Almost always in profile, sewing or reading. This is how the young Picasso used to draw and paint his mother, María Picasso López (1855-1938), a character in the family nucleus who always went rather unnoticed. However, the mother’s imprint on the artist was very important, since Dona María always trusted blindly in her son’s talent. The relationship between mother and child was excellent. Let’s not forget that Picasso ended signing his works with his mother’s surname, which would end up becoming famous throughout the planet.
In fact, the Museum has a lot to thank María Picasso for. If it had not been for María Picasso’s eagerness to save the drawings and paintings of her child and adolescent son, the Museum would not have such a significant collection of the artist’s early years. Dona María appears in almost thirty works of the collection, a large majority in sketchbooks and works on paper, some of them very emblematic and proof of the youth’s great talent such as The Artist’s Mother, a precise pastel portrait carried out when Picasso was only 15 years old.
Pablo Picasso. The artist’s mother. Barcelona, 1896. Pastel sobre papel. 49,8 x 39 cm. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Donació Pablo Picasso, 1970. MPB 110.016
María Picasso always looked like an Andalusian matron, a woman of character, but, like most women of that time, she was completely relegated to the domestic world. She was born into a family of Italian origin on her father’s side given that her grandfather had been a Genoese immigrant from the early 19th century. Her father, Francisco Picasso, apparently grew up in England, and once he had settled in Malaga and was married with four daughters, he left for the Americas to become a customs administrator in Havana. On his way back home, returning to retire, Francisco died of a yellow fever. María, therefore, was brought up by a single mother with four daughters and an absent father, and not a lot of money. José Ruiz Blasco, who came from a better-placed family and 17 years older than María, had previously gone out with the girl’s cousin, but eventually she would be the chosen one.
María Picasso, always busy with household chores, was the emotional and practical pillar of the family. In the same way as his sister Lola, Doña María would become a female model of the young Picasso and, above all, he would draw the upper part of her body, from the chest upwards. In adolescence, when the boy gained access to other female models outside the home, the mother’s figure would practically disappear from his work.
Pablo Picasso. The artist’s mother, sewing. Barcelona, 1896-1897. Dibuix. Llapis Conté sobre paper. 10,5 x 7,4 cm. Ingrés donació, Pablo Picasso, 2-1970. MPB111049
As much as her husband was aware that the boy would go far, it was María Picasso who always encouraged the young man to pursue a career in art. It is said that she persuaded Uncle Salvador, José Ruiz’s brother, to give him enough money so as to allow the young painter to get out of military service, for example. When José Ruiz died in 1913, María went to live with her daughter Lola, married to the neurologist Juan Vilató, and helped her bring up the seven children from the marriage.
Pablo Picasso. The artist’s mother. Corunya, la, 1894-1895. Dibuix. Llapis grafit sobre paper. 12,5 x 18,5 cm. Ingrés donació, Pablo Picasso, 2-1970. MPB111496R
When Picasso settled permanently in Paris, his relationship with his mother was not interrupted, either through letters or visits. A photograph on the rooftop of the house in Carrer de la Mercè documents the family reunion during Picasso’s visit to Barcelona in 1917 – his last long stay in the city – on the occasion of a performance of the Ballets Russos by Diaghilev. At that time Olga Khokhlova began her relationship with Picasso. Doña María, who was well aware of her son’s character, apparently advised the dancer not to marry Picasso. She said the same thing to her son. The couple ignored her and got married the following year.
The contact between the mother and her son continued. In 1923 during a visit to Paris, Picasso painted his mother once again, also in profile but with grey hair. María Picasso died in January 1938, at the end of the Civil War, which prevented Picasso from attending her funeral.