Picasso and the Women (and a few mirrors in between) (Part II)

{This is a second part of the story about Picasso and Mirrors; see the first on here}

For me this above photo of Picasso is a quintessence of the entirely new situation in his life that he sunk into in the beginning of the 1920s. This is not an exact representation of the famous photo by Man Ray (you can see the original here), but the results of my efforts to make it even more grotesque. The very title of this photo is eery surreal, Madame Errazuriz, Picasso and Olga Khokhlova at a costume bal of the Earl de Beaumont, Paris (1924).

‘Sunk’, ‘grotesque’ and ‘eery surreal’ are all, of course, very judgemental statements, and very biased. Many people by then (including Picasso himself) believed that he instead ‘soared to the heights ‘, and reached both fame and wealth.

Picasso’s life has changed by the end of the war, when he was commissioned to design the decorations for one of the ballets performed by the Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The plot for one-act was written by Jean Cocteau and the music, by Eric Satie. Picasso was initially invited to develop only the designs of the stage decorations, but later he also created the costumes, which in turn impacted the plot itself.  He also created the curtain what would be used for the ballet performance, apparently the largest painting he ever created:

The reception of the ballet was very controversial, not to say scandalous, and to a large degree because of the cubist designs of Picasso.  But scandalous fame is the fame nevertheless, and Picasso starts getting more commissions. Another important development is that during his work with Diaghilev he met Olga Khokhlova, one of the dancers of his troop, who in the summer of 1918 became his first wife.

For Picasso it meant many things at once: he joined the establishment, he is now spending time with the rich and influential members of elite, he is know to the critics and press.

That lady who stands next to him on the Man Ray’s photo, Eugenia Errázuriz, is a typical example of his new connections. She was a daughter of a Chilean silver magnate, a wife of a wealthy artist, and eventually has became a famous patron of modern art in Paris at that time.

It is during this period Picasso got accustomed to more a comfortable and organised family life, strikingly different from his earlier years in Paris, wild and poor. Soon Picasso and Olga had their first son, who was called Paolo, in honor of his father.

Picasso’s art also changes completely during this time. It seems if he had enough all these new -isms and decides to go back to the tried and proven classicism. His works become almost academic in style and content. He paints a lot of portraits of Olga, who reportedly could not stand his earlier ‘strange’ paintings. She insists that her portraits should be realistic and ‘classical’. And they are:

Portrait of Olga (1923)

The same approach was requested to portray their son. Olga demanded that he should look like a ‘pretty boy’, and not as a collection of colorful patches:

Paul as Harlequin (1925)

Perhaps this shift in the style can be also explained by Picasso’s prolonged collaboration with Sergei Diaghilev. Although the Parade was an avant-garde ballet and we now perceive Diaghilev as a ‘cutting-edge innovator’,  the majority of other performances by his troop were fairly  classical.

Not surprisingly, this period of Picasso’s art has been referred as ‘Classical’.  Gertrude Stein even called the portraits of Big Women he created galore at this time ‘archaic’:

During this period Picasso will create one of the most ‘bourgeois’ mirrors in his life – in one of the drawings from a graphical series  we see a very unusual mirror for Picasso, the one at a fireplace mantel:

Portrayed here are Jean Cocteau, Olga, Erik Satie and Clive Bell (1919), and the mirror here resembles the ones of early Degas. It is not used in any sense, and acts merely as a status symbol of wealth and style.

In many other drawings of this period we also find very classical figures with hand mirrors:

Femme et Enfant (1923)

Deux femmes et enfant (1922)

Hairdressing (1923)

All the above works are nice, but they don’t add anything new to the ‘menu’ already tried and tested by Picasso. There is one exception, a drawing of one of his ‘Big Women’ in front of a mirror. She is turned away from us and we can see her face only in the mirror’s reflection. This is a very different pose and different type of ‘interactions’ with the mirrors compared to the previous works by Picasso.

Nu assis au Miroir (Seated Woman with a Mirror) (1922-23)

There is another interesting work, the only real painting of this period with a mirror – again the small hand-held oval mirror, by this time hold by an harlequin:

Harlequin with a mirror (1923)

This is the first non-female mirror of Picasso.

The summary of the mirrors is not that extensive – we see mostly hand-held mirrors without reflections, one table mirror, and one large mantlepiece mirror:

Picasso did enjoy his new lifestyle, but only for a while. Many of his earlier admirers began to consider him outdated, and the art world in Paris, and in Europe in general, got new obsession: dada and then surrealism.

