Book Review: Picasso: My Grandfather

Marina Picasso, Picasso: My Grandfather
(New York: Riverhead Books, 2001) 198pp

For Picasso, the most banal object became a work of art.
The same was true of the women who had the privilege- or misfortune-of being swept up in his tornado. He submitted them to his animal sexuality, tamed them, bewitched them, ingested them and crushed them onto his canvas. (Picasso: 2001, 180)

Picasso My Grandfather by Marina PicassoWhen Picasso died in 1973, he left behind four children and three grandchildren. ‘In order to create, he had to destroy everything that got in the way of his creation’ (Picasso: 2001, 74), and Picasso: My Grandfather is a raw account of a girl, then a woman, who would only ever see the evil in Picasso’s genius, and witnesses the destruction first hand. She bravely recounts her life as a Picasso, and the 14 years of psychoanalysis in order to reach a place where she no longer feels in the shadow of her Grandfather.

Marina Picasso’s account of her life is honest if not a damaged perception of the man that was her Grandfather. She catalogues a horrendous breakdown that led to 14 years of psychoanalysis, in fear of losing her two children, and invites us to renegotiate our own perception of the majesty that surrounded her grandfather.

Marina uses her psychoanalysis as an anchor within the narrative. This unintentionally guides the reader to sit in the psychoanalysts chair, and from this seat you not only see through the eyes of the author, but how the perceptions formed in her childhood have coloured her vision of Picasso throughout her life. Picasso: My Grandfather is 14 years of psychoanalysis in 198 pages.

Picasso and Olga
Picasso and his first wife, Olga Khokhlova

Marina’s father, Paulo, was the first born of Picasso and his first wife, Olga Khokhlova (1891-1955). Ever seeking his father’s approval, and not allowing a bad word said against him, Paulo is presented as a semi-absent father who was a coward and yet loyal to his father who he, like the critics and other artists, perceived as god-like, even though according to Marina, Picasso viewed him as a disappointment, ‘you’re incapable of supporting your children. You’re incapable of making a living! You’re incapable of doing anything! You’re second-rate and will always be second-rate. You’re a waste of my time!’ (Picasso: 2001, 16) Marina recalls her Grandfather saying to his father on a visit to La Californie, Picasso’s home.

Picasso and his son, Paulo
Picasso and his son, Paulo

Her disjointed relationship with her mother, Emilienne Lotte, is a sad anecdote injected with obsession and delusion. Emilienne held on to the name Picasso like a trophy, including after the separation from Paulo. Marina describes her as having ‘narcissistic outbursts. Persecution mania. And, above all, depicting herself as the victim’ (Picasso: 2001, 129). And even though she accepts her mother’s part in her own mental and emotion struggle, she still refers to her mother as suffering from the ‘Picasso virus’.

The most beautiful, inspirational, and enviable relationship in the book, is the saddest and most tragic, and that is that of her and her brother, Pablito.

However, what links this saga together is a man who was, and remains, one of the world’s greatest artists. A man whose personal life mirrored anything but his professional life. Although not the first book by someone close to Picasso, it is the first to display such hate and loathing. From the start to the last few chapters the resentment and the blame is palpable with every word written.

Marina is very successful at ensuring you turn the page. I read the book in one sitting, gripped and intrigued, deeply saddened by her story and yet frustrated at the absolute responsibility she puts on Picasso. The pace is almost perfect, only being punctuated by a lengthy account of a bullfight she attended with her grandfather, father, and brother. Although he was undoubtedly indifferent when it came to his children and grandchildren, a narcissist as an artist, and a manipulator and puppet master of his women, sitting in the chair of the psychoanalyst you can’t help but see the idiosyncrasy of Emilienne, which has nothing to do with the Picasso directly, he only being a single subject within her delusions and mental health problems.

Marina Picasso

The last few chapters were regrettably anticlimactic. Marina closes with an open letter to her two eldest children, and discloses how she spent her inheritance. While the outcome of her ordeal is essential, perhaps the details were unnecessary, and although she deserves to celebrate successfully resolving her breakdown after 14 years of psychoanalysis, this book demonstrates quite clearly that her final statement, ‘I’m at peace with myself’, is not quite absolute. You cannot read from page 1 to 198 and agree with her statement.

Picasso: My Grandfather is for anyone interested in Picasso beyond his life as a painter. It is important to understand that the book is a raw account from his grand-daughter and is a biography of her life, her life as a Picasso, and her response to events that unfolded around her. It is not a biography of Picasso and is not for Picasso purists who wish to believe his perfection in every aspect of his life.

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