The Smell of Romance

Fernande Olivier stepped into Picasso’s studio on a hot afternoon and said his atelier stank. It was 1904, the year when the artist was teetering between his Blue and Rose Periods, doing paintings in both cold and warm tones. Fernande, who became his new mistress, was surely one of the reasons that turned Picasso’s mood and his paintings romantic in color. At least that’s what the art historians and his biographers have speculated. But on that day, the first time she met Pablo, she took in the chaos of his workroom and noted the pungent odors. Many of them were due to common art supplies, such as paints and turpentines, et cetera. However she also smelled something else, something ‘musklike’ arising from his table. Its drawer was partially open—and there inside was a mouse. Not a creature who had inadvertently happened upon the scene, but a small, tame white mouse whom Picasso purposefully kept in the drawer, away from his cats.

He was a huge lover of animals, and included a whole host of domesticated mammals and birds in numerous paintings and drawings. During his time in the studio that was located in a small square in Paris’s Montmartre neighborhood, he acquired Frika, a German shepherd and Brittany spaