In the following interview, taken from the new book Maya Ruiz-Picasso, daughter of PabloDiana Widmaier-Picasso interviews her mother, Maya Ruiz-Picasso, about her childhood as the great artist’s first child.
Do you remember when you first learned about your father’s work outside of the father-daughter bond?
Yes, that was in the 1940s. I liked to tell people that my father was a house painter, even though everyone knew who Picasso was at the time, but often saw him as an impostor, a charlatan.
What was your relationship with your father’s entourage: the artists, his merchants, the craftsmen of Vallauris?
I was very close to Braque and his wife Marcelle; I considered him my uncle. I also often saw Miró, whom my father was very fond of. I was also very fond of André Breton and I am still friends with his daughter Aube.
Ambroise Vollard died when I was four, so I don’t really remember him. But my mother told me that I often slept in her arms. He hosted us with my father in his house in Tremblay-sur-Mauldre, 40 kilometers from Paris. My mother and I lived there from the fall of 1936 until the war, and my father joined us there on weekends. My grandmother, Jaime Sabartés, and his wife, Mercedes, lived with us, as well as the driver Marcel Boudin. I knew Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler better, but I only met Paul Rosenberg once, when I was 20. I also met Brassaï, then Matisse when I was 15; he was then very old and died a few years later, in 1954.
I think you particularly liked Max Pellequer.
Max Pellequer was my father’s friend, advisor and banker. He managed his expenses and paid his bills. I also often saw his brother Raoul, who was in the office next door. Every Thursday, I went with my father to the vault of the BNCI [now BNP Paribas], at 16 Boulevard des Italiens. That’s where the safe was, in a five-by-three-meter room. My father often said, “You have to live modestly and have a lot of money in your pocket. He was thrifty, but he was not really aware of what he had and let his work pile up in all his workshops.
Picasso made you little toys during the war. How did he make them?
I only had a few toys at the time. He made paintings for dollhouses from matchboxes. He made me paper theaters, characters and animals, and told me stories by making the animals move with little paws. He also made me a family of small fabric figures with chickpea heads.
You are particularly fond of the still lifes painted by Picasso during the war. What interests you most about this job?
Still lifes are sometimes neglected, wrongly. Yet they convey the general atmosphere of a particular era. Through simple colors recreated on canvas, one could dream of cherries or the end of war and fear. Still lifes above all convey the moods of painters. For example, my father liked flowers and fleshy plants, some in shades of orange and yellow, colors reminiscent of Spain.
Picasso had a special relationship with inanimate things, with objects. He kept everything, palettes, shoes and even nail clippings and hair. How do you interpret this habit? Did it have something to do with beliefs, with the fear of being forgotten, or some sort of memory ritual?
My father gave me his nail clippings because he was very afraid that people would use them against him. He was afraid that someone, anyone, would take them and cast some kind of spell. He gave them to my mom or me, because he knew we loved him and weren’t going to hex him.
Do you know when he started collecting these souvenirs?
After I was born, it became a habit. I was flesh of his flesh, I looked terribly like him, and nothing could happen to us, neither to him nor to me.
Did Picasso talk to you about religion?
Never. But he told me about his baptism. My mother had medallions and photographs of Jesus, the ones they made for first communions and baptisms. She had a great respect for the “photos of the Good Lord”, as she called them.
You wrote to [Picasso biographer] Pierre Daix after his death. Is it because you are a believer?
No. I have always written after the death of the people I love, after the death of my photographer friend André Villers too. It’s more a form of mysticism, actually. He thought I was from another planet because I knew a lot.
The name you were given at birth has religious connotations: “María de la Concepción”. We find it written by Picasso in your notebooks. Do you know where this name comes from and who chose it?
When I was born, the last thing my parents expected was a girl. The first name that came to mind was that of my father’s sister, Conchita, short for Concepción, who died of diphtheria at the age of seven. He had sworn to God to stop painting and drawing if his sister was spared. He interprets this event as a divine sign that pushes him to make art and to stop believing in God. Because I couldn’t pronounce my first name, they opted for “Maya”, which means so many things: the greatest cosmic illusion in Sanskrit, the Mayans of Central America… And yet, it took me nearly 60 years old to obtain the right to call myself Maya under French law. And so I was born twice, if not three times.
You seemed to get along well with Paulo, your big brother [son of Pablo Picasso and Olga Khokhlova]. When did you first meet him?
One day, my father said to me: “He is your brother. I was 10 years old, it was after the war in Paris. I remember he was driving a motorbike and taking me in his sidecar. We were joking a lot. He was very proud to have such a beautiful and intelligent little sister! [Laughs]
When Marcel Boudin left, Paulo drove my father for several years. Marcel had been my father’s driver since 1934. At the time, he drove my father and my mother from Paris to the Château de Boisgeloup.
Did you know Olga, Paulo’s mother?
Yes, I met her briefly. I was 12 at the time and I was at Paulo’s, painting his new apartment. She came with cakes and toys for her grandchildren. It was the first time I had seen her. I felt that the relationship with my father was difficult. They didn’t even use his first name.
I saw Marina [Paulo’s daughter and Olga and Picasso’s granddaughter] baby, and my mom brought her to my dad. She said, “Here, that’s your granddaughter.” She took Marina to him, she was in her diapers. That’s why Marina always said that my mother was a bit like her grandmother.
What was your experience of Picasso’s relationship with Dora Maar?
I was still a child, but I met her several times. She was the exact opposite of my mother, who was blonde and calm, while Dora Maar was a brunette with a strong temperament. Relations with my mother were difficult. Dora couldn’t have children and she had to suffer for it. My father did everything to prevent them from meeting. Dora came to the Grands-Augustins workshop in the morning or late in the evening and we went there in the afternoon to get logs and coal for our stove. One day we arrived and there she was, standing next to Guernica. I felt that my father was uncomfortable and my mother was tense. I was five years old. I started crying and told my dad, “I don’t want to see the drooling lady. I was talking about Dora Maar, who licked her lips a lot. I never saw him again. Another time, my mother realized that he was giving them the same Jacques Heim dresses. She went to see Dora Maar, who lived on rue de Savoie, because there had been a delivery error. This led to a rather stormy exchange.
Extract of Maya Ruiz-Picasso, daughter of Pablo, published by SKIRA Editore, edited by Émilia Philippot and Diana Widmaier-Ruiz-Picasso. (Published on the occasion of the exhibition “Maya Ruiz-Picasso, Daughter of Pablo”, presented at the Musée National Picasso-Paris until December 31, 2022.)
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