Maya Widmaier-Picasso, the only daughter of Spanish painter Pablo Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter and the protector of her father’s legacy, died in Paris on December 20 of pulmonary failure. She was eighty-seven. Widmaier-Picasso was the second of her father’s four children, arriving after Paulo, the artist’s son with ballerina Olga Khoklova, his first wife, and before his son Claude and daughter Paloma, both with painter Françoise Gilot. Famously depicted by her father in the 1938 work Maya à la poupée (Maya with Doll), she was in 2017 the subject of “Picasso and Maya: Father and Daughter” at Gagosian’s Paris gallery, which took as its theme the Spanish legend’s portraits of his eldest daughter. The exhibition was curated by Widmaier-Picasso’s own daughter, Diana Widmaier-Picasso, who interviewed her mother for an accompanying catalogue. Queried by Diana as to what she would ask the artist if he were present at that moment, Maya replied, “Do you come from another planet?”
Born September 5, 1935, in Boulogne-Billancourt, France, Maya Picasso grew up in Tremblay-sur-Mauldre, west of Paris, and in the French coastal commune of Royan, where she remembered enjoying a close relationship with her father, who would take her to see live bands at a local café. From the ages of seven to eighteen, she lived in Paris, during which time she sat for a number of portraits by Picasso, though not always happily. “We would be sitting at the table and suddenly he wanted to immortalize an expression or attitude,” she told her daughter later. “He told me, ‘Do not move!’ and he rushed off to find some paper, pencils, a board or notebook. The minutes seemed to last an eternity. I saw these drawings of me with a napkin around my neck go off to an exhibition . . . and I was ashamed of what people might think because of my napkin!”
At eighteen, she attended the Lycée Français in Madrid for a year and then moved to Barcelona, where she worked with a cousin who was a neurologist at hospital, helping him to make corsets for patients with polio. On her return to France in 1957, she worked briefly for the feminist magazine Les heures claires des femmes françaises [a weekly publication of the French Women’s Union] before taking up the position of administrative assistant to Josephine Baker, whom she recalled as “not only an extraordinary dancer and actress, but also an activist, a woman who supported civil rights.” In 1960 she married French naval officer Pierre Widmaier, with whom she had two sons and her daughter Diana.
Able to remember a time when Picasso was not celebrated—“I liked telling people that my father was a housepainter,” she said of the 1940s, “even though everyone knew who Picasso was at the time, but often considered him a fraud, a charlatan”—Picasso-Widmaier after the artist’s death became an expert on his oeuvre and assembled a large archive of his work. She is currently the subject of an exhibition at the Picasso Museum, on view through December 31, focusing on her relationship with her father; a selection of Picasso’s works chosen by her is on view as well. Asked by her daughter in 2017 what the “real inheritance” she received from her father was, Widmaier-Picasso replied, “I developed a particular sensitivity to color, curve, and line, which I would associate with the personality of the people I met. He served as an example for me of a person who was passionate about what he was doing, guided by the desire and need to always create.”