Khoklova, Olga (d. 1955)

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Khoklova, Olga (d. 1955)

Russian ballerina and wife of Pablo Picasso. Name variations: Khokhlova. Born in Russia; died in Cannes, France, in 1955; married Pablo Picasso (the painter), in 1918 (separated 1935); children: one son, Paulo (b. 1921).

Born into the lower echelons of Russian nobility, Olga Khoklova was a dancer with the Ballets Russes when she met and married artist Pablo Picasso, who designed sets and costumes for the ballet during World War I. Although Olga was beautiful, Picasso's attraction had more to do with her social status than aesthetics, and the marriage was doomed from the start. Picasso believed that he could maintain his independent bohemian lifestyle on a slightly grander scale, while Olga was intent upon molding her new husband into something more presentable. The newlyweds set up housekeeping in an apartment near the Champs-Élysées in Paris, and Olga gave birth to a son Paulo in 1921. During the 1920s, Olga introduced Picasso to Parisian high life, and the artist became distracted from his painting because of their rigorous social calendar.

In 1935, Picasso asked for a divorce. He had also taken a new mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter , who was pregnant at the time with his daughter Maya Picasso . The dissolution of the marriage was complicated by Spanish law, however, so the couple separated but remained legally married until Olga's death in 1955. In her book Life with Picasso,Françoise Gilot , another of the artist's mistresses and the mother of two of his children, recalled that Picasso took her to visit both the apartment and a house at Boisgeloup where he had lived with Olga. Gilot described going into one of the deserted rooms at the house. "There was nothing in it but a chair, the one that appears in the rather Ingresque 1917 portrait of Olga sitting in a chair, holding a fan. I began to have the feeling that if I looked into a closet, I would find half a dozen ex-wives hanging by their necks. The atmosphere was all dust, decay, and desertion, and it gave me a chill."

Khoklova, who had never wanted a divorce, became obsessed with Picasso, following him around France and taking up residence in hotels not far from his quarters. In 1947, she was in Midi, where Picasso was living with Gilot and their newborn son Claude. Olga's son Paulo frequently visited his father and Gilot during the summer, and Olga would follow the entourage to the beach, where she would try unsuccessfully to gain the attention of Picasso, whom she claimed, rightly so, was still her husband. She also followed Françoise on the street, demanding attention and swearing and yelling if she was ignored. Gilot writes that although she found Olga's behavior disturbing, she felt only pity. "She was a very unhappy, unfortunate creature, incapable of coping with the situation in which she found herself. I have never seen a more solitary person than she. Everyone avoided her. People were afraid to stop and speak to her, knowing what they would be letting themselves in for."

During her later years, Olga Khoklova lived in Cannes, and it was there that she died of cancer in 1955. At the time, Paulo was recovering from complications from a hernia operation and could not be with his mother, so she died alone. Ironically, she was buried in Vallauris, a place she hated after Picasso moved there with Françoise Gilot.


Gilot, Françoise, with Carlton Lake. Life with Picasso. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1964.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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