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Olha, Picasso’s Wife by Tetyana Sydorenko

Olha, Picasso’s Wife by Tetyana Sydorenko

How many women did the great Pablo Picasso have a relationship with? How many of them did he love or hate? Does quantity matter after all when it comes to his first official wife – ballet dancer Olha Khokhova? She gave birth to his first son and inspired the father of cubism to pursue a ‘classical period’ in his art. July 2018 marks the 100-year anniversary of the wedding day that started their 18-year marriage.

Khokhlova was one of five children born into a noble family living in Nizhyn, a present-day Ukrainian city in the Chernihiv oblast. Her father Stepan Khokhlov served in the Russian army, and her mother, Lydia Zinchenko, was Ukrainian. At some point, they all moved to St Petersburg where Khokhlova began to learn French. At the age of 14 she started taking ballet classes. It was quite late; however the girl’s perseverance helped her join Serge Diaghilev’s legendary Ballets Russes.

Rome, 1917.  While working on his avant-garde performance Parade, Diaghilev commissioned Picasso to design the stage set and costumes. The 36-year-old hot-blooded Spaniard – an experimenter and rebel on the threshold of worldwide fame – was already notorious for multiple affairs with models and women of easy virtue. Yet Khokhlova was unlike all damsels Picasso was wont to spend his time with. Infatuated and intrigued, he did all his best to win her heart. Eventually, the subtle aristocratic girl with impeccable manners and refined facial features yielded to his persistent wooing.

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For more than a century, Ukrainian-born Olha Khokhlova from ancient Nizhyn, a former centre of Cossack regiments and Hetmanate’s main impact force, was touted as a Russian wife and Russian muse of a world-known genius. Finally, Tetyana Sydorenko corrects historical injustice and corrects the record. This famous Ukrainian journalist, scientist, and author of 10 novels, reveals the truth about her fellow hometown girl: the ballet dancer has been re-introduced in her own country where she can be duly honoured.

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