1932 was a make or break year for Pablo Picasso. In 1931, he had turned 50 and was overwhelmed with offers to exhibit his work. However, there was also a widespread discussion of whether he was an artist of value. Not to mention his tumultuous personal life in which he was married to Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, but also engaged in a secretive affair with Marie-Therese Walter. These 12 months of turmoil, fear and passion lead to a prolific body of work, as revealed in first ever solo Picasso exhibition at the Tate Modern.
From with Christmas day 1931, in which he painted Women with Dagger – a surrealist nightmare in which a woman stabs her sexual rival – and a large canvas of a seated woman whose facial features had been replaced by a heart. To his Reclining Nudes of late June and July, in which transformation remained central in his imagination, one thing turning into another. Ending with darker subject matters in November and December, such as the threat of drowning and the possibility of rescue. There was such a thin line between beauty and monstrosity in Picasso’s work, reflecting both the turmoil of WW1 and the fear within himself, that it is clear life and art were never separate to him. “The work one does,” he wrote, “is a way of keeping a diary.”
What did Picasso really feel for either woman? “Love is the only thing,” he once said, but with a quick modification, “whatever that means.” It has been said that over the course of his life, he had two wives, six mistresses, and many lovers. However, it is evident Olga Picasso and Marie-Therese Walter marked the poles of his personal life, just as his work explored the tensions between paint and clay, reality and fantasy and harsh and soft colour. It was his urge to renew himself which turned 1932 into Picasso’s ‘year of wonders’.