In 1965, Pierre Daix, while preparing his catalogue of Picasso's Blue and Rose period works, showed the artist a photograph of this painting, which was hitherto known simply as La femme au châle and had never been published. "C'est Germaine, la femme de Pichot," Picasso told him (in P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 31). The significance of this portrait was immediately apparent: Germaine was the young coquette for whose affections Picasso's friend Carles Casagemas had killed himself. Picasso also had a liaison with her. Moreover, Picasso informed Daix that he painted this picture in Barcelona, not Paris, which indicated that memories of Germaine continued to haunt Picasso's thoughts, months after they had broken up. Indeed, the presence of Germaine ran like a throbbing vein in Picasso's life from the years 1900 to 1903, as the artist left his youth behind, entered manhood, and created his Blue paintings, in his first signature style.
Picasso met Germaine, née Laure Gargallo (fig.1), in the fall of 1900, during his first trip to Paris with his close friend Casagemas. Germaine (who was possibly of partly Spanish background), her half-sister Antoinette Fornerod, and another girl, Louise Lenoir (known as Odette), comprised a lively trio who liked to mix with the young Spanish artists who were flocking to Paris, for whom they would model. Germaine may have also worked as a laundress. Casagemas quickly fell in love with Germaine. She was married to an obscure character named Florentin, who appears to have tolerated her affairs. Picasso formed a liaison with Odette, the only girl of the three who did not speak Spanish--Picasso knew very little French. Manuel Pallarès, another Catalan painter who shared a studio with Picasso and Casagemas, was also attracted to Odette, but settled for Antoinette.
Casagemas desperately wanted Germaine to leave her husband so that he could marry her. He was impotent, however, from a congenital defect that might have easily been remedied by surgery, and had a drug habit. As much as she was touched by the attention of this sensitive young man, Germaine would not give up the security of her marriage. Driven mad by frustration, Casagemas tried to shoot Germaine in a Paris café on the night of 17 February 1901, at a dinner where Pallarès, Odette and other friends gathered to mark his imminent return to Barcelona. His shot missed, but he believed he had killed Germaine when she dived to the floor behind Pallarès. Suddenly regretting his foolishness, Casagemas turned the gun on himself and fired. He was rushed by police to a hospital, but died a few hours later.
Picasso was in Madrid when these terrible events transpired, and was deeply affected by his friend's suicide. Although he did not hurry back to Paris or even attend Casagemas' memorial service in Barcelona, Picasso provided a drawing of him for an obituary in a Barcelona art journal. When Picasso finally returned to Paris in May 1901, he was looking forward to an exhibition of his work that his friend and agent Père Mañach had arranged at Ambroise Vollard's gallery in late June. The artist and promoter stayed in the apartment where Casagemas had spent his last days. Odette would have liked to resume her relationship with Picasso, but, to the consternation of his friends, the artist instead took up with Germaine, who since the death of Casagemas had been having an affair with the Catalan sculptor Manolo (Manuel Martínez Hugué). Picasso seemed irresistibly drawn to the femme fatale who had been the object of Casegemas' obsession, as if he were compelled to carry on the affair beyond the point where his suicidal companion had left it. Young Picasso liked to show off his amorous conquests, and took perverse pleasure in the jealousies he sowed amongst those around him. He even drew a cartoon in which he depicted Germaine and himself in bed, as Odette enters to catch them in the act (Palau i Fabre, no., 651; fig. 2). In a more pleasant mood, Picasso painted a delightful, small portrait of Germaine around this time, in which she is seen, more respectably, seated in her best hat and finery (Zervos, vol. 21, no. 153; fig. 3).