By the end of 1920-s Picasso gradually abandons his classicism and his Baigneuse {Bather} (1928) – as well as many other works of the end of 1902-s show that he decided not to stay behind and sail with the new winds:


Coincidentally his relationships with Olga become more distant and detached, and in 1927 he finds new love, his new mistress and muse for almost ten years, Marie-Thérèse Walter.  When they met, she was 17, and Picasso already 45.

Their relationships started almost from the first day of their meeting, but always remained secret and unofficial (well, it was Secret de Polichinelle, since almost everybody knew about them, including his wife Olga). Picasso never divorce here, I guess partly because of his Catholic roots, but also due to the fact that in his matrimonial contract he assigned half of his works to Olga, in case of their divorce).

I don’t know if this portrait, of so called Large Nude is of Olga (and thus partly a revenge), or already of Marie-Thérèse:

Large nude in red armchair (1929)

Or may be it’s a revenge, but to a very different person – many critics noticed that this portrait is an art replica to the famous Matisse’s  Odalisque (1926):

Picasso was incredibly envious and driven by vanity, and Matisse was one of his life-long arch-art-rivals.

But Picasso created many more portraits of Marie-Thérèse, where it’s either very obvious that it’s her, or else we have another proofs – like the photographs or the records in his diary:


Marie-Thérèse Walter (1929) & Bather with Beach Ball (1929)

Marie-Thérèse Walter (1928) & Tall Bather (1929)

The above works are all interesting, original & stuff, but Picasso has also created a series of really beautiful and lyrical portraits of his new muse, like this Le Rêve (Dream) (1932)

Some of these portraits have mirrors – and what mirrors they are! In the same 1932 Picasso creates of the most interesting and original works, titled simply as The Mirror:

What makes it really interesting is that we see a sleeping woman next to the mirror; not only she doesn’t look at the mirror, but she even can’t do it – she sleeps! Yet the mirror is here, and actively interact, if not with the woman then with us, allowing us to see – her backside? or her dreamside? It’s a very Alice-in-the-Looking-Glass a work, very mysterious and magical.

Apparently this year, 1932, was a climax of the relationshiops if Picasso with the mirrors; it is in this year he also creates his most beautiful works, Jeune fille devant le miroir, Girl before a mirror (1932):

I will quote here the description from the MOMA where the painting is currently on display:

Girl Before a Mirror shows Picasso’s young mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, one of his favorite subjects in the early 1930s. Her white-haloed profile, rendered in a smooth lavender pink, appears serene. But it merges with a more roughly painted, frontal view of her face – a crescent, like the moon, yet intensely yellow, like the sun, and “made up” with a gilding of rouge, lipstick, and green eye-shadow. Perhaps the painting suggests both Walter’s day-self and her night-self, both her tranquillity and her vitality, but also the transition from an innocent girl to a worldly woman aware of her own sexuality.

It is also a complex variant on the traditional Vanity – the image of a woman confronting her mortality in a mirror, which reflects her as a death’s head. On the right, the mirror reflection suggests a supernatural x-ray of the girl’s soul, her future, her fate. Her face is darkened, her eyes are round and hollow, and her intensely feminine body is twisted and contorted. She seems older and more anxious. The girl reaches out to the reflection, as if trying to unite her different “selves.” The diamond-patterned wallpaper recalls the costume of the Harlequin, the comic character from the commedia dell’arte with whom Picasso often identified himself – here a silent witness to the girl’s psychic and physical transformations.”

Ok, there are many nice words here, and accurate observations (but there are also some very arbitrary claims). But in any case, it does convey the feeling of a very special nature of this work. It is perhaps the most famous painting by Picasso with a mirror – most likely if you type ‘Picasso’ and ‘mirror’ in your Google search, you will get the picture like that:

A couple of pictures in the bottom row also show how large this painting is – again, it’s one story when you imagine it as an A4-size picture, but a very different one if you understand that the paining is more than 1,5m tall:


The above description from MOMA spots very rightly the juxtaposition of Sun/Moon symbolism in the face of  Marie-Thérèse – but what is even more interesting is that the synthesised face is also reflected in the mirror (missing the ‘Sunny’ part on a way):


I really like this comparison to the multiple selves – the day-self and night-self, as they called them. But as I said, what’s really interesting is that these selves are looking at the mirror, which brings the concept of a ‘mirror cocoon’ on a new level. It helps to better understand that mirrors do multiply personality (or at least can do, potentially – and I mean here multiplication in a very positive sense, as a chance of growth and development).

