I had a papa who painted,” Maya Widmaier-Picasso once said when she exhibited some of her father’s paintings, drawings, and watercolors that she inherited after he died, in 1973. Her papa was Pablo Picasso. Her mother was Marie-Thérèse Walter, whom Picasso met one evening in 1927, when she was 17 and he was 45. Nine years before, Picasso had married Olga Khokhlova, one of Diaghilev’s dancers, with whom he had a son, Paulo, but the marriage was collapsing.
Maya’s mother later confided that Picasso had seen her leaving the Paris Métro and said, “You have an interesting face. I would like to do a portrait of you.” She had no idea who Picasso was, so he took her to a bookstore to show her a book about himself. Maya’s parents had split up when she was about eight, but she spent a great deal of time with her father.
Now 80 years old, she lives in Paris, has three children, and is one of Picasso’s five surviving heirs, all of whom have become multi-millionaires. The other heirs are Claude Picasso and his sister, Paloma, the children of Pablo and his mistress Françoise Gilot, the only woman who ever left him; and Marina and Bernard Picasso, the children of Paulo, who died in 1975. Since one of Picasso’s paintings, Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O) (Maya had watched him paint it), set a record last year for a work sold at auction ($179.4 million), the five Picasso heirs—who control the art world’s richest dynasty—are likely to become even richer.
They’re also likely to find themselves embroiled in the occasional public drama. In January, Maya emerged as the star, if you can call it that, of an unfolding court saga whose cast includes various super dealers at the highest levels of the art market—Larry Gagosian, Guy Bennett, and the now disbanded art-advisory firm of Connery, Pissarro, Seydoux. The dispute centers upon Picasso’s 1931 plaster bust of Marie-Thérèse Walter, a highlight of the Museum of Modern Art’s recent “Picasso Sculpture” exhibition. There are allegations that the piece, titled Bust of a Woman, was sold nearly simultaneously by Maya’s representatives to two buyers: once, in November 2014, to Qatar’s Sheikh Jassim bin Abdulaziz al-Thani for $42 million, and then, a few months later, to Gagosian for $105.8 million. Courts in New York, Switzerland, and France are trying to unravel Bustgate and determine the sculpture’s rightful owner.
When Picasso died, 43 years ago at the age of 91, he left an astounding number of works—more than 45,000 in all. (“We’d have to rent the Empire State Building to house all the works,” Claude Picasso said when the inventory was completed.) There were 1,885 paintings, 1,228 sculptures, 7,089 drawings, 30,000 prints, 150 sketchbooks, and 3,222 ceramic works. There were vast numbers of illustrated books, copperplates, and tapestries. And then there were the two châteaux and three other homes. (Picasso lived in and worked in about 20 places from 1900 to 1973.) According to one person familiar with the estate, there was $4.5 million in cash and $1.3 million in gold. There were also stocks and bonds, the value of which was never made public. In 1980 the Picasso estate was appraised at $250 million, but experts have said the true value was actually in the billions.
Picasso did not leave a will. The division of his holdings took six years, with often bitter negotiations among the heirs. (There were seven then.) The settlement cost $30 million and produced what has been described as a saga worthy of Balzac. The family, writer Deborah Trustman noted at the time, “resembles one of Picasso’s Cubist constructions—wives, mistresses, legitimate and illegitimate children (his youngest born 28 years after his oldest), and grandchildren—all strung on an axis like the backbone of a figure with unmatched parts.”
the market for Picasso’s art is strong and getting stronger, with the emergence of collectors from China, Indonesia, the Middle East, and Russia. Most prefer the late work, from the 1950s and 1960s. The Russians have a thing for Picasso’s Blue and Rose Periods. “If Picasso were alive today,” Marc Blondeau, a prominent Geneva dealer and former head of Sotheby’s France, told me, “he would be one of the 10 wealthiest men in the world.”
In 1996, Claude Picasso, who had been named legal administrator of Picasso’s estate by a French court, created the Picasso Administration, a Paris-based organization that manages the heirs’ jointly owned interests, controls the rights to Picasso reproductions and exhibitions, issues merchandising licenses for everything from dishes and fountain pens to ties and automobiles, and pursues forgeries, stolen works, and illegal use of Picasso’s name. During his lifetime, Picasso was the world’s most prolific and most photographed artist. In 2016 he is the most reproduced, most widely exhibited, most faked, most stolen, and most pirated artist in the world, one of the hottest commodities in a white-hot art market. “Everyone wants a piece of Picasso,” said Eric Mourlot, a dealer whose father and grandfather printed hundreds of Picasso’s lithographs.
