At the Musée de Montmartre, in Paris, Fernande Olivier, companion and model of Picasso


Fernande Olivier (1881-1966) is most often known only for having been the companion and model of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), from their meeting in August 1904 to their breakup in May 1912. Her book Picasso and his friends (1933) is read for what it brings back from a period all the more remarkable for being that of the Ladies of Avignon (1907) and cubism. His Intimate memories, published posthumously in 1988 by Calmann-Lévy, have received less attention, although they are no less interesting. The exhibition, which occupies two floors of the Musée de Montmartre, in Paris, a short distance from the Bateau-Lavoir where the couple lived until September 1909 and their move to Boulevard de Clichy, is also based on the two volumes. The chronicle of cubism and the intimate autobiography of Fernande are intertwined there.

When she meets Picasso, she chooses to keep her past silent. His first and last name are indeed his invention. She was born Amélie Lang, of an “undenounced” father, because he was married to a woman other than his mother. The maternal environment is that of the Parisian petty bourgeoisie, the artificial flower trade of his aunt. In 1898, she was raped by a man named Paul Percheron, brother-in-law of a store employee. On March 11, 1899, a son, André Robert, was born. She is forcibly married to the father, although a minor. Paul Percheron subjected her to rape and violence and, the following year, in 1900, she fled from the marital home.

Mme Amélie Percheron becomes the model Fernande Olivier. She lived for a time with the sculptor Laurent Debienne, in Montparnasse, then, in 1901, at the Bateau-Lavoir. She posed for academic glories such as Fernand Cormon or Jean-Jacques Henner, for society artists such as Giovanni Boldini, who tried to rape her and whom she forcibly rejected, and for younger people, including Catalan friends of Picasso, Joaquim Sunyer and Ricard Canals.

Born Amélie Lang, her first name and her model name, Fernande Olivier, are of her invention

This second part of his life is illustrated in the exhibition by variations on Spanish motifs by these two painters and a few others, including one Lodge at the bullfighting (1904), by Canals, where Fernande is disguised as a señora with a mantilla and a fan. It is also so by documents which remind how much being a model is tiring and, sometimes, dangerous. Also, Picasso refuses that she continues to pose as soon as she becomes his companion, with the exception of a few sessions in the studio of the neighbor, Kees van Dongen.

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