Pablo Picasso’s Woman in the Studio depicts his companion (later his wife), Jacqueline Roque, seated in a wicker chair in his “La Californie” studio overlooking Cannes, France. In the painting, you can pick out some of the details that defined this iconic workspace: the haphazard layout of overlapping paintings, the high windows, the palm trees. This later portion of his life was Picasso’s most prolific, fostering not only hundreds of paintings, but sculptures and ceramics that can still be found circulating the art market today.
The colors in the painting are bold yet harmonious, strong and solid, intended to reflect his relationship with Jacqueline Roque, the most stable and enduring of his life. During their 20-year relationship, Picasso produced more work than ever before, painting nearly 400 portraits of Jacqueline alone.
But their relationship, like virtually all of Picasso’s romantic entanglements, including at least six long-term partners, all but one of whom were several decades his junior, was anything but peaceful and serene. Jaqueline battled with her husband’s insatiable appetite for young women from the time she began working for him as a model in 1952 until his death in 1973, and it took an incalculable toll on her own mental health, happiness, and capacity for creative output.
Picasso’s behavior towards women throughout his life is well-documented, and (until quite recently) has been largely excused due to his artistic prowess. But it’s important to recognize that out of his six long-term relationships, two of Picasso’s partners would eventually commit suicide, and another two suffered complete nervous breakdowns. While the his contributions to the landscape of modern art as we know it are immeasurable, they have come at the price of dozens of young women, as well as members of his own family, lured in by his genius and drained entirely by his abuse. There is now no way to know what their contributions might have been without his influence.
Her husband’s death and lack of will left Jacqueline Roque in a turbulent battle with Picasso’s four children over his estate, a fight which would eventually result in the establishment of the Musée Picasso in Paris. For Roque, however, the trauma of this distress and the turmoil of her life, combined with the loss of her husband, drew her into a state of unmitigable depression, and she took her own life in 1986. Even after her death, Jacqueline’s life has been largely defined by the work of her husband.
When you next visit this painting, take a moment to reflect on the fact that Jacqueline, like all of Picasso’s subjects, has always been more than just a Woman in the Studio.