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Fernande Olivier


Fernande Olivier

Fernande Olivier (born Amélie Lang; 1881–1966) was a French artist and model known primarily for having been the model of painter Pablo Picasso, and for her written accounts of her relationship with him. Picasso painted over 60 portraits of Olivier.[1]


  • Youth 1
  • Relationship with Picasso 2
  • Writing career 3
  • Old Age 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Olivier was born of an out-of-wedlock relationship between her mother and a married man. She was raised solely by an aunt, who attempted to arrange a marriage for her. Instead, Olivier ran away and married a man who abused her. In 1900, when she was 19 years old, she left her husband without a formal divorce and moved to Paris. She changed her name so that her husband could not find her.

Olivier quickly found work modeling for artists; she was a fixture in the circle of friends of writer Guillaume Apollinaire, where she also became friends with Paul Léautaud, Kees van Dongen and Edmond-Marie Poullain. Van Dongen in particular painted her several times.[2]

Relationship with Picasso

She met Picasso at the Bateau-Lavoir in 1904,[3] and by the next year they were living together. Their relationship lasted seven years and was characterized by its tempestuousness. Both Olivier and Picasso were jealous lovers, and their passions sometimes exploded into violence.

Woman's Head, sculpture by Picasso, modeled on Olivier

Among his most notable works of his Cubist period from 1907 to 1909, several were inspired by Olivier. These include Head of a Woman (Fernande).[4][5] He later admitted that one of the Demoiselles d'Avignon was modeled on her.[3]

In April 1907 Olivier went to a local orphanage and adopted a 13-year-old girl, Raymonde.[6][7] The small family did not last, however, and upon discovering explicit drawings of Raymonde made by Picasso, Olivier sent the girl back to the orphanage. Olivier made no mention of Raymonde in her memoirs.[8]

When Picasso finally achieved success as an artist, he began to lose interest in Fernande, as she reminded him of more difficult times. Eventually they separated in 1912, leaving Olivier without a way to carry on living in the style to which she had become accustomed. She had no legal right to expect anything from the painter, since she was still technically married to her first husband. To survive, she took various odd jobs, from a cashier at a butcher's to an antiques saleswoman. She also supplemented her income by giving drawing lessons.

Writing career

Twenty years after her relationship with Picasso, she wrote memoirs of their life together. By then Picasso was the most famous artist of the age, and the publication of Olivier's memoirs carried commercial potential. The memoir, entitled Picasso et ses amis (Picasso and his Friends), was published in 1930 in serialized form in the Belgian daily Le Soir, despite Picasso's strong opposition. He hired lawyers to prevent the publication of the series (only six articles were published). The payment she received helped her to improve her lifestyle somewhat, but she spent it quickly.

Old Age

Olivier remained forgotten until 1956, when, deaf and suffering from arthritis, she succeeded in persuading Picasso to pay her a small pension in exchange for a promise not to publish anything further about their relationship as long as either of the two was alive. She died in 1966, he in 1973.

Her importance is based not only on the memoirs, which were finally published in their entirety in 1988, but on the fact that she was the only one of Picasso's mistresses who knew him before he achieved fame and fortune.

Paul Léautaud describes her in his Journal. Guillaume Apollinaire also had a love affair with her.


  1. ^ "National Gallery of Art - Picasso: The Cubist Portraits of Fernande Olivier".  
  2. ^ Walther, Ingo (2002). Masterpieces of Western Art: a History of Art in 900 Individual Studies from the Gothic to the Present Day. Köln: Taschen. p. 564.  
  3. ^ a b Marie-Laure Bernadac; Androula Michael (1998). Picasso - Propos sur l'art. Art et artistes (in French). Éditions Gallimard. pp. 60–61.  
  4. ^ Jones, Jonathan (16 July 2002). "Head of a Woman (Fernande), Picasso (1909)". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 27 October 2010. 
  5. ^ "Tate Collection: Head of a Woman (Fernande) by Pablo Picasso". Tate Collection (online catalog). Retrieved 27 October 2010. 
  6. ^ Franck, Dan (2001). Bohemian Paris. New York: Grove Press. pp. 75–76.  
  7. ^ "Artwork Details: Bust of a Girl (Raymonde)". On-line Picasso Project. May 1907. Retrieved 27 October 2010. 
  8. ^ Miller, Arthur (2001). Einstein, Picasso. New York: Basic Books.  

External links

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