Paloma Picasso by Frances Parkes

There is heightened interest in Pablo Picasso and his work with the Genius series on National Geographic and the exhibition of Picasso’s prolific 1932 work at Tate Modern. His daughter Paloma was born 17 years later in 1949, when Picasso was in a relationship with a young, talented artist called Francoise Gilot. A few years back I wrote this article for Marbella Life from an interview with Paloma Picasso – Published by International Publications of Spain.

Paloma Picasso – Talks to Frances Parkes

Paloma Picasso is one of the fashion icons of our time. Her name is synonymous with bold and exciting designs – china, jewelry, table ware, bed linen, accessories, make-up and wall-coverings are some of the fields in which she works. As one of the two designers at Tiffany &Co, Paloma could devote all her time to jewelry designing, but, she says, “I like doing different things in other directions. I think that’s healthy. One finds new ways of doing things and it prevents one getting bored.”

Photographs of Paloma Picasso portray the image of a strong and dynamic person, signaling both danger and allure. Such photographs invariably appear alongside one of her products and go hand-in-glove with her success. It is certainly to her credit that she has achieved this commercial success without compromising her art or relying on her famous name.   No one could have survived the jungle of international design without talent, inner strength and a streak of steel.

The Hidden Side

However, her public image belies another deeper, softer self. On her own admission, she is incredibly shy and self-protective. To see her in left profile is to see the austere and beautiful; whereas the right side displays a sensitive femininity. She talks of her childhood with great affection. Born in Paris on 19th April 1949 to Francoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso, she was named after the dove (Paloma in Spanish) that her father designed as a symbol for the World Peace Congress, which opened on that day. As a baby Paloma endeared herself to her parents by sleeping for long hours and eating everything that was put before her. Picasso painted and sketched her frequently while she slept and so did her mother Francoise. Together with her older brother, Claude (born in 1947), the family lived either in Paris or at the Galloise, with its metal furniture and huge red and black carpet, and she acknowledges with amusement the formative effect this carpet had on her work. “I guess my whole career as a designer has been based on this carpet.” Paloma Picasso recalls many happy occasions with her father – how he painted a face on her wooden doll, and the painting he did of her and her brother, dominated in her memory by the toy train in the picture. “We never posed for my father (we were in any case too young to sit still), but he did everything from memory and imagination. Because I was such a quiet child, my father would let me spend many hours at his studio while he worked.”
Conflict Between Picasso and Francoise

The relationship between Picasso and Paloma’s mother began to disintegrate. There was an age difference of 41 years between her parents, and Picasso demanded that Francoise devote her time to him rather than her own artistic ambitions. Picasso believed that Francoise should be content with his art alone, but Francoise was already an established artist in her own right when she met Picasso.  “My mother was a highly intelligent woman and although she loved Picasso she would not sacrifice her own independence to him.”  Francoise eventually took the children and went to live in Paris where Paloma and her brother went to the École Alsacienne; from then on they were to spend only holidays, with their father. Meanwhile Picasso had acquired a new wife, Jacqueline Roque, who was the young niece of Madame Ramie, who owned the pottery where Picasso created his ceramic pieces. Initially Jacqueline welcomed Paloma and Claude, but she became increasingly jealous of their relationship with their father. Paloma explains: “Jacqueline started to feel threatened by our presence, which was, of course, quite ridiculous, but this attitude, I have now discovered, is often the reaction of a new wife.” In 1964, when Paloma was 15, her mother published her book Life with Picasso (on which the film Surviving Picasso, starring Anthony Hopkins is based). Jacqueline used this book and its revelations of Picasso’s private life, to persuade Picasso to sever relations with his 2 children by Francoise. Sadly, Picasso, who was by then 83, complied with her wishes. Paloma saw her father for the last time, purely by chance in 1967. She was walking down a street in Cannes when a car pulled up and Picasso and Jacqueline got out. Paloma, of course, immediately greeted her father. “He was obviously pleased to see me, but Jacqueline was there, pulling him by the arm and saying, “Pablo we have to go, we have to go!” She managed to talk to him for a few minutes, but that was all. Paloma, Claude and Picasso’s eldest daughter Maya (by his model Marie-Thérèse) all had to fight their way through the French courts after Picasso’s death in 1973, because they were born out of wedlock. The court finally ruled in their favour, and brother Claude now handles all of Pablo Picasso’s exhibitions and marketing.
New York Years

Paloma spent much of the 1970s and 80s in New York City, where she was interviewed by Andy Warhol for his famous “Factory Diaries”; she was also photographed by Helmut Newton in a provocative pose, with one breast peeping out of a cocktail dress. Although the demands on her time are great, Paloma always finds time to support the charities she holds dear to her heart. Tragically several people in her life have committed suicide – Marie-Thérèse, her nephew and her step-mother Jacqueline – all died by their own hand. Paloma is a member of the American Suicide (Help) Foundation, whose aim is to take the veil off this taboo subject, to ring comfort to the bereaved and, in particular, to deter those who may be suicidal. The separation from her father did ensure Paloma’s developing her own style and her own life. The deep red lipstick that has become her trademark was first worn by her in the 1970s, against fashion trends of the time. It matched the 1940s style of clothes that she liked to wear. Having her own style is important to her and she encourages all women to find their own style. “What a woman should strive for is maximising who she is. I dress for me, to make myself look better in my own eyes. But what is good for me is not necessarily good for you. Adapt a style to suit you”. Today she has a home in London and commutes to Florence, Paris and New York. Her vibrant style has influenced many. The fluid lines of her work, her sensuality and strong colours are clearly linked to her parentage and the art of her mother Francoise Gilot and her father Pablo Picasso – a son of Malaga.   Click on the photo for the Genius trailer.

Paloma Picasso