Olga Khokhlova

Woman in a Hat (Olga) by Pablo Picasso, 1935. © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Droits reserves

Picasso met his first wife, the Ukrainian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, in spring 1917 when he was in Rome working on the designs for Parade – a short, wilfully avant-garde ballet with a scenario by Jean Cocteau, music by Erik Satie and choreography by Léonide Massine. The couple were married in Paris the following summer.

This portrait was painted in the year when the couple’s marriage came to an end. In caricatural fashion, Picasso itemised the large dark eyes, small pursed mouth and broad, pale features recorded in his earlier ‘straight’ portraits, while mocking the chic hats Olga favoured. Yet the painting is also tragic in the sadness and bewilderment written on her ashen, mask-like face. Picasso’s pictorial farewell is apparently barbed, but imbued with pity.