From 26th February to 2nd June 2019, Museo Picasso Málaga will present Picasso’s first wife Olga Khokhlova and her story, in the first show of its 2019 exhibition calendar: Olga Picasso. The exhibition came about from the letters and photographs found in the travel trunk of the Russian dancer, who was Bernard Ruiz-Picasso’s grandmother, and it covers the years she and Picasso were together as a couple. It puts into perspective the creation of some of Picasso’s greatest works, and reconstrues this body of work in the context of a personal story that developed alongside another, political and social, story.
Olga Khokhlova (Nezhin, Ukraine, 1891– Cannes, France, 1955) was the daughter of a colonel in the Russian Imperial Army. In 1911 she joined the prestigious and innovative Ballet Russes company, which was highly successful in Europe at the start of the 20th-century under the direction of Serguei Diaghilev. She first met Pablo Picasso in Rome in the spring of 1917, when the artist was designing the sets and costumes for the ballet Parade. They were married in Paris, on 12th July 1918, and their first and only child, Paul, was born in February 1921. The couple separated in 1935, although they remained married until Olga’s death in Cannes, in 1955.
The Russian ballerina’s travel trunk, which her son received when he inherited the chateau of Boisgeloup - currently owned by the Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte (FABA) - contained letters and photographs that made it possible to put together a personal and artistic story which developed parallel to another, political and social, story. For many years, the drawers harboured Kodak envelopes full of photos that told the story of his grandparents, their life together, their travels, Picasso’s ateliers and more. In other compartments lay hundreds of letters in French and Russian, tied with little pink or blue silk ribbons. Olga’s trunk, engraved with her initials, also held her dance attire, ballet shoes, tutus, programmes and other more personal objects, such as a crucifix and a Russian Orthodox bible. The contents of the trunk, which was the only personal belonging Olga kept after her separation from Picasso, meant that aspects of the artist’s work during his time with her were able to be put into context.
Approximately 350 items will be shown in the exhibition, including paintings, works on paper, photographs, letters, documents and films. It has been jointly curated by Émilia Philippot, conservator of the Musée national Picasso-Paris; Joachim Pissarro, professor of art history and director of Hunter College Art Gallery (New York); and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, co-chair of the Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, FABA, president of the Executive Board of Museo Picasso Málaga and member of its Board of Trustees. The exhibition has been adapted for Museo Picasso Málaga by José Lebrero, the museum’s artistic director, and Sofía Díaz, its exhibitions coordinator.