In 2001, Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn paid $42 million for Pablo Picasso’s famous 1932 painting Le Reve. A few years later, in 2006, Wynn was proudly showing off his prized art possession to a group of friends when, in a fit of exuberance and wild arm gesticulations, he banged his elbow into the painting, leaving a silver-dollar sized hole puncture in the canvas. What a jerk! Among the startled onlookers were Barbara Walters, and writers Nora Ephron and Nicholas Pileggi. In Ephron’s eyewitness account of the incident, she recalled that Wynn’s immediate words were, “Oh shit. Look what I’ve done!”. You know what they say, “What happens in Vegas . . . ” 😉 But wait, it gets better.
Just the day before the elbow mishap, Wynn had finalized a deal to sell Le Reve to hedge fund billionaire Steven Cohen for a whopping $139 million! Had the deal gone through, it would have been the highest price ever paid for a single work of art. But after Steve Wynn tore a gash into the painting, Cohen, naturally, reneged from the deal. Can you blame him? Would you pay 139 mil for a painting with a patch job? Wynn spent $90 thousand to repair the damage, which his insurers, Lloyd’s of London, refused to cover. Wynn sued them, and the matter was later settled out of court.
So what’s the big deal about Le Reve anyway? Well, here on Museworthy, the big deal is that the model for the painting was Picasso’s long-suffering mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter. Picasso met the pretty young blond in 1927 at the Galeries Lafayette in Paris. She was 18 years old. Picasso was 45, and still married to his wife Olga Khokhlova. Immediately, Picasso became infatuated, and he and Marie-Thérèse began a secret affair. Soon, she would become arguably Picasso’s most famous muse.
Le Reve, or “The Dream”, is said to have been painted in just one afternoon. With simplistic lines and brash colors, the painting is representative of how Picasso saw Marie-Thérèse; as an object of sex. Not an equal, not a life partner, not a wife, not even as a friend, but a plaything, a source of sexual arousal and gratification for the middle-aged artist. Picasso is hardly subtle about it either. Look closely at Marie-Thérèse’s face in the painting. What do you see there in the split at the top? Looks like a penis, right? Picasso’s penis! Classy touch there, Pablo. Ok, you’re horny for the girl. We get it! And notice that it’s she who’s doing the “dreaming”, apparently of Picasso and his member. Give me a break.
If I may throw in my two cents and offer my humble opinion, I personally don’t find this one of Picasso’s better works. I am a huge fan of Picasso, I’ve made that clear on this blog several times (don’t like the man, love the art). And when you look at the entirety of Picasso’s prolific work, especially his earlier pieces and the Blue Period, his depth, his range, etc, you are reminded, lest you forget, of what the man was truly capable of. In contrast, this painting looks weak. Garish and tacky. It looks like he’s putting one over on us and laughing his ass off. It also mocks and demeans and objectifies his muse, and that’s not cool in my book. But again, just my ever-so-humble opinion. Ok, I’ll shut up now.
In 1935, Marie-Thérèse gave birth to Picasso’s child, a daughter named Maya. Although Olga had been in the dark about Picasso’s young mistress for years, word of the baby soon got to her through a friend. It was the last straw. Olga left Picasso and moved to the south of France. Picasso, however, refused to divorce Olga, not out of his love or devotion to her mind you, but simply to avoid having to comply with France’s “division of property” divorce laws. It wasn’t until Olga died in 1955 that Picasso was “free” of her, and his money was safe.
Although Picasso maintained contact with both Marie-Thérèse and Maya and supported them financially, they never existed as a family unit. Marie-Thérèse was forever on the fringe after she had his baby. Shunted aside. Perhaps her appeal as a fresh, youthful, eager and unencumbered mistress had lost its luster as she matured and became a mother. Eventually, Picasso would meet Dora Maar, and that burgeoning relationship symbolized the official end of any significant role Marie-Thérèse would have in Picasso’s life.
In 1977, four years after Picasso’s death, Marie-Thérèse Walter hung herself in the garage of her home in France. She was 68 years old.