What I don’t buy is there allusions to ‘Vanity’ and ‘Death’; first, not every woman with a mirror is about Vanity (and definitely not in case of Picasso, as all the previous works show, and as the following ones will). And then of course an automatic linkage of the ‘Vanity’ and ‘Memento Mori’ themes is just a sign of not fully understanding either.

But it’s true that the work is full – full of colors, densely packing all its space, full of multiple meanings, and full with the new overtones in how mirrors could be depicted.

Nut surprisingly, the painting is a perpetual inspiration for multiple remakes and re-appropriations – I will show just a few, since there are hundreds of more (and I may write a separate posting about them later):

Michael Burris Johnson, After Pablo Picasso’s Girl before a mirror (2013)

Luiza Turcan – After Pablo Picasso’s Girl before a mirror (2012)

The remakes range from fairly accurate representations to very daring re-interpretations of the subject:

Body painting after Pablo Picasso’s Girl before a mirror (2013)

In a consumeristic pop-art style the painting also migrated into many products and artefacts:

Including – inevitably, perhaps, the mirrors themselves:


There are few more interesting works with mirrors made during the 1930-s – definitely, the most saturated period of ‘art mirrors’ for Picasso.

This work continues the theme of ‘sleeping mirrors’:

Sleeping girl at the mirror (1934)

Few other portraits depict the woman (allegedly the very same Marie-Thérèse either reading, writing or contemplating, but every time in a presence of a mirror:

Femme avec un-livre {Woman with a Book} (1932)

Nu au bouquet d’iris et au miroir (Nude with irises and mirror) (1934)

Portrait of woman in front of a mirror (1936)

Portrait of woman (1936)

It is very visible that these are all very different works in terms of style (even if they depict the same person – or may be because of that); but what’s interesting that the mirrors are hardly used in any of them, they are present merely as an object on the background.

There are few works where mirrors play much more active role – in all of them women paint themselves using these mirrors:

Fille dessinant à l’intérieur {Interior with a girl drawing} (1935)

Woman painting at the mirror (A Muse) (1935)

Femme dessinant et femme assoupie {Woman drawing and sleeping woman} (1935)

Femme au miroir {Woman at a mirror } (1937)

Picasso didn’t stop to create more ‘classical’ things in this period, although most of them remain in form of drawings and sketches; some of them do have mirrors, too.

Sculptor and his model before a mirror (1933)

Quatre femmes nues et tête sculptée (Four nudes with a sculpture of head} (1934)

I guess there may be more of those, to find them I’d need to get an access to better catalogues; but I guess not one of them will be able to compete with the beauty and complexity of the Girl with the Mirror, a true star of Picasso’s mirror universe.


The last Femme au miroir I’ve shown above still depicts Marie-Thérèse, although by then Picasso already lived with another woman – that despite the fact that Marie-Thérèse just gave birth to their daughter Maya. When she learned about that, Olga Khokhlova initiated a lawsuit, demanding a divorce; she will never get it, and will remain one of the most hated person till the end of Picasso’s life. He will not even come to her funerals when she will die in 1955.

His departure with Marie-Thérèse will be the exact opposite, he will provide her and their daughter with full financial support, he will be visiting them every week, and will continue to paint both Marie-Thérèse and later their daughter.

Dora Maar is also an exact opposite, and in some way both to Olga and to Marie-Thérèse. She is herself an artist, a photographer, she belongs to the circles of surrealists (she was introduced to Picasso by Paul Éluard, and her interest in Picasso was almost entirely professional in the beginning.  But she was also an interesting, attractive woman, and Picasso will fall in love and live with her for almost a decade.

The picture above is made in 1946, and it’s already “after”, after they broke up; because of their break Dora will get into a psychiatric clinic (she will be analized by Jacques Lacan himself). But that’s all in the unknown future, and in the now Picasso continues to paint profusely, including creating many portraits of his new muse, Dora – I am picking up these two portraits almost arbitrary, out of dozens more:


Perhaps it is this period will make Picasso ‘The Picasso”, the painter as we know him mostly. For example, it then in 1937 he will create his famous Guernica, a colossal, 3,5 x 8m work depicting the horrors of the Spanish Civil War – and also the work that will make his famous internationally.

Interestingly, but it thanks to Dora we know have a more or less accurate ‘making-of’ of this work, as Dora documented the process of its creation commissioned by Life magazine.


So far I found only two portraits that depict Dora Maar AND mirrors:

Femme à la montre (1936) – this one also shows a woman with a watch, an interesting intervention of new gadgets into art.

