Picasso and Sylvette David, 1954
According to Françoise Gilot, who lived with Picasso in the the 1940s and ’50s, the artist was like Bluebeard, the aristocratic folktale serial killer who murdered his many wives. In her memoir Life with Picasso (1964), Gilot recalled visiting the artist’s chateau at Boisgeloup, north-west of Paris. “I began to have the feeling that if I looked into a closet, I would find half a dozen ex-wives hanging by their necks,” she wrote. “He had a kind of Bluebeard complex that made him want to cut off the heads of all the women he had collected in his little private museum.”
Certainly, few of Picasso’s female companions met happy ends. His mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter and his second wife Jacqueline Roque both committed suicide. Yet one woman who became entangled with Picasso for several months survived unscathed. Her name was Sylvette David.
The pair met in the spring of 1954, when the prolific artist, who was by then an international celebrity in his early seventies, was living on the Côte d’Azur. Picasso had a studio on Rue du Fournas in the small town of Vallauris. That year, his eye was drawn to Sylvette, a beautiful 19-year-old woman who wore her blonde hair in a distinctive high ponytail. A few months earlier, Sylvette and her fiancé Toby Jellinek had moved to Vallauris to live with her mother. Toby, who was an avant-garde furniture designer, had a workshop not far from Picasso’s studio, and Sylvette would often walk by the artist’s window en route to meet him.
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