There were 34 Picasso exhibitions last year, in Bulgaria, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, and the United States. There are Picasso Museums in Paris, Barcelona, Antibes, and Málaga, where the artist was born. Companies in Paris and Lyon—with branches in many countries—hold licenses to sell Picasso carpets, trays, handbags, pillows, and other items. Citroën, the French car manufacturer, which acquired the rights to use Picasso’s name and signature for a reported $20 million, says it has sold nearly 3.5 million Picasso cars in more than 30 countries since 1999. Citroën pays royalties annually to the Picasso Administration, which retained the right, as it does with all licenses, to control the advertising campaigns. In 2012, Montblanc received a license to produce limited-edition Picasso fountain pens engraved with comments and sketches from a 1936 Picasso painting, Portrait de Jeune Fille (Portrait of a Young Girl). One pen, in an edition of 39, was partly solid gold with a cut diamond and sold for $54,500. Another, in an edition of 91, was partly solid gold and sold for $33,500. (One of them recently showed up on eBay for $80,000.) Another major source of income for the Administration is the Droit de Suite, a royalty on auction and gallery sales of works by artists who are still living or have been dead less than 70 years. Although the Administration does not disclose its annual revenues, the figure, according to some estimates, is around $8 million.
Then there’s the Picasso black market, which the Picasso Administration tries to keep up with, often in vain. There are possibly hundreds of illegal brands called “Picasso” around the world, selling everything from fishing hooks and pizza to coffee mugs, shoes, T-shirts, inflatable dolls, and mobile homes, and more seem to pop up every day. For example, the Lane Bryant women’s clothing chain, until recently, offered an unlicensed Picasso bra, with matching “boyshort” pantie, but they have since sold out. “We are pursuing the matter,” said Theodore Feder, president of the Artists Rights Society, which represents the Administration in the United States. Some years ago, a Spanish company illegally attached Picasso’s name to products such as coffee, tea, ice cream, pasta, rice, and toothpaste. It is no longer in business. But a company in Taiwan that sells unauthorized Picasso scarves, watches, socks, and umbrellas still is. “From a legal standpoint,” Andrieu said, “it is difficult in many countries to oppose an unauthorized Picasso trademark registration.”
Movies have been using Picasso reproductions for years. Most are conscientious about getting rights, but there have been exceptions. When Titanic was being filmed, in 1996, James Cameron wanted to show a reproduction of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in a scene in which Kate Winslet is seen unpacking it. When the ship goes down, the painting is shown sinking below the waves. The Picasso Administration decided that it could not authorize the inclusion of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in the film “because the painting has been on display at the Museum of Modern Art for well over 60 years and certainly did not go down with the ship when the Titanic sank,” said Feder, who, in addition to his work with the Artists Rights Society, is an art historian who has taught at Columbia University and Queens College. “When I viewed the film several weeks after its opening, I was surprised to discover that the scene depicting the submersion of Les Demoiselleswas still in it. We negotiated a fee after the fact, which, as one could imagine, included a substantial penalty.”
For all its efforts, though, the Administration, which now employs a staff of eight people, gets mixed reviews in the art world. Critics complain that responses to authentication requests are slow, that neither Claude Picasso nor the other heirs are scholars, and that they have not created an advisory committee or made any plans to publish a catalogue raisonné. “It’s a pity that one of the world’s greatest artists doesn’t have a team of experts doing this research,” one dealer told me. Claude, for his part, points out that he has been immersed in Picasso since birth. “The heirs have decided not to publish for the time being a catalogue raisonné as objects surface still which were not catalogued,” he wrote in an e-mail. Regarding authentication, he said, “the requests are very often not professionally formulated. On the average 900 requests are filed yearly. Verifications of the information provided sometimes can be labor-intensive. Artworks need often to be examined in the flesh.”
