Fernande Olivier

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Fernande Olivier (born Amélie Lang; 6 June 1881 – 26 January 1966)[1] was a French artist and model known primarily for having been the model of painter Pablo Picasso, and for her written accounts of her relationship with him. Picasso painted over 60 portraits of Olivier.[2]


Olivier was born of an out-of-wedlock relationship between her mother and a married man. She was raised by an aunt and uncle, who attempted to arrange a marriage for her. Instead, Olivier ran away and married a man who abused her. In 1900, when she was 19 years old, she left her husband without a formal divorce and moved to Paris. She changed her name so that her husband could not find her.

Olivier quickly found work modeling for artists; she was a fixture in the circle of friends of writer Guillaume Apollinaire, where she also became friends with Paul Léautaud, Kees van Dongen and Edmond-Marie Poullain. Van Dongen in particular painted her several times.[3]

Relationship with Picasso[edit]

She met Picasso at the Bateau-Lavoir in 1904,[4] and by the next year they were living together. Their relationship lasted seven years and was characterized by its tempestuousness. Both Olivier and Picasso were jealous lovers, and their passions sometimes exploded into violence.

Pablo Picasso, 1909–10, Head of a Woman (Fernande), modeled on Fernande Olivier

Among his most notable works of his Cubist period from 1907 to 1909, several were inspired by Olivier. These include Head of a Woman (Fernande).[5][6] He later admitted that one of the Demoiselles d'Avignon was modeled after her.[4]

In April 1907, Olivier went to a local orphanage and adopted a 13-year-old girl, Raymonde.[7][8] The small family did not last, however, and upon discovering explicit drawings of Raymonde made by Picasso, Olivier sent the girl back to the orphanage. Olivier made no mention of Raymonde in her memoirs.[9]

When Picasso finally achieved success as an artist, he began to lose interest in Fernande, as she reminded him of more difficult times. Eventually they separated in 1912, leaving Olivier without a way to carry on living in the style to which she had become accustomed. She had no legal right to expect anything from the painter, since she was still technically married to her first husband. To survive, she took various odd jobs, from a cashier at a butcher's to an antiques saleswoman. She also supplemented her income by giving drawing lessons.

Writing career[edit]

Twenty years after her relationship with Picasso, she wrote memoirs of their life together. By that time, Picasso was the most famous artist of the age, and the publication of Olivier's memoirs carried commercial potential. The memoir, entitled Picasso et ses amis (Picasso and his Friends), was published in 1930 in serialized form in the Belgian daily Le Soir, despite Picasso's strong opposition. He hired lawyers to prevent the publication of the series (only six articles were published). The payment she received helped her to improve her lifestyle somewhat, but she spent it quickly.

Old age[edit]

In 1956, when Olivier had become deaf and was suffering from arthritis, she persuaded Picasso to pay her a small pension in exchange for her promise not to publish anything further about their relationship as long as either of them was alive. She died in 1966 and he died in 1973. Her memoirs were published in their entirety in 1988.

Paul Léautaud describes her in his Journal. Guillaume Apollinaire also had a love affair with her.[citation needed]She figures in Gertrude Stein's book The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas.


  1. ^ Picasso's Women: Fernande Olivier
  2. ^ "National Gallery of Art – Picasso: The Cubist Portraits of Fernande Olivier". National Gallery of Art. Archived from the original on 7 November 2010. Retrieved 28 October 2010.
  3. ^ Walther, Ingo (2002). Masterpieces of Western Art: a History of Art in 900 Individual Studies from the Gothic to the Present Day. Cologne: Taschen. p. 564. ISBN 978-3-8228-1825-1.
  4. ^ a b Marie-Laure Bernadac; Androula Michael (1998). Picasso - Propos sur l'art. Art et artistes (in French). Éditions Gallimard. pp. 60–61. ISBN 2-07-074698-4.
  5. ^ Jones, Jonathan (16 July 2002). "Head of a Woman (Fernande), Picasso (1909)". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  6. ^ "Tate Collection: Head of a Woman (Fernande) by Pablo Picasso". Tate Collection (online catalog). Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  7. ^ Franck, Dan (2001). Bohemian Paris. New York: Grove Press. pp. 75–76. ISBN 0-8021-3997-3.
  8. ^ "Artwork Details: Bust of a Girl (Raymonde)". On-line Picasso Project. May 1907. Retrieved 27 October 2010.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ Miller, Arthur (2001). Einstein, Picasso. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-01860-4.

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