A story of money, wronged love and suicide, centered around the famous painter and his illegitimate son
Why did I write my new book, “Picasso’s Ghost”?
Norman Mailer taught me that good writing is bold writing. Norman also said to write about what I know — and I know the Picasso family. And I finally felt it was time someone defended Pablo Picasso from his reputation of being a tyrant and abusing his family.
My connection with the Picassos began one night in 1971 when Pablo’s illegitimate son Claude – with Francoise Gilot — and I danced to Gloria Gaynor's “I Will Survive” in a Manhattan disco, at a party given by Diane Von Furstenberg.
We fell in love. A successful cover girl, I supported us because Claude made little money as a photojournalist and at times would wear not just my ex-husband’s clothing, but my own. (His favorite piece of clothing of mine was the Romanian blouse I wore on my cover of Newsweek.)
There was no hope that he would inherit Picasso's fortune since Pablo was superstitious and would not leave a will, and French law refused to recognize an illegitimate wife or children.
So Francoise sued, and in 1974, she won a massive lawsuit against Picasso's estate, on behalf of the children. She became a billionaire on paper, but due to legal red tape Claude could not immediately access his money, so we continued to live on my savings.
In 1975, he jilted me. But more on that later.
Francoise always claimed she left Picasso because he was being unfaithful to her; yet after her affair with Picasso had ended, she married Dr. Jonas Salk – demanding that he sign a contract allowing her to be unfaithful. She had a small apartment in Paris that she frequented several months a year — sans Salk.
Her hypocrisy in claiming to have left Picasso for his womanizing but then insisting on a life of infidelity while married to Salk infuriated Claude and Paloma, his sister via Francoise. In fact, the last person to receive a formal wedding invitation to Paloma's enormous wedding was her own mother.
Because Picasso married Jacqueline Roque instead of their mother, Claude and Paloma were raised to hold Jacqueline, a potter’s daughter, in contempt. Claude told me one night he punched his stepmother in the face in jest and practically knocked her out while watching a boxing match on television with her and his father. He claimed Picasso laughed about this.
In “Picasso’s Ghost”, I write about Claude recalling this evening with a macabre sense of glee. Not long after the incident, Claude, Paloma and Francoise were banned from all of Picasso’s homes: the villas, residences and chateaux.
The world has had sympathy for Claude because of Picasso's exiling his own son from his life, but Claude's violence towards his stepmother has remained undisclosed.
Claude would try to see his father but was repeatedly told by the guards that his father was not in. One night, when Claude scaled the gates of Notre Dames Des Villes, Picasso's villa in the south of France, Picasso had his own son arrested for trespassing.
There are other reasons Picasso exiled Paloma, Francoise and Claude, but the bottom line is he was old. He needed his energy to paint. People stood in the way of his creativity, and that included his own family, including not just Claude and Paloma but Francoise. All of these people belittled Jacqueline Roque, who had become his designated caregiver. I heard these unkind words.
Because of the bad blood between Jacqueline and Francoise, when Picasso died, his children were unwelcome at the Chateau des Vauvenargues to view his body. So it was that, a few nights after Picasso’s death in 1973, while Claude and I were in the chateau’s moonlit graveyard, looking for his father’s coffin, Claude asked me to marry him.
In 1977, four years later, Jacqueline shot herself in the head in her villa in Mougins.
My engagement to Claude lasted less than three years. While Francoise's lawsuit against Picasso’s estate was being settled, she bought me a wedding dress. A year later, when he refused to answer the question, “When are we getting married?" I left him.
So today Francoise, Claude and Paloma have all of Pablo’s wealth and art while Claude has become the court-appointed administrator of the estate. As such, he sold the Picasso name and signature to PSA Peugeot-Citroen for use by the French automaker, according to the New York Times. A family compact,
The Citroen Xsara Picasso, was put on the European market, featuring ugliest design in the world. It was so bad that Marina Picasso, the artist's granddaughter and Claude's niece, challenged the deal in court.
''I cannot tolerate that the name of my grandfather be used to sell something as banal as a car,'' she told a French newspaper. ''He was a genius who is now being exploited outrageously. His name, his very soul, should not be used for any ends other than his art.''
Meanwhile, Paloma’s jewelry is sold at Tiffany under the name Picasso – though not as such in France because the French feel both she and Tiffany are exploiting Picasso’s name.
Did Picasso, in refusing to leave a will, know what was to come: that Claude would sell his father’s name while Paloma would exploit it. Did either of them ever respect Pablo, or did they just value him for his possessions?
I wonder if Pablo Picasso is crying in his grave.