There have also been complaints about the Administration’s licensing policy. When the Citroën deal was announced, in 1998, Jean Clair, then the director of the Picasso Museum in Paris, was outraged, writing in Libération that Picasso “has become a brand that can be applied at will to anything produced by contemporary technology.” The late photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, a great friend of the artist’s, was also incensed about the car deal. He wrote to Claude and accused him of having “betrayed” Picasso.
That sense of betrayal has also been felt inside the family. “I cannot tolerate that the name of my grandfather … be used to sell something as banal as a car,” Marina Picasso said at the time. “He was a genius who is now being exploited outrageously.” (Marina sold reproduction rights to 1,000 works from her inheritance and agreed to a merchandising plan that sold scarves, ties, dinnerware, and other products to support charity.)
The car naming was the idea of Olivier Widmaier Picasso, Maya’s son, who has made documentaries about his grandfather and has advised the Administration on licensing matters. Twenty-five years ago, the major auction houses usually consulted only Maya, a former Christie’s official told me. “Then it became confusing,” he said. “Claude began to authenticate, and at one time authentication required two signatures. We shuddered at the idea that opinions would differ.” Opinions did differ. On a few occasions, one would say a work was original and the other would declare it a forgery.
It became an almost impossible situation that had to be adjusted. In 2012, four of the heirs—Claude, Paloma, Marina, and Bernard—announced, in a letter circulated on the Internet, the creation of a new procedure for authenticating works by Picasso: the letter stated that only Claude’s opinions “shall be fully and officially acknowledged by the undersigned.” After the announcement, Maya declined to comment as to why her name was missing. “I only found out when a friend told me,” she said to George Stolz, of ARTnews. “I nearly died.”
Claudia Andrieu told me that “Maya is not part of the authentication process, but that does not mean that there is no collaboration between Claude and Maya.” She would not elaborate further. Olivier Widmaier Picasso told me that “Maya has shown her active support to the organization on several occasions this year by attending the quarterly meeting with her brother Claude and nephew Bernard and discussing all matters with them.” He added that Maya collaborated “on many authentication files and requests” and that she provided “significant information to the Picasso Administration.” But a dealer close to the Administration described the current relationship between Claude and Maya as “strained.” Another was more blunt. “It’s a serious problem between them,” he said.
I first met Maya, who is married to a retired French naval officer, at the Pont Royal Hotel, in Paris, in 2004. She was accompanied by her daughter, Diana. A warm, ebullient woman, Maya said she didn’t want an article written about her but agreed to tell me some stories about her father. “In 1944,” she said, “I was nine years old and my father would pick me up at school and we would walk along the Seine, and he’d pick up little pebbles and make little dolls for me.”
Picasso had been designated by the Nazis as a “degenerate artist” in the late 1930s, but he was able to sit out the occupation, near his art, in his studio at Rue des Grands Augustins. “One day,” Maya told me, “two weeks after the liberation of Paris, I went to his studio, and he said to me, ‘I paint, you paint.’ We both painted, and when we stopped, he hung them up next to one another on a clothesline in the studio. So you had Pablo, Maya, Pablo, Maya, Pablo, Maya. Two United States Army colonels came to the studio—they wanted to meet Picasso, and they talked. When they were leaving they saw the watercolors, and one of them asked Picasso if it was all right to take a photograph. Picasso said it was all right, but he didn’t say it was ‘Pablo, Maya, Pablo, Maya, Pablo, Maya.’ A few weeks later, a United States newspaper published a photo with the caption ‘This is an exclusive photo of the first works by Pablo Picasso since the liberation.’ ”
This kind of casual misattribution is an example of what the Picasso Administration—which has offices in a five-story building next to a bistro not far from the Place Vendôme—is up against every day. Quarterly meetings are held with the heirs or their representatives. There is an annual report that usually runs about 300 pages—100 pages of text and 200 pages of documents about court cases that have been settled or are still pending. Profits are distributed twice a year. Occasionally, the heirs will consign some of the Picassos they inherited to auction houses and dealers.