Picasso's exhibition at Vollard's gallery closed in July, and that summer Picasso had every reason to be pleased with his recent accomplishments. This was the high point of his second trip to Paris. He was not yet twenty years old, and he had already been given his first major exhibition at a prestigious gallery in the capital, the very locus of the European art world. John Richardson has written that "The Vollard exhibition was a stunning bravura performance for a neophyte, and it included some brilliant tours de force... The show was not only a succès d'estime; it was, in a modest way, a financial success. Well over half the items sold" (in op. cit., p. 199). Picasso soon began to take requests to do posters and magazine illustrations, and his friend the critic Gustave Coquiot, who had written the preface to the Vollard exhibition catalogue, asked the artist to execute a series of drawings of popular dance hall entertainers for publication. And no less important for such an ardent and aspiring young man, Picasso had a sexy girlfriend--Germaine.
Picasso's affair with Germaine lasted only a short time, however, and probably ended in the fall of 1901. She subsequently went to live with Ramon Pichot, another painter in Picasso's circle of ex-patriate Catalans, whom she married in 1906 or 1907. Picasso could not put Germaine out of his mind, however, especially as her presence was a powerful reminder of the departed Casagemas, whom he now mourned and eulogized openly in his paintings. That fall he executed two pictures of the suicide laid out on his bier (Daix and Boudaille, nos. VI.5 and VI.6; Musée Picasso, Paris), a painting of his mourners (Zervos, vol. 1, no. 52), and the large allegorical Evocation, The Burial of Casegemas (Zervos, vol. 1, no. 55; Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris), a composition partly inspired by El Greco's El encierro del Conde de Orgaz. In one of the pencil studies for Evocation, the nude ghost of Germaine hovers over the dead Casagamas (Zervos, vol. 6, no. 356). Richardson has suggested that Germaine is the nude seen kissing Casagemas, as he ascends heavenward on a white horse, in Evocation (ibid., p. 213).
The money Picasso made from the sales during the Vollard exhibition quickly ran out. His prospects in the aftermath of the show had seemed so favorable that he did not put any cash aside for the future. As his situation deteriorated, a gloomy and uneasy feeling descended on the young man, which was further aggravated by his preoccupation with the suicide of his best friend. Picasso began to paint the inmates of Saint-Lazare, a women's prison in Montmartre run by Dominican nuns. Most of the women were incarcerated for offenses related to prostitution; Magdalenian penitence was a requisite aspect of their daily prison regimen. The inmates wore a special head covering, often (but erroneously) referred to as a "Phrygian" bonnet; those who were diagnosed with syphilis wore a white coif. Picasso could paint these poor women free of charge, and their unfortunate and downtrodden lives seemed to correspond to a growing sense of malaise and morbidity in his own life. Richardson posed the question, "Where else could he find models that exemplified his equivocal view of sex as ecstatic and tender, but also guilt-inducing and bound up with suffering, even death?" (in ibid., p. 219).
By the end of 1901, in a space of less than eight months since Picasso's hopeful arrival in Paris that spring, the reversal of the young artist's fortunes was now complete. He was penniless and could not afford supplies; he grew bored, and his boisterous, carefree comrades had become tiresome and parasitic. He later recalled, "It [the Vollard show] went very well. It pleased a lot of people. It was only later when I set about to do some blue paintings that things went badly. This lasted for years" (quoted in P. Daix and G. Boudaille, op. cit., p. 154). In January 1902 Picasso received some money from home, and used it to return to Barcelona, where he stayed with his parents. He found a studio nearby and resumed working, picking up with the melancholy blue subjects he had been painting in Paris. While he found his subjects among the poor and dispossessed on the streets of Barcelona, the women of Saint-Lazare, those archetypes of female suffering, continued to cast their spell on him. The image of Germaine had already become bound up with these bent and wraithlike figures. Pierre Daix has noted that Germaine was possibly the model for the laundress seen ironing in La repasseuse (Daix and Boudaille, no. VI.27; fig. 4), which Picasso painted toward the end of his stay in Paris and dedicated to his friend Jaime Sabartès.
