Misfortunes of a Mistress – Marie-Thérèse Walter and “Le Reve”

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.

picasso-le-reve

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.

marie-therese-walter

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.

23 thoughts on “Misfortunes of a Mistress – Marie-Thérèse Walter and “Le Reve”

  1. ray says:

    Claudia do you know why she hung herself?

  2. artmodel says:

    Ray,

    Why does anybody hang themself?

  3. fred says:

    I agree with what you say about this painting, but I’m always struck by the fact that Picasso’s paintings of models, even at their most abstract, capture something essential about the look of the individual. After you’ve seen photos of his famous muses like Dora Maar or Marie-Therese you can look at a really distorted Picasso piece and instantly tell who the model is.

    Fred

  4. Brian says:

    My guess is Picasso simply whipped out the painting in an afternoon in an effort to impress her for (more) sex…a cheap move on his part, but hardly atypical of most men. It probably worked too…

  5. Amanda says:

    Wow I didn’t know the story behind that painting! And I know Steve Wynn has been slowly going blind for years. I was living in Vegas when that happened and thought it was such a shame that the painting got damaged.

  6. A good post on Picasso he was a great artist but a hell of a human being. My experience has been with photographers but I think it qualifies. All artist are a little bi-polar I think…, the more talented the artist the more twisted they are. From my perspective as an assistant I get to see the way they think when they are being creative. It’s an all THEM sort of affair that’s hard to shut down when their with regular people. I think that it’s a tradeoff their willing to make, be a fantastic artist but you can’t be a decent human being at the same time. I know there are exceptions to the rule but the rule fit’s I think. Just my two cents worth.

  7. artmodel says:

    Fred,

    That is absolutely true about Picasso and his uncanny ability to capture his female subjects. Once you’ve seen actual photos of his muses, you can recognize each one in instantly in his paintings, abstracted or otherwise.

    Great comment, thanks!

    Claudia

  8. artmodel says:

    Brian,

    Well, that’s a theory! But in this case, of Le Reve, Picasso and Marie-Therese were already involved intimately for years. So he was probably going to get some regardless.

    Besides, I don’t think Picasso had to DO anything to impress women, but instead assumed they should all be impressed with him because he was, you know, Picasso.

    Claudia

  9. artmodel says:

    Amanda,

    Yeah, it’s quite a story! But Wynn, I understand, is a sincere lover of art and has amassed quite a collection of works. Le Reve has been restored, but I’d say it’s market value is permanently and forever downgraded due to this crazy incident.

    Thanks for commenting!

    Claudia

  10. artmodel says:

    Michael,

    I’m glad you raised that whole issue about artists and their supposedly complicated psychologies. I’ve always felt that in some cases it’s the real deal, while in others it’s more of an act, and an attempt to assume the temperamental, misunderstood artist “persona”. I’ve known artists who do that, and it’s such bullshit. Then they use it as an excuse for their behavior, and they expect to get a pass; a pass that no one else could get away with if they weren’t an artist. Even in my role as a model, every once in a while, I’ve have to scold an artist for being rude. It puts them in their place, that’s for sure. Then they realize that they are no more important than anyone else. Someone should have done that to Picasso, but I understand that he generally surrounded himself with sychophants.

    I don’t believe that artists are incapable of being decent and wonderful people, who simply can’t resist falling into extreme degrees of selfishness and narcissism. They absolutely can be, I’m proud to say that I know many! They’re great and I love them.

    I wonder if Picasso would have been the same kind of person if he had never achieved fame, or hadn’t been an artist at all? Maybe he was just a bad guy, pure and simple.

    Great to hear from you, Michael. Thanks for commenting!

    Claudia

  11. fred says:

    You know, if you pronounce “artistic” with certain accents it sounds just like “autistic”, and I think there is something similar there. Autistic people are mesmerized by patterns and repetitive motions and often have intense obsessiveness and sometimes amazing specialized abilities, but they also tend to be socially inept, self-absorbed, and unable to empathize with others or decipher social cues. Sound familiar?

    For an understanding of the autistic mind, I must recommend the YouTube videos of an autistic filmmaker called “silentmiaow”, especially “In My Language”.

    Fred

  12. artmodel says:

    Fred,

    I’ll check that out. What you say is interesting, but I hope you’re not concocting even more excuses which feed into the whole “I’m an artist, I’m creative, therefore I’m unable to display common courtesy and decency toward others” thing. That’s a crock. They can do plenty of “deciphering” and “empathizing” if they want to. They just prefer to milk the persona, that’s all.