“Everything about the Picasso Administration is complicated,” Andrieu said when I met her at the Administration office in Paris not long ago. “We have many issues—the works, the rights, the authentication, protecting the reputation of the artist. In a way, the Administration is a fighting machine protecting Picasso.” The Algerian-born Andrieu, who is in her mid-50s, has been working for the Administration since it started, in 1996. “We have representatives in about 20 countries that handle copyrights and licenses that allow the use of Picasso’s name, signature, and artworks,” she went on. “We have granted about 30 licenses but have never had more than 10 licenses at a time. When you have people violating the rights every minute of the day you have to fight them and put them out of business. You have to make people know that if they want to use Picasso’s name they have to ask permission. You have to fight, but to fight is very expensive. Our legal bills are sometimes more than a million dollars a year. You can’t open thousands of court suits—only in your dreams. You would need a thousand lawyers.”
And then there are the requests for authentication, which come from all over the world. “In the last five years,” Andrieu said, “we have seen a lot of works—about 500—that are unknown, undocumented, never exhibited, never listed, coming from the United States, Spain, Switzerland, France, and other countries. We’re hoping to get the truth someday.”
Andrieu found the truth about a lithograph hanging on a wall near her desk. It is a small rendition of Picasso’s painting Le Rêve (The Dream). “This is an unauthorized reproduction,” she said with a smile.
The story of the actual painting is a saga in itself. Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas casino mogul, bought it in 2001 from an anonymous collector who had bought it at auction in 1997 for $48.4 million. In 2006, Wynn was showing the 1932 painting of Marie-Thérèse Walter to several friends in his office when he accidentally poked a hole in the canvas with his elbow. (Wynn suffers from an eye disease that affects his peripheral vision.) He had agreed to sell the painting to hedge-fund manager Steve Cohen for $139 million but then changed his mind. He finally sold it to Cohen in 2013 for a reported $155 million—one of the most lucrative private art sales ever made—after repairing it at a cost of $85,000.
A few days after Wynn damaged the painting, Diana Widmaier Picasso, Maya’s daughter, sent me an e-mail. She is an art historian, is working on a catalogue raisonné of her grandfather’s sculptures, and was one of the curators of the recent “Picasso Mania” show at the Grand Palais, in Paris. “I wish my mother Maya owned Le Rêve today,” she wrote, saying that Maya had tried desperately to get the painting back into the family, even offering the owner, Victor Ganz, who had bought the painting in 1941 for $7,000, a magnificent Picasso from 1939 in exchange, to no avail. “My mother loved Le Rêve so much,” Diana told me, “not only, I think, because it represents her mother, Marie-Thérèse, in all her beauty and in her happiest days with Pablo, but also because it is such an iconic picture about love. With her wonderful sense of humor, she suggested that Victor and herself would both get a divorce and marry each other so that they can live together with the two paintings.”
The Le Rêve reproduction is one tiny part of the Administration’s fakes problem. There are entire categories of fakes: outright copies, reworkings of Picasso’s themes in his style, works whose provenance is questionable, and reproductions. Jean-Jacques Neuer, the Administration’s attorney, said that there has been a significant rise in forgeries in recent years as the price for authentic Picassos continues to skyrocket. He also mentioned another issue the Administration has to cope with: theft. One recent case involved a retired electrician and his wife, who hid 271 Picasso works in their garage.
Despite the criticism that has been leveled at him for his handling of the Administration, Claude Picasso today is considered a strong and efficient manager. He is now 68, is married, has two sons, and lives in Geneva. He was an assistant to Richard Avedon and lived in New York from 1967 to 1974. He attended the Actors Studio, in New York, made a documentary about the sculptor Richard Serra, and designed carpets with Picasso-style designs. “Claude has grown,” a dealer told me. “He is a good manager, has good assistants, and can, at times, be a tough manager. You have to be tough because today’s art world is a tough business. He can also be mercurial, depending on which day you get him.” Indeed, after I had been told that he would see me to discuss the workings of the Picasso Administration, Claude Picasso ultimately declined to meet.
His mother, Françoise Gilot, left Picasso after 10 years, when Claude was six and Paloma was four. (She later married Dr. Jonas Salk and, at age 94, lives in New York.) Her 1964 book, Life with Picasso, infuriated the artist, and he sought unsuccessfully to have the book banned. From then on he barred Claude and Paloma from his home and barely saw them again. Claude and Paloma—who is now 66 and has designed jewelry for Tiffany & Co. since 1980—have said that Jacqueline Picasso (née Roque), the artist’s second wife, whom he married in 1961, used the book to incite Pablo to cut off relations with his children. (Jacqueline committed suicide in 1986, at the age of 60.)
