Olga Khokhlova was born in Ukraine in 1891. She became a ballet dancer in the Ballets Russes as a young woman. She was dancer in Parade in 1917, which was a collaboration between Sergei Diaghilev and Jean Cocteau. With Cocteau’s urging, Picasso was in charge of the costumes and set design for this production. Their romance was slow at first – she was chaste and required courting, but Picasso was 35 and had already been rejected by two women. He was prepared to settle down and start a family which probably contributed to a swift marriage between the two. When the ballet moved on to South America, Khokhlova stayed in Barcelona with Picasso. They lived there for a while, awaiting her visa to France, upon which they moved to Paris.
Just before they were set to get married, Olga suffered an injury to her foot – possibly reoccurring – which resulted in surgery. The injury flared up again days before their marriage, postponing it once more. They were finally married on July 12th, 1918 at a Russian Orthodox Church. Jean Cocteau served as a witness at their marriage. They honeymooned in Biarritz in Southwestern France. She was still suffering complications from her injury, and was bedridden for weeks. She finally rehabilitated her foot, but never danced in public again.
Back in Paris, the couple moved in next to Picasso’s dealer Paul Rosenberg in 1918. Their apartment was in a wealthy neighborhood, for which Picasso received criticisms. Khokhlova, on the other hand, was more at home in a bourgeois setting. In 1921 Khokhlova gave birth to their son Paulo Joseph. Picasso attempted to be a good father, but ultimately was not the most doting.
While summering in Dinard in 1922, Olga fell ill with “gynecological troubles”. She had to have surgery. She got ill again years later in 1928, which ended in a series of operations and periods of lengthy recovery. Marie-Thérèse Walter was a fixture in Picasso’s life at this point. Khokhlova did not know about Walter for much of their affair, but she was aware of her husband’s other indiscretions. She became – rightfully – jealous and resentful. Picasso fed off this negative energy in much of his art of Khokhlova at this time. Khokhlova finally left the clinic in 1929, and here proceeded a time of Picasso’s double life between his wife and his mistress.
Khokhlova and Picasso eventually split up, but would not divorce due to Picasso’s reservations about divorce, and also his desire to keep all his property from her. The two settled for a separation in 1934-35 – around the time when Walter became pregnant. Khokhlova and Paulo moved out and into the Hotel California. Khokhlova died in 1955. Suzanne Ramié visited her in these last months, and many times Olga asked to see Picasso. He refused, and she died soon after. Olga was buried accidentally in an English cemetery.
Richardson, John. ‘Portraits of a Marriage,’ Vanity Fair. December 2007. Accessed November 14, 2016. http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2007/12/picassos-wife-200712