Fernande Olivier was Picasso's first great love. Happily for us, she had a lively writing style and a keen eye for detail. Illustrated with more than 80 contemporary photographs and paintings, Loving Picasso: The Private Journal of Fernande Olivier is a compulsively readable account of the quarrels, escapades, pleasures, and privations of the young artist and his circle between 1905 and 1912. The two met when Olivier was working as an artist's model, having escaped a loveless childhood and a disastrous early marriage. This book smoothly melds retranslated material from her 1933 memoir (Picasso et ses amis) with the posthumously published Souvenirs intimes and selections from her correspondence, including her plaintive letters to Alice B. Toklas during a lonely holiday with Picasso in rural Spain.
Honest to the point of bluntness, Olivier--whom Picasso eventually abandoned for Eva Gouel, a younger, more passive friend of hers--sums up her lover as a workaholic, an impulse buyer (when he had cash) of bric-a- brac and good furniture, a contrarian who found charm in wearing peculiar outfits and pretending he had no taste, and a jealous lover who often kept her locked up when he went out. She describes their home, the Bateau Lavoir in Montmartre, as "a weird, squalid building echoing from morning to night with every kind of noise: discussion, singing, shouting, calling, the sound of buckets used to empty the toilet clattering noisily on the floor ... doors slammed, suggestive moaning coming through the closed doors of the studios."
As Picasso biographer John Richardson relates in an afterword, Olivier never rebounded from her rejection by Picasso. Her middle years were dogged by faithless lovers, financial woes, and Gertrude Stein's deviousness (agreeing to help Olivier publish her memoirs, Stein instead wrote her own version of the era). --Cathy Curtis
From Publishers Weekly
Model and sometime diction teacher Olivier (1881-1966) lived with Picasso for nine years. Their passionate and contentious relationship, begun during his Blue and Rose periods, deteriorated and finally imploded as cubism built up steam. In the late 1920s, after fending for herself for nearly 20 years, the free-spirited and straight-talking Olivier (ne Amlie Lang) wrote an unsparing, crackling memoir of their high bohemian lives together, serializing it in Le Soir in 1930 and provoking Picasso's fury. It is published here for the first time in English, interspersed among Olivier's copious journal entries, and further supplemented with letters, and with annotations, notes and 82 illustrations (10 in color) selected by Marilyn McCully (Picasso: Painter and Sculptor in Clay). Beginning with journal entries chronicling her whim-based "downfall" and marriage to an abuser at 18, her life as a model in and around the Ecole des Beaux Arts and further venturings, Olivier finally meets (on page 137) "the Spanish painter who lives in our building" ("I don't find him particularly attractive"), who turns out to be Picasso and they immediately take up with each other. Olivier's prosaic proto-postfeminism yields a page-turning perspective on a woman who vigilantly maintained her own identity, even as it was formed in relation to men, including friends from Apollinaire to Max Jacob, and by other famous friends like Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. In an epilogue, distinguished Picasso biographer John Richardson convincingly speculates that this memoir, published complete in French in 1933 but entrusted to Stein for American publication earlier, may have inspired The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. With its charming flaws (some, like reflexive anti-Semitism, less so) and guileless presentation, it's easy to see why. (May)Forecast: Attractively produced and carefully edited, this book will be a serious beach read for the art set and beyond, and its plethora of intrigue will draw in those who flip through it on a display table. Expect sales on the order of The Diary of Frieda Kahlo.
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