Olga Stepahovna Khokhlova

Olga Stepahovna Khokhlova

Olga Khokhlova was Pablo Picasso’s first muse and, to her eventually despair, his first wife.  She was born in 1891 in what is now the Ukraine. Her family were Russian aristocrats, but Olga had always dreamt of becoming a dancer. Her family allowed to train and she eventually joined Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. In Paris in 1917 she was dancing in the ballet Parade for which Picasso had designed the costumes and set. This was a meeting that would put paid to her career. Swept off her feet, almost literally, she left the company to travel with him to Barcelona, then to Paris, becoming part of the Bohemian set while Picasso developed his distinctive style. Olga and Pablo married in 1918, travelling as Pablo’s commissions took them. They became great friends with the elegant American Gerald Murphys, who held a summer court on the Plage de la Garoupe in Antibes, where Olga danced on the beach and Picasso was entranced by the earth-mother like Sarah Murphy.

Left – 1918, Portrait d’Olga dans un fauteuil (Olga in an Armchair), oil on canvas by Picasso(Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

But what was presumably a less than idyllic marriage ended when, in 1935 Olga found that Picasso had been having an affair with the young Marie-Thérése Walter and that the latter was pregnant. Fleeing with Pablo, their one child, to Cannes Olga began divorce proceedings, dropping these abruptly when Picasso refused to share half his fortune with her, as required under French law. Consequently, they would never divorce and Olga remained in Cannes until her death there in 1955. She is buried, along with other Russian compatriots in the Cimitière du Grand Jas, just outside the town. Picasso would continue to live and love until 1973.

Right – Olga in Picasso’s Montrouge studio, spring 1918. Photo attributed to Pablo Picasso or Émile Deletang(Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

© Copyright: Maureen Emerson 2019