My favourite painting: Nicole Farhi

'Happiness, in all art, is harder to catch than unhappiness.'

Two Women Running on the Beach, 1922, by Pablo Picasso (1881– 1973), 13½in by 16¾in, Musée Picasso, Paris

Nicole Farhi says:
I love this early Picasso painting because there is something in the feeling of joy and friendship between the two women that strongly calls to mind my own friend Mireille in the South of France when we were both young so many years ago. The abandon and happiness in the Picasso inspired me to sculpt Two Friends as a sort of tribute. It has remained one of my favourite of all my sculptures. Happiness, in all art, is harder to catch than unhappiness.

Nicole Farhi is a fashion designer. Her new sculpture series, ‘The Human Hand’, opens at Bowman Sculpture, SW1, on September 13

John McEwen comments on Two Women Running on the Beach:
Picasso’s artistic life may have been bohemian, but his background was solidly bourgeois: his paternal uncles included a diplomat, a prelate and a doctor. as he approached middle age, he had the urge to marry and settle down. There was also family pressure, especially from his mother. Two girlfriends rejected his proposal in quick succession and it was on the rebound that he married Olga Khokhlova, a prima ballerina in Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company.

Olga wasn’t bohemian in attitude; she insisted on a Russian orthodox wedding, which took place in 1918. Injury ended her dancing career and their only child, Paulo, was born in 1921. Picasso’s return to conventional figurative art was an apt reflection of settled domesticity supported by success, which now gave him a celebrity beyond the art world.

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In the summer of 1922, the family, plus nanny, rented a villa at Dinard, on the coast of Brittany. Perhaps irked by this genteel prospect and frustrated by marital restrictions, Picasso gave vent to his previous free-living, rule-breaking self with this wild celebration of two hefty maenads—female followers of Dionysus, Greek god of wine and ecstasy—rushing beside the sea.

Six years later, on another family holiday at Dinard, he would secretly bring along his teenage mistress, Marie-Therese Walter. This little picture anticipates that ecstatic time, which also proved an artistic release and the beginning of the end of life with Olga, although they remained married until her death in 1955.

Diaghilev used an enlarged version of the design as a backcloth for the ballet Le Train Bleu.


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