Picasso painted the present portrait of Germaine in Barcelona; the artist was now deeply into his Blue period. Unlike other depictions of women around this time, with their gauntly stylized features--sunken and bulging eyes, elongated noses, and thin lips--Germaine has been portrayed as a specific individual, an obviously attractive and strong-willed young woman. Richardson has written:
"Picasso's memories of Saint-Lazare manifest themselves in a steamy portrait of Germain Pichot. She is portrayed, eyes aglitter, mouth half open, lips suggestively curled, wearing a headscarf very like the "Phrygian" bonnet, and posed in front of the archway which, time and again, stands in for the Escorial-like galleries of the women's prison. Was this a private joke--a veiled way of accusing Germaine of whorishness or conceivably, of having syphilis? Her past history and future invalidism make his a possibility. Or was Picasso making an ironical observation on the end of her affair with him and the start of another with his old friend Ramon Pichot? Whatever point it was intended to make, this painting exemplifies Picasso's habit--more pronounced in later years--of charging the portraits of the women in his life with hidden messages and manipulative devices: sometimes calculated to warn or punish or tease; sometimes to seduce or entrap." (op. cit., p. 237).
Josep Palau i Fabre has pointed out a related drawing, whose present whereabouts are unknown, which Picasso executed in early 1902 and was subsequently published as an illustration for a poem by Pere Prat Jabal-Li in the March-April issue of the Barcelona review Auba (fig. 5). Picasso turned again to the figure and visage of Germaine during his stay in Barcelona, which lasted until he decamped to Paris for a third time in October. Germaine was, according to Daix, the inspiration for the two women of Saint-Lazare seen in L'entrevue (Les deux soeurs; Zervos, vol. 1, no, 163; fig. 6), the largest and most important of the paintings that Picasso made in Barcelona during 1902. It was not until 1903, however, following Picasso's return to Barcelona from his short but disastrous third stay in Paris, that Germaine was given her ultimate and most intimately revealing portrayal. She is the woman seen leaning, nude and repentant, on Casagemas in La vie (Zervos, vol.1, no. 179; fig. 7), Picasso's finest and most ambitious painting up to that time, which was probably painted in May 1903. In a series of drawings done in preparation for the painting (Zervos, vol. 6, no. 534; vol. 22, no. 44; and a third in the Museu Picasso, Barcelona), Picasso depicted himself in Germaine's embrace, in the position that the figure of Casegemas ultimately assumed in the completed painting.
Even if tragic memories of the triangular relationship between Picasso, Germaine, and Casagemas were largely exorcised in La vie, Germaine continued to be a presence in Picasso's life. Fernande Olivier, who became Picasso's first long-term mistress in 1904, appears to have been jealous of Germaine's earlier role in Picasso's love-life, and played down her importance in her memoirs. Ramon Pichot died in 1925, and not long afterwards Germaine became an invalid, very likely the consequence of syphilis. Picasso gave Germaine money until her death in 1948, and on one occasion took Françoise Gilot, his mistress in the years following the Second World War, to visit her in Montmartre. Picasso remarked to Françoise:
That woman's name is Germaine Pichot. She is old and toothless and poor and unfortunate now. But when she was young she was very pretty and made a painter friend of mine suffer so much he committed suicide She was a young laundress when I first came to Paris. The first people we looked up, this friend of mine and I, were this woman and friends of hers with whom she was living. We had been given their names by friends in Spain and they used to have us come eat with them from time to time. She turned a lot of heads. (quoted in F. Gilot, with C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 82).
(fig. 1) Photograph of Germaine Pichot. BARCODE 24771443
(fig. 2) Illustrated letter to Miquel Utrillo (detail), June 1901. Senyora Barbey Collection, Barcelona. BARCODE 24771436
(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Germaine, Paris, 1901. Sold, Christie's, New York, 6 November 2001, lot 46. BARCODE 24771429
(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, La repasseuse, Paris, 1901. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. BARCODE 24771412
(fig. 5) Drawing by Picasso published in the Barcelona review Auba, March-April 1902. BARCODE 24771405
(fig. 6) Pablo Picasso, L'entrevue (Les deux soeurs), Barcelona, 1902. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg. BARCODE 24771399
(fig. 7) Pablo Picasso, La vie, Barcelona, 1903. The Cleveland Museum of Art. BARCODE 24771382