Marina Picasso: selling my grandfather’s art is a way of helping me heal

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Marina Picasso: selling my grandfather’s art is a way of helping me heal” was written by Angelique Chrisafis in Paris and Mark Brown, for The Guardian on Sunday 24th May 2015 13.39 UTC

Pablo Picasso’s granddaughter is to sell one of the most extensive collections of the artist’s ceramics in an attempt to help her turn the page on a traumatic, miserable childhood.

Marina Picasso is selling, through Sotheby’s, a remarkable group of one-off plates, tiles, vases and other small sculptural figures that her grandfather made between 1947 and the late 1960s.

The sale is important for Marina and the art market more widely. But it also shines a light on a family history blighted by alcoholism and suicide.

Speaking to the Guardian from the 19th-century villa La Californie, Picasso’s house in Cannes which she inherited and uses as a holiday home, Marina explained the reasons for the sale and reflected on the psychological turmoil that came from being related to the most famous artist in the world.

Marina is the daughter of Picasso’s son, Paulo, who was born of the painter’s first marriage to the Russian ballet dancer Olga Khokhlova. Both Marina’s parents struggled with alcoholism, and they split up when she was five months old, leaving her and her older brother, Pablito, to be cared for by their mother.

Spanish artist Pablo Picasso.
Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. Photograph: George Stroud/Getty Images

She has written about how she and her brother grew up in misery and her father had to beg for money from the artist. They rarely saw Picasso and would have to wait for hours at the gate of his house to be received.

Aged 22, when Picasso died without a will, she inherited a fifth of the artist’s estate despite never being given any of his work when she was alive and having no relationship with him. Gripped by the pain of the poor family relationships and Picasso’s treatment of her father and his family, her first gesture after inheriting his villa was to turn all Picasso’s paintings to face the wall.

Marina, now 64, owns an astonishing collection comprising more than 10,000 works, including around 300 paintings; she recently revealed she planned to gradually sell off works to fund her charity activities.

Femme fleurs by Picasso.
Femme fleurs by Picasso.

The sale is also a way of putting her affairs in order now that her five children, including three she adopted as babies from an orphanage in Vietnam, were grown up. She said she could not keep the works for ever.

“The sale is certainly also a way of turning the page. It’s about turning the page on a whole childhood. I suffered a lot as a child and a young woman. Being Picasso’s granddaughter was very hard. I don’t snub the inheritance, not at all, I just want a lighter way to live and to be able to devote myself to my humanitarian work. There is absolutely no hatred, no bitterness, no vengeance on my part.”

All the ceramics are unique. “I chose to put together a collection of work that was beautiful and interesting, which could go on sale and be shown. And often a part of these sales – sometimes all of it – I chose to give to humanitarian projects or hospitals.”

Pablo and Marina Picasso
Marina Picasso with her grandfather Pablo. Photograph: Rex

There was no need for her to keep everything, she said: “It was an inheritance without love. There were no family links. In a normal life, when a grandmother or grandfather leaves an object, even if it’s of no value, you love it because it belonged to them and was left with love. In this case, there was none of that. The only thing that carried an attachment was a painting of my father and one of my grandmother, who I loved and lost at the aged of six; those pictures helped me to grow.”

Lot 114 Picasso, Centaure avec chouette.
Lot 114 Picasso, Centaure avec chouette.

She said Picasso was “non-existent” as a grandfather. “It was complicated by his last wife Jacqueline, who, to protect him, excluded others, including my father. When my father wanted to see him at the villa, he would have to wait four, five, six hours outside in the street before being received. To a child of four or five that left a strong impression. I still have a trauma with notions of time, if I have an appointment and the other person is not quite on time, I really suffer. I’ve worked on it, but before it was very bad.”

Marina’s older brother Pablito killed himself aged 25 after being excluded from Picasso’s funeral. He drank bleach and suffered for months before dying.

“It was not just being excluded, of course, but it was the summation of his life. He never managed to detach himself from all that was Picasso, even as a teenager – for him it was strong and overwhelmingly present,” she said. “The less he saw of our grandfather, the more he needed to see him, the more he valued him, identified with him, he thought he was his saviour. As a girl, perhaps, I was better at understanding not to expect anything from someone who could never give it. For my brother, if he hadn’t loved Picasso so much, maybe he wouldn’t be dead.

“When my father saw Picasso, it was very difficult. My father had a problem with alcohol of course, and when he had to wait hours to see his father, he would drink. That was very hard for us children to witness.”

She said she had no photos of her with Picasso and he gave her nothing in his lifetime. “He never gave anything to us all when he was alive. We had a very hard life, living in close to misery. He never gave us as much as a sketch, although he gave sketches to his hairdresser or cleaner. All that made it much harder when I inherited from him. I had no affectionate link to my grandfather so it was very hard to deal with.”

Marina Picasso in front of the Cannes villa whose gates were often closed to her while Pablo Picasso was still alive.
Marina Picasso in front of the Cannes villa whose gates were often closed to her while Pablo Picasso was still alive. Photograph: Jean Christophe Magnenet/AFP/Getty Images

On a rare occasion she and her brother went to Picasso’s villa in Cannes and he drew flowers for them on a piece of paper, but they weren’t allowed to keep it. She remembers the pet goat Esmeralda had more free access at the villa than she did. “It was something that as a child really struck me.”

Asked if she was, as reports have stated, planning to sell other works directly herself without intermediaries, Marina said that although she had worked well with auction houses in the past, she could at some point make private sales directly to collectors. “I think it’s a healthier way of doing things.

“Sometimes one can end up suddenly with 15 intermediaries for a sale, I just wanted to take things in hand and have more of a direct link to the buyers. I felt people could contact me directly. It could allow for a healthier relationship with collectors.”

Asked if she was selling the villa in Cannes, Marina said it was not on the market, but if she found somewhere else, she would sell it.

Sotheby’s is selling 126 ceramics with an estimated combined value of £4.5m. “It is incredibly exciting,” said its impressionist and modern art specialist James Mackie. “It is a unique moment in terms of the auction history for selling Picasso.”

Auction houses are used to selling Picasso ceramic editions and multiples that were produced but these are all one-offs hand-painted by the artist himself.

“There is an incredible raw quality to them, many are unglazed and you really do get a sense of the artist and his inventiveness but also the playful side of his personality as well. It is very evident that he was having a lot of fun at the pottery in Vallauris creating these things and just being very experimental.”

The ceramics will feature in a stand-alone sale on 25 June in London.

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