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SPOTLIGHT: Books about Pablo Picasso

Friday, July 31, 2015

This week on the blog, I am celebrating Madame Picasso by Anne Girard, a sad and beautiful novel about one of the women who helped inspire the artistic genius of Pablo Picasso. 

I’ve read a lot about Picasso, and thought I’d share with you a few of my favourite other books on him and his life (the blurbs are all from Goodreads -


Life with Picasso

by Françoise Gilot

Francoise Gilot was a young painter in Paris when she first met Picasso - he was sixty-two and she was only twenty-one. During the following ten years they were lovers, worked closely together and she became mother to two of his children, Claude and Paloma. Life with Picasso, her account of those extraordinary years, is filled with intimate and astonishing revelations about the man, his work, his thoughts and his friends - Matisse, Braque, Gertrude Stein and Giacometti, among others. Francois Gilot paints a compelling portrait of her turbulent life with the temperamental (and even abusive) genius that was Picasso. As one of the few intimate witnesses to Picasso as a human being and as an artist, her account of him is invaluable for assessing him on both counts. 

My comments: This is my favourite of all the books I have read. Francoise has a lovely writing style, and she is such a strong, free spirit – you really want her to survive life with this extraordinarily brilliant yet brutal man. 

Gertrude Stein, painted by Pablo Picasso


by Gertrude Stein

For more than a generation, Gertrude Stein's Paris home at 27 rue de Fleurus was the center of a glittering coterie of artists and writers, one of whom was Pablo Picasso. In this intimate and revealing memoir, Stein tells us much about the great man (and herself) and offers many insights into the life and art of the 20th century's greatest painter.

Mixing biological fact with artistic and aesthetic comments, she limns a unique portrait of Picasso as a founder of Cubism, an intimate of Appollinaire, Max Jacob, Braque, Derain, and others, and a genius driven by a ceaseless quest to convey his vision of the 20th century. We learn, for example, of the importance of his native Spain in shaping Picasso's approach to art; of the influence of calligraphy and African sculpture; of his profound struggle to remain true to his own vision; of the overriding need to empty himself of the forms and ideas that welled up within him.

Stein's close relationship with Picasso furnishes her with a unique vantage point in composing this perceptive and provocative reminiscence. It will delight any admirer of Picasso or Gertrude Stein; it is indispensable to an understanding of modern art.

My comments: This is the classic Picasso biography, told by someone who knew him. Its quite possibly Stein’s best writing too. 

Picasso, My Grandfather

by Marina Picasso

This is a memoir of living in the shadow of the man whose family members were forced to call him "The Sun" -- the twentieth century's most famous painter who, in becoming so, dominated the lives of his wives, his children and his grandchildren -- as told by Marina Picasso, the granddaughter of Pablo Picasso and his first wife, Olga Khokhlova, a former Russian ballerina who remained married to him until her death.

While writers, artists and film stars were allowed into Picasso's orbit, he kept his family outside of it, not only in impoverished conditions but in terror of provoking his displeasure -- unable to carve lives and identities of their own. After years of being disdained by Picasso, first Marina's brother committed suicide and then Marina's father drank himself to death. Marina's own estrangement and subsequent breakdown followed, until at last, through grief and awakening, she came to terms with the blessings and curses of the Picasso legacy -- the result of which is in part this disturbing account of Pablo Picasso's private family life.

My comments: this is a really sad and moving story that made me really dislike Picasso – I don’t think great art should be made at the expense of people. However, I’d really recommend reading it if you are at all interested in Picasso – her insights into his art and his genius are fascinating. And don’t be afraid the story will be too dark - it has an uplifting end!


Marian with her grandfather as a child, and in recent years with one of her grandfather's sketches

Picasso: Creator And Destroyer

by Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington

Huffington strips bare the romantic myths to reveal, in all its volatile complexity, Picasso's lifelong struggle between his power to create and his compulsion to destroy.

My comments: A rather breathless style, lots of guesswork and suppositions, and a strong emphasis on Picasso’s private life rather than his art, this book is nonetheless a fascinating read … and easy to whip through in a few sittings. 

My own novel Dancing on Knives was obliquely inspired by the life of Pablo Picasso.  Set in Australia, and referencing 'The Littler Mermaid' fairy tale, it is the story of Sara, the lonely daughter of an egotistical Spanish artist named Augusto, who sought to emulate Picasso in both his art and his love life. It was my first novel, written in my 20s, and recently republished with a gorgeous new cover:  

INTERVIEW: Anne Girard, author of Madame Picasso

Thursday, July 30, 2015

On the blog today, I am very pleased to welcome Anne Girard, the author of Madame Picasso, a historical novel inspired by the little–known life of Eva Gouel, one of Pablo Picasso’s most enigmatic models and muses. I loved the book (you can read my review here) and I hope you will too!

Are you a day dreamer too? 

I certainly spend a lot of time dreaming up fanciful things to write about! It doesn’t take much for inspiration to strike and when it does I find myself imagining scenes, dialogue, characters. I guess that does make me a bit of a day dreamer.


Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I wrote my first novel (which was awful!) when I was in high school, 178 hand-written pages. Back then, it was a hobby for me, the way kids today play video games. That being said, I didn’t believe that I could make writing a career so after earning my bachelor’s degree in English literature, I went to graduate school and now hold a master’s degree in clinical psychology intent on going into private practice. But no education is a waste. I like to believe my background in psychology helps me with my character development at least.


Tell me a little about yourself—where were you born, where do you live, and what do you like to do?

