Pablo Picasso, La Lampe, 1931
“My grandfather was born the day he died,” Olivier Widmaier Picasso likes to say. Although a few of his artworks scattered the family home, and Picasso’s mother, Maya, referred to him fondly as “Papa,” Pablo and Olivier had never met.
Pablo’s presence in Picasso’s life had been spectral, at best. Marie-Thérèse Walter, Oliver’s maternal grandmother, was Pablo’s muse and mistress from 1927 to about 1935, and there had been many women (and many children) since.
But in April of 1973, when Picasso encountered a news report on television announcing his grandfather’s death, his life changed for good. “That day I realized [that he was] probably much more than I thought,” Picasso says. Friends and strangers wondered aloud about who would inherit what (1,885 paintings; 7,089 drawings; 1,228 sculptures; 6,112 lithographs; and 18,095 engravings were scattered between several houses, with no recorded will to divide them up); and there were lots of knotty disputes over money (Pablo’s estate was reportedly appraised at $250 million in 1980 but could be worth much more). An awareness of what it meant to be part of the Picasso universe—both the privileges, and the burdens—came to Olivier Picasso right away. But the far slower and more difficult task would be getting to know Pablo Picasso, the man.