Femme au miroir (1936)

Both works show the moment of deep introspections, the women are almost jump into the mirror surfaces, and their manner to hold these mirrors resembles the all-embracing pose of the Girl with the Mirror of 1934.

I found another work, a small drawing that is usually called Woman and injured faun (1938):

I tend to think that this is not one story (and this ‘Faun” is more likely “Minotaur”, a very common motif in Picasso’s works at that time). As often happens with Picasso, he was portraying disconnected figures on his study sheets, and we are completing the ‘stories’ in our heads, as in some kind of projective test. Or else we need to imagine a very interesting – healing? – role for the mirror in the woman’s hand.

Interestingly, there is an early art work by Dora Maar, made in 1934 and called Mirror and Hand:

It’s very tempting to suggest that this mirror-hand actant has impacted Picasso’s works with the mirrors – however, as we see Picasso was creating those way before he met Dora. On the other hand, perhaps it was Dora who was impacted by the hand mirrors of Picasso? Or shall we assume that these things are totally disconnected?

There is another drawing with a mirror that was created in this period, and very atypical one for Picasso:

La nymphe et le satyre {The nymph and satyr} (1940)

It belongs to the same mythological series as the one above, but depicts a very different mirror; it’s a large one, either hanging on, or attached to a wall. It is also one of the few truly reflecting mirrors of Picasso, and similar to the Sleeping Girl, it does reflect the woman’s buttocks.

All in all, not so very many mirrors. According to my ‘theory’, the Love was not, perhaps, hmm, so passionate and tender?

At the end of the war Picasso will part ways with Dona Maar and start his relationshiops with another woman, Françoise Gilot. She was 21 years old when they, him – for 61; they will live together for almost ten years, and have two children, Claude and Paloma (the latter is a famous fashion designer now).

This is their portrait made by Robert Doisneau in 1952; and again, this was made when they were about to part, and Françoise here looks unusually sad.

She was much more jovial and cheerful, and inspired the painter in a number of way, being not only a beautiful woman and great mother of his kids, but also an artist herself, very intelligent and original. Picasso made many portraits and drawings of her, all easily recognisable because of her lush hair.

Portrait de Françoise (1946)

And yet I found only one portrait of (allegedly) Françoise with a mirror:

Woman before the mirror (1948)

I also found a couple of similar works, that further explore the theme of two women and a mirror:

Nudes with the mirror (1950)

Women with the mirror (1950)

I lately found a couple of very interesting works, the only examples of Picasso’s mirrors NOT associated with women, and with people in general – but depicted with the animals (birds, to be precise); mirrors here are just a part of interior, but seemingly quite an important one.

Hibou sur une chaise {Owl on a chair} (1947)

Hibou sur une chaise avec un miroir {Owl on a chair with a mirror} (1947)

In both of these works the rectangle on a background could also be a painting, but first, we see a very elaborate efforts to also depict a reflection in it, and also the shape is very similar to many other ‘mirrors’ that will be seen in the interiors in some of the later works by Picasso (their frames tend to be yellow-ish). It is also not impossible that these could be the very same mirrors held by the women in the later drawings of this period.

Here is my visual summary so far:


The last period, and the last woman of Picasso; a new swing of pendulum. He met Jacqueline Roque by accident, on a street in Vallauris, a tiny town near Cannes where Picasso came to study some pottery tricks. Jacqueline traded jars and pots; she was 27 years old when she met Picasso was 73 by them, and like his first woman he picked up on the street, Marie-Thérèse, was not at all into any art. They lived together for almost 20 more years, till his death in 1973. Moreover,  Jacqueline managed to achieve what none of other famous muses of Picasso did – she became his second wife, after the death of Olga Khokhlova in 1955.

She called him “My Sun” and for many years collected and stored everything connected with it (for example, she collected pieces of his nails and even hair that remained after the haircut).

Despite his advanced age, Picasso was still painting as a machine, creating a painting a day, non-stop, for months. He painted many portraits of Jacqueline, only slightly less than of Marie-Thérèse, and often even in a more erotic way.

Jacqueline aux mains croisées {Jacqueline with crossed hands} (1954) &

Femme nue au bonnet turc {Nude woman in a Turkish cap} (1954)

And yet again, I found only one portrait with a mirror whose model I could assign with a certain certainty to Jacqueline:

Femme au miroir (1959)

By the way, here we see the ‘Yellow Frame Mirror” I mentioned when describing the portraits of owls.

Picasso has created a whole range of art-works with mirrors during this period (worth remembering that we are talking about 20+ years here), including paintings, drawings and engravings, but the majority of them do add much more to the motifs already explored by Picasso in his earlier years.

