Childhood & Early Life
Olga Stepanovna Khokhlova was born on June 17, 1891, in Nezhin, Chernihiv Oblast (province) of northern Ukraine, which was then part of the Russian Empire. Her mother, Lydia Zinchenko, was Ukrainian, while her father was a Russian officer. She had three brothers and a sister.
Olga was highly influenced after watching Madame Shroessont's ballet performance in France. Since then, she aspired to become a ballerina.
Olga became a member of the Paris-based itinerant ballet company named 'Ballets Russes,' founded by Russian art critic, patron, and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev.
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Olga performed at the premiere show of the ballet titled 'Parade' at the 'Théâtre du Châtelet' in Paris on May 18, 1917. The show was created by Sergei Diaghilev, Erik Satie, and Jean Cocteau, while Picasso was the costume and set designer for the production.
She did not readily accept Picasso's romantic proposals. However, the painter, who was 35 back then, had already been rejected by two women whom he had proposed to. Hence, he did not want to spend more years in pursuing another woman and was totally ready for commitment.
Olga eventually accepted his proposal, and they soon decided to get married. She had left the ballet group by then. Thus, when the group's production toured South America, Olga stayed back with Picasso in Barcelona.
He introduced Olga to his family. His mother was quite apprehensive of her son's decision to marry a non-Spanish girl. To convince her, Picasso gifted her a painting of Olga in which she dressed as a Spanish girl. The painting is popularly known as 'Olga Khokhlova in Mantilla.'
Olga and Picasso lived in Spain with his family for a while, until she received her visa to France. The two returned to Paris and began living together on the Rue La Boétie.
Unfortunately, a few days before the scheduled wedding, Olga sustained a foot injury, which was possibly an old injury that had reoccurred. She required surgery. Hence, they postponed the wedding plans.
Marriage & Family Life with Picasso
Olga and Picasso got married on July 12, 1918, at the ‘Russian Orthodox Cathedral’ at the Rue Daru. Jean Cocteau and renowned artist Max Jacob were witnesses to the marriage.
During their honeymoon in Chilean art patron Eugenia Errázuriz’s villa, located near Biarritz in Southwestern France, Olga suffered complications from her foot injury. She was thus bedridden for weeks. She did recover subsequently but never performed in public again.
After returning to Paris, Picasso faced a financial crisis and thus began his life-long friendship with French Jewish art dealer Paul Rosenberg. Rosenberg sponsored the rent of an apartment for the couple. The apartment was located in a wealthy neighborhood near Rosenberg's house.
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In 1918, Picasso released his work 'Portrait d'Olga dans un fauteuil' ('Olga in an Armchair'). In July 1919, she accompanied him to London to watch the ballet 'Le Tricorne.' Picasso was the costume and stage designer of the show, following Diaghilev's wishes.
With the birth of their son, Paulo (Paul), on February 4, 1921, Olga and Picasso's marriage turned sour. Despite their tumultuous relationship, he tried to be a good father but ultimately failed to be one.
During the summer of 1922, Olga was in Dinard and was terribly sick due to gynaecological issues. Doctors suggested that she must go through surgery. She had surgery again in 1928, after which she underwent a series of surgeries followed by long periods of recovery.
In 1927, Picasso met a 17-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter and began a clandestine affair with her. Thereafter she became a regular muse for his paintings. Though Olga had no idea about the affair, she was well aware of his slips, which made her jealous and resentful.
Around the same time, Picasso expressed his negative feelings for Olga through his paintings.
In 1935, Olga came to know about the affair from a friend. She also came to know that Walter was pregnant with Picasso’s child.
Following this, Olga took her son, Paulo, and moved to 'Hotel California' in the South of France. She then filed for divorce. Picasso, however, did not agree to a divorce because of his reservations about the legal act and also because he did not want her to own half of his property according to the French law.
They remained legally married until her death in 1955.
Final Years & Death
In Olga's final years, Suzanne Ramié, one of the co-founders of the 'Madoura Pottery' studio in Vallauris, which exhibited Picasso's artworks, often visited her. Every time she would meet Suzanne, Olga would request her to get her to see Picasso for once. Picasso knew about Olga's wish but refused to meet her.
Olga died on February 11, 1955, and was buried in an English cemetery.