Claude Picasso and the Administration have long been accustomed to the family’s fractiousness, and observers say it is one aspect of the Picasso legacy that lingers. After Picasso died, in 1973, the heirs met about 60 times. (Only Jacqueline and his son Paulo attended the funeral. The rest of the family was barred from the ceremony.) During a deadlocked meeting, one of his children said to another, “It’s impossible we had the same father.” Dividing the assets required legal maneuvers by more than 50 people, including attorneys, appraisers, cataloguers, officials of several government agencies, and the president of France, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who agreed to accept works of art in lieu of estate taxes. The French government received 203 paintings, 158 sculptures, 88 ceramics, nearly 1,500 drawings, more than 1,600 prints, and 33 sketchbooks, which formed the collection of the Picasso Museum in Paris.
But the heirs, despite their differences, have collectively shown extraordinary generosity. Without fanfare, they have donated Picassos to museums in several countries and have sold pieces by him to support charities. Marina Picasso, who is 65, recently sold Picasso works at Sotheby’s London to fund various charities and to “arrange for the future of my family,” as she told me. She has five children, three of them adopted from Vietnam, and two grandchildren, and lives most of the time in Geneva and occasionally at La Californie, Picasso’s villa in Cannes, which she inherited. Marina has said she rarely saw her grandfather and once claimed that hers was “an inheritance without love.” One of the first things she did at the villa after her grandfather died was to turn all of his paintings to face the wall. “But they are not back to the wall anymore,” she told me, denying reports that she is estranged from her family. “I have contact with my Uncle Claude and my stepbrother, Bernard Picasso,” she said.
The 56-year-old Bernard is the son Paulo had with his second wife, Christine. Bernard and his wife, Almine Rech, an art dealer, run the Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso Para el Arte, or FABA, an organization that functions as an educational archive for the works he inherited from his grandfather. (He is also the president of the board of the Picasso Museum in Málaga, which he founded with his mother in 2003.) Jacqueline Picasso’s daughter from a previous marriage, Catherine Hutin-Blay, now 65, inherited her mother’s collection of Picasso works and owns the Château de Vauvenargues, near Aix-en-Provence, where Picasso and Jacqueline are buried. She has donated works to the Picasso Museum in Paris and has occasionally opened the château to visitors. And, last year, Maya and her children created the Maya Picasso Foundation for Arts Education. The organization is planning to open Pablo Picasso’s studio, at 7 Rue des Grands Augustins, in Paris, as a research and educational center for historians and students in 2017. Olivier Widmaier Picasso, Maya’s son, told me that the foundation “will focus on our mother’s impressive archives, including photographic material and a large library.”
The studio—where Picasso painted Guernica—has been classified as a historical monument. It is where Maya and her father painted together back in the 1940s. When I ventured to ask Olivier whether he knew if any of his mother’s watercolors were still out there, with owners proudly showing them off as Picassos, he mentioned one watercolor that Sotheby’s had brought before Maya for authentication. “The auction house was hoping for an original of Pablo’s work,” he said, but his mother pointed out the inscription on the back of the picture: “por Maria de la Concepción”—by Maria de la Concepción, Maya’s baptism name. “The artwork was removed from the auction sale,” Olivier added.
Under international law, the estate’s rights belong to the heirs until 2043, the 70th anniversary of Picasso’s death. (There appears to be no speculation as to who will succeed Claude Picasso, and he has not indicated whether or when he plans to retire.) “They will survive without those rights,” a dealer told me. “There are enough assets for the next two generations.” The dynasty will only grow, along with the market for all things Picasso—whether real, fake, licensed, or unlicensed.
It’s a situation that the artist himself might have appreciated. The late Pierre Daix, his friend and biographer, once told me about a day he and Picasso—no stranger to mischief—spent on the beach at Cannes. A very obese man walked over to Picasso and asked if he could buy a drawing. “Picasso waved his hand and told the man to go away,” Daix said. “The next morning on the beach the man came over again and Pablo waved him away again. This went on for four days. On the fifth morning, as the man came over, Pablo asked him, ‘Do you still want a drawing?’ ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ the man replied. Pablo then walked over to a young woman sunbathing and asked if he could borrow her tube of lipstick. Then, with the lipstick, Pablo went over to the man and made a drawing on the man’s belly.”