    They’re not autistic. They’re just arrogant.

    Claudia

  13. Punching holes in works of art is not the only thing Wynn does, he seems to get tired of his masterpieces from time to time.

  14. We all know the greatest bullshitters come from New York and it is a tired old act. I’ve had people tell me they can’t help themselves because their from New York and I’ve replied that rude is rude no matter where your from. But the truly great artists have something wrong with the way they think. Think of Pollock to name but one, he had a truly tortured life and I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant for anybody around him. Or Van Gogh when he had his most creative period of his life, I don’t think anyone would say he was pretending. I think that insight and that level of creativity comes at a heavy prices that’s paid by their muses and the others who have to live with them. But your right it is an interesting thing to contemplate.

  15. artmodel says:

    Jonathan,

    I didn’t know that, but thanks for the link to the article. Funny that an art collector could be so fickle about timeless masterpieces. And a Vermeer of all things!

    Thanks for your comment.

    Claudia

  16. artmodel says:

    Michael,

    As a New Yorker, I’d like to be able to dispute your claim about us being “bullshitters”, but I can’t! Well, not all of us of course. I’m certainly not one of them! By the same token, New Yorkers are also among the most honest people too, perhaps to a fault. Hey, what can I say? We have some of everything here!

    Your theories about artists’ mindsets are interesting. I agree especially about Van Gogh. Pollock, though, was a severe alcoholic and would probably have been an equally difficult and troubled person even if he had been, say, a truck driver, due to the alcoholism. That disease makes no distinction among professions.

    Always good to hear from you!

    Claudia

  17. Jean says:

    Steve Wynn is a terrific example of what I hate about people with tremendous ego and wealth. This painting existed in pristine condition from 1932 until he gets his seedy hands on it. I believe that it’s really foolish to apply old standards between men & women to modern ones. I also find it difficult to believe any true admirer of an can separate the artists personality from their work, when the work itself is an inseparable extension of the artist. Lets not be revisionists here, Pablo Picasso was w/o a doubt one of THE most interesting men who ever lived.

  18. Patty says:

    Reading John Richardson’s biography of Picasso, I was struck by the fact that Carl Jung labeled Picasso “schizophrenic.”
    Art publisher, Christian Zervos, dealing with Picasso in 1932, wrote that “I know the pleasure he gets from seeing someone suffer physically or mentally. For instance, when he is at his chateau, h takes great pleasure in having his Saint Bernard dog attack the cats and watching them agonize as their backbones crack.”…
    Richardson dismisses this characterization of Picasso as sadistic toward animals, but it seems to ring true.
    I feel most sorry for Marie-Therese, taken as a child and molded to his sexual aberrations.

    • artmodel says:

      Patty,

      What a disturbing anecdote about Picasso. I had never heard of him labeled a schizophrenic, but that quote from Christian Zervos clearly points to a person with sadistic tendencies. As an animal lover I was sickened. But somehow it doesn’t surprise me about Picasso.

      I, too, feel sorry for Marie-Therese. She was so young when she met him, and didn’t have a chance going up against Picasso’s controlling personality.

      Thanks for your interesting comments, Patty.

      Claudia

  19. Patty says:

    Thank you, Claudia, for your feedback and response. This biography, A LIFE OF PICASSO, THE TRIUMPHANT YEARS, by John Richardson, is part 3 of a series. I haven’t read the other installments.

  20. I think Marie Therese really did love Pablo Picasso even if he did not and in the end she eventually did hang herself and if Picasso was alive he would not care… he would just go on to another woman and wouldn’t feel any remourse or sorrow after all he did. Of course we all know Pablo would go on to other woman one after another. He wouldn’t stay in a relation with anyone very long.

    Macey Denison

  21. alanborky says:

    Part of me agrees Steve Wynn was a jerk, but another part of me loves he actually felt such passion for the painting he momentarily lost physical control, (a bit like a lover momentarily being on the verge of almost tearing their lover apart with their hands and teeth in their desperate need to ravish and consume them, perhaps).

    Better momentarily out of control but redeemable passion, than Steven Cohen’s cold and calculating turning of his back on the ‘woman of his dreams’ on learning she’d suffered wear and tear at the hands of another man.

    Who cares she’s damaged goods? Even if she can’t be made as new again, she’s still HER!

  22. Laura says:

    Picasso was a great artist but a evil narcissist! He cared about nothing and no one but himself. He was evil to the women in his life and his children! He referred to women as “torture machines.” He was very evil!

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