the title Loving Picasso in a translation by Christine Baker and Michael Raeburn with an epilogue from John Richardson, the Picasso scholar who set this fine project in motion.
Picasso was 22 when he moved into Montmartre, settling in 1904, in a ramshackle, scarcely sanitary building known cheerfully as the Bateau Lavoire. Fernande (or La Belle Fernande) as she was known to the artists, poets and dossers who made up Picasso's circle turned up within months of his moving into Montmartre, and since life and art were inseparable for him, she appears in much of the early work as the model.
She kept a diary of the days and years spent with him and she records with breathtaking perspicacity the tensions, the rivalry, ambitions and small joys of this special world when the 20th century was being forged. Fernande and Picasso shared the cramped Montmartre apartment until summer came and then they joined the general exodus from Paris heading for Spain or the French countryside.
But there was always a role to play. She was Picasso's lover above all else, his housekeeper and his concierge, keeping unwanted people at bay especially when the creative urge came upon him which generally happened in the early hours of the morning.
But when artists build shrines to their lovers in a corner of their studios (which is what happened) you can usually expect blood on the wall when passion dies. Fernande stuck it out for seven years during which time Picasso became tyrannical, thinking nothing of locking her in and forbidding her to wander outside.
Not that she was an easy woman to live with. In May 1906 the couple left for Barcelona via the Gare d'Orsay (now a museum of course).
The poets Max Jacob and Guillaume Appollinaire helped them with the luggage which included a huge wicker trunk loaded heavily with oil paints and brushes.
'We were in a third class compartment and I felt so nervous and anxious I couldn't sleep at all, and this kept Picasso, who wanted to sleep, awake as well.'
At Port Bou they changed compartments moving up to first class, arriving in Barcelona (Picasso's home territory) around seven in the evening. Suddenly, a group of noisy Catalans who surrounded them left Fernande in despair, so much so that she begged tearfully to be taken back to Paris.
Luckily, there wasn't a train around and so she goes to sleep eventually in the Hotel Catalunya (Picasso apparently couldn't sleep a wink with worry) awakening refreshed and happy next day with Paris off her agenda. So he had his share of aggravation too.
'Dear, thoughtful Picasso,' she wrote, 'He only thinks of making me happy - even at the cost of his own pleasure.'
She added a postscript. 'Apart from his work, I think he cares for me more than anything in the world.' Obviously, she was proved to be wrong. …