Not much is known about the early years of Marie-Thérèse Walter’s life. We begin to follow her story January of 1927 when at age 17 she met Pablo Picasso outside of the Paris department store Galeries Lafayette. Picasso was 45 years old at the time and married to Olga Khokhlova. Together they had a son, Paulo. At the time of their meeting, Walter was living in the Parisian suburb of Maisons-Alfort with her two sisters and their mother. Picasso reportedly approached her on that day in January because he was taken with her appearance, and asked to do a portrait of her. Though Walter’s was underage at the time, an intimate relationship almost immediately began between the two. Because of the highly questionable nature of their relationship, it was kept secret from most of Picasso’s friends and family. As Walter’s began to spend every day in Paris with Picasso, she told her family that she had taken a job in the city. Eventually her mother and sisters discovered the couple, and though resistant at first, quickly opened up to Walters’ relationship with Picasso. They would even spend time together in shed in her mother’s garden where Picasso would occasionally paint.
Olga, already reasonably jealous and cautious due to Picasso many previous indiscretions, was not aware of Walter until very late in the relationship. This period became a balancing act for Picasso between his wife and son, and his blossoming romance with the young Walter. During the summer of 1928 Picasso rented a house for his family in Breton and arranged for Walter to be housed at a girls camp in the area. Every morning he would pick her up and they would spend the day together in his cabana. The deception continued in 1930 when Picasso bought Chateau de Boisgeloup – telling both Olga and Walter separately that he had bought it for her. Olga was mistress of the house on the weekdays, but after returning to Paris for the weekends, Walter arrived. Because Picasso had been trying to keep his affair secret, Walter often came into his art in unexpected and coded ways. It was in 1932 during the first full Picasso retrospective at the Galerie Georges Petit that portraits of Walter were shown.
Walter almost drowned in 1933 on the river Marne. She survived by caught an infection from the incident that left her ill for a while. This was traumatic for Picasso and resulted in a series of paintings referencing water nymphs. Walter became pregnant with their child in 1934, and after Olga discovered this, divorce proceedings began. Walter and Picasso were still not allowed to live together, but she moved into an apartment a few doors down from him. Their daughter Maria de la Concepcion “Maya” was born on September 5th, 1935. She was named for Picasso’s late and beloved sister, Conchita. The new family lived together for a short while, with Picasso playing father. However, the personality of Walter, though welcoming in comparison to his fraught marriage to Olga, was rather uninteresting to him on its own. Two months after Maya’s birth, Picasso met Dora Maar and soon embarked on a relationship with her.
Walter and Maya moved into Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre, where for the next three years, Picasso would spend weekends with them, while spending the weeks in Paris with Dora who he considered more of his intellectual equal. All the while he sent love letters to Walter, keeping some of their romance alive. Later, when Maya and Walter moved back to Paris, he would visit every Thursday and Sunday – Picasso was now living with Françoise Gilot in Vallauris. When Olga died, Picasso called up Walter and asked her to marry him. Walter declined and the two never saw each other again, but were forever linked through their daughter Maya. Walter interacted with the greater Picasso family at the time of Picasso’s death and in 1977, she committed suicide which some have linked to the loss of Picasso.
Freeman, Judi. Picasso and the Weeping Women: The Years of Marie-Thérèse & Dora Maar. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1994.
Richardson, John. ‘Picasso’s Erotic Code, Vanity Fair. May 2011. Accessed November 11th, 2016. http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2011/05/picasso-mistress-201105