After Pablo Picasso died on April 8, 1973 at the age of 91, his widow, Jacqueline, took his body to their feudal castle near Aix-en-Provence. Picasso lay in a casket in front of the baronial fireplace for six days, while men dug his crypt outside. There was no funeral. “Jacqueline’s world fragmented when Pablo died,” says David Douglas Duncan, the famous photographer who was a close friend of the artist’s for 20 years. Now Duncan’s fourth Picasso book, The Silent Studio (W.W. Norton & Co. $12.50), offers a haunting glimpse of Jacqueline’s life without Picasso. “For the first two years it seemed she would never survive her heartbreak,” Duncan says.
The recent death of one of Jacqueline’s close friends paradoxically has brought her back into the world. She decided, she told Duncan, “There’ll be no more tears in this house.” She has thrown open the windows of Notre-Dame de Vie, the Picassos’ villa near Mougins on the French Riviera. The music of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich fills the rooms. “She’s begun,” Duncan believes, “to accept the future.”
For Jacqueline, 50, that means taking charge as the principal custodian of Picasso’s memory—not to mention a large portion of his massive estate. It includes some 2,000 paintings, 7,000 drawings, 1,200 sculptures, 30,000 to 40,000 ceramic pieces, plus lithographs, engravings and tapestries. In addition, there are two chateaus, two villas and Picasso’s financial investments. The total approximate value, according to the estate’s official appraiser: a staggering $1.1 billion. Although Picasso’s children—Maïa, Claude and Paloma—and two grandchildren have made their claims, Jacqueline will under French law inherit the largest share, perhaps as much as one-quarter of the total.
She was the most devoted woman in Picasso’s life, the last of many. He married only one other, ballerina Olga Koklova, in 1918 (their son, Paulo, died last year). She was followed by Marie-Thérèse Walter, a model, who bore him Maïa. In the 1930s Picasso kept company with Dora Maar, a photographer. By the 1940s he was living with another painter, Françoise Gilot. Paloma, 27, and Claude, 29, are the children of that love. Picasso and Gilot separated in the fall of 1953, and she is now married to Dr. Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine.
Within a year after his breakup with Françoise, Picasso invited Jacqueline, the divorced wife of a French designer, to move in with him. Jacqueline was the subject of dozens of portraits while serving as housekeeper, confidante, adviser and hostess to the world-famous visitors who came to pay homage to the greatest living artist. Picasso was 79 and Jacqueline 35 when they were secretly married in 1961. Duncan observes: “Jacqueline is the only person I’ve ever met who gave herself up completely to another.”
The empty world Picasso left behind at Notre-Dame de Vie is graphically portrayed in Duncan’s pictures, taken over a 10-day period last year. He was there as official documentary photographer for the heirs and for appraisers ordered by the French government to assess the estate. “Jacqueline was upstairs the entire time,” Duncan writes. “She appeared when her health permitted or when she was needed urgently by the experts. Everyone tried to shield Jacqueline from the obvious agony of having professionals, court-ordered, inside her home cataloguing everything, even the contents of Pablo’s and her clothes closets.”
These days, attended by Picasso’s secretary, Miguel, and a housekeeper, Marcelle, Jacqueline often pads barefoot among the canvases and sculpture that remain. She is determined to pay her own tribute to Picasso—a museum to his memory at Vauvenargues, the castle where he is buried. Now that the appraisals are over and the experts have left, Duncan says, “she seems so relieved and exhausted. Everyone who was there shares her feelings. We all cared.”