The toilette (1954)

Femme au miroir (1963)

Les deux amies (Two women} (1965)

Femmes nues au mirroir {Nudes with the mirror} (1965)

With time his manner was becoming more and more primitivistic – this could be partly explained by his age, but partly by the growing belief that art is not about ‘realism’ and ‘accuracy of representation.’

Nude with a mirror (1967)

Nu debout et flutiste (1967)

There is a couple of works that seemingly belong to a bigger series which I don’t know much about – for example, this woman with a musketeer:

(though he is also know as a Man in a Rembrandtesque Hat (1968)

There is a pretty unique drawing that depicts a man in front of a mirror, and not woman (before this motif was used by Picasso only once, in his very early portrait of the Harlequin with a Mirror). I would love to call the object hanging on a wall next the mirror also a mirror, the convex one; alas, I guess it would be a wishful thinking, most likely it’s a tray or a dish that Picasso was making galore at this time.

Man looking in a mirror (1969)

All that makes the last ‘mirror summary’ pretty interesting, both in terms of number of works, and also the diversity of the mirrors represented in them.

This is the very last painting of the artist, he worked on it a day before his death, April 8, 1973, and it’s left unfinished. Did he plat to also depict a mirror here?


Picasso made a lot of self-portraits during his long life:

None of them is with mirrors. In fact, the only known work where Picasso is doing something with a mirror is his own photograph, made in 1904; it is a kind of selfie in a mirror, that also depicts his friend at that time, Ricardo Canals:

Many famous photographs were making pictures of Picasso – from Man Ray and Brassai to Robert Doisneau and Irving Penn: I’ve shown some of them earlier, but there are many more that simply would not fit one posting, even as long as this one.

Not surprisingly, very few of them show Picasso with any mirror. There is one exception though – André Villers, a young photographer by then, made a series of portraits of the master where we also see the mirrors:

On one it’s a mantlepiece mirror in the Picasso’s house in Cannes, and another one shows a large mirror  and Picasso dressed as Popeye (apparently, a well-known cartoon character in France of whom I knew nothing before).

There is even another selfie, this time of André Villers himself, with Picasso dressed in a bizarre hat:

This picture may look a bit pervert, but Picasso was known for his love to carnival and masquerades: he liked to dress in a funny way himself, and also played with this theme in his works:

I am sure that what I have shown here is not all the mirrors of Picasso; I bet I’ve shown the majority of them, but there is always a chance that there are works that I haven’t seen, or a new one could be found one day – or may there had been ‘mirrors’ that didn’t survive, for whatever reasons.


And I don’t even talk here about one famous ‘mirror series’ by Picasso, his own Las Meninas. Around 1956, when Spain was celebrating the 500th anniversary of the famous mirror work by Diego Velázquez, Picasso decided to make his own homage – which turned to be a mega-homage at the end. He created more than fifty paintings, reinterpreting the famous work by Velázquez in his own Picasso way.

I wrote about this series already, in fact, it was one of the first postings of my ‘mirror saga’ (though by then I didn’t know it will be the sage, and that it will be about mirrors, back then I was more interested in the phenomenon of re-interpretations.  And it wasn’t even a posting in my current format, I just compiled a lot of similar re-interpretations of Meninas in one large slideshow (there are more works there than only Picasso’s ones).  I keep planning to make a new version of this old presentation, I found many more interesting remakes since then; but for the time being, here is the link to the old one:

*** ***

The inevitable question I ask myself at the end of every posting is in the center of the Piscasso’s Mirrors collage below.

The sad part is I don’t know. It was interesting for me to explore all these diverse eras of his life, and the changes in his style, and how this all impacted the mirrors. I found fantastically innovative examples of ‘art mirrors’, like his Mirror-Hugging Girl – but to some regret I found too few of them, as the majority of the mirror-works are pretty banal. But may be I shouldn’t complain, may be it’s more than enough if the painter contributes to the imaginary Mirror Hall of Fame even with one work (and Picasso definitely made more than one contribution to this Hall, in my opinion.)

My theory of Love/Mirror relationships was successfully defeated at the end, and for the better, of course. Yet it did help me in some way to better comprehend the sheer diversity of the Picasso’s mirrors – as well as stimulated to re-visit the mirror series of other master, those that I’ve written about already, and re-focus in case of those I didn’t write yet. And as always, the better question is not So What, but What’s Next?


PS: The slideshow with the images used in both parts can be found here.


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