I was born in Santa Barbara, a coastal town in California, which I left to attend UCLA. I’ve been married for 30 years, we have two amazing children and we still live in Southern California. When I’m not writing, we love to travel which I do extensively for research. Both of our kids were raised in a suitcase, so to speak, and have been with us to France, England, Italy, Ireland and Spain, as I researched my stories.


How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?

I’m fascinated by artists and writers, and what makes them tick. I love art museums and in New York I saw Picasso’s painting Ma Jolie, which was inspired by an early lover. It was so entirely different in my mind to his previous work I knew I had to learn a little bit about it, and about her. From there, I was hooked! The story of their love affair became Madame Picasso.


How extensively do you plan your novels?

Fairly extensively. While I like to leave room each time for the characters themselves to have a ‘say’ in plot and dialogue, I outline the novel fully before I begin. Then I travel to whatever location in which the book will be set so that I am able to see what my characters saw. That was advice I received many years ago from the legendary novelist, Irving Stone when we met. It was advice I very much took to heart. I can’t expect my readers to be transported to places I have never actually seen. After that, I binge on biographies, maps, history books about the times, food, and clothing. Most of that needs to be in place before I begin writing.


Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

Frequently, yes. I keep a paper and pen at my bedside just in case!


Did you make an astonishing, serendipitous discoveries while writing this book? 

By having the privilege of interviewing one of Picasso’s last living friends, I did discover that, contrary to public perception, Picasso could be incredibly gentle, loving, and very generous. For whatever reason, he chose never to defend himself publicly against the accusations several of his former lovers made, or at least explain his side of things. In Madame Picasso, I therefore tried to offer up another side of the artist. I hope I succeeded.


A painting of Eva Gouel by Pablo Picasso

Where do you write, and when?

I write five days a week, and in the morning when I’m fresh creatively. I have an office in my home where I write either at my desk or in a big comfy chair I have there.


What is your favorite part of writing? 

I love when my characters do something unexpected, or take me in a direction which I had no planned for them to go.  That’s when I know I am really connecting with them and with my story.


What do you do when you get blocked?

If I’m blocked, I know it’s time for me to walk away for a few hours, or a day or so. It means I’m trying too hard or forcing the story. For me, that’s usually all it takes and I can get back to it.


How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I’m always seeking, researching, reading which helps me come upon new subjects, or new potential storylines, and that is inspiring to me. I love the idea of a new book yet to be written, a new angle on an old story. All of that is inspiring to me.


Do you have any rituals that help you write?

I like to be centered mentally and focused before I begin, so my habit it is to go into my office, go through my social media obligations and email, and get those all off my plate. I don’t want to be pulled away by any of that once I start writing. Then I turn off the laptop I use for that and focus exclusively on my fiction computer. I guess that is a ritual.


Who are ten of your favorite writers?

Edith Wharton, Karleen Koen, Irving Stone, Oscar Wilde, Alison Weir, Ian McEwan, Philippa Gregory,  Rosalind Miles, Lynn Cullen, Margaret George


What do you consider to be good writing?

For me, good writing makes me feel something, and it must carry me away. Different styles of writing and types of books can do that but both of those things must happen for me to think it’s really good.


What is your advice to someone dreaming of being a writer too?

Stop dreaming and write your story! I have long loved the saying, “The purpose of the first draft is not to get it right but to get it written.”  Get your story onto the page and then go to work making it into the story of your heart.


What are you working on now?

That’s still “top secret” for a bit, but I can tell you that it’s a story that will be leading me back to France later this summer, which I’m thrilled about.

Check out Anne's gorgeous website 

BOOK REVIEW: Madame Picasso by Anne Girard

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Madame Picasso 

Anne Girard 

Publisher: Harlequin Mira 

Age Group & Genre: Histroical Fiction for Adults 

Reviewer: Kate Forsyth 

Source of Book: I bought it on my e-reader

The Blurb (from Goodreads):

The mesmerizing and untold story of Eva Gouel, the unforgettable woman who stole the heart of the greatest artist of our time. 

When Eva Gouel moves to Paris from the countryside, she is full of ambition and dreams of stardom. Though young and inexperienced, she manages to find work as a costumer at the famous Moulin Rouge, and it is here that she first catches the attention of Pablo Picasso, a rising star in the art world.

A brilliant but eccentric artist, Picasso sets his sights on Eva, and Eva can't help but be drawn into his web. But what starts as a torrid affair soon evolves into what will become the first great love of Picasso's life. 

With sparkling insight and passion, Madame Picasso introduces us to a dazzling heroine, taking us from the salon of Gertrude Stein to the glamorous Moulin Rouge and inside the studio and heart of one of the most enigmatic and iconic artists of the twentieth century.

What I Thought: 

I have always been fascinated by the lives and loves of famous painters, and Pablo Picasso is no exception. Well-known for his many destructive relationships with women, whom he loved and painted and left, Picasso’s romantic entanglements make for fascinating reading. Up until now, I’ve only read biographies and memoirs. Madame Picasso by Anne Girard is the first novel I have read that has sought to bring the mesmerising power of the great Spanish artists to life. 

Most of the action takes place in Paris, on the streets, in the artists’ studios and backstage at the Moulin Rouge, all of them vividly brought to life. The character of Eva herself is bright and appealing, and her romance with Picasso is deftly and subtly wrought. I particularly loved the scenes in which Picasso talked about his aims and inspirations – it really brought him to life. 

I did not know Eva Gouel’s tragic story before I read Madame Picasso. (I must have read about her in the biographies of Picasso I have read, but that was so long ago, I had forgotten her story). So the story was new and surprising to me, and very moving. 

A really lovely, sensitive and rather sad story of a woman who helped inspire artistic genius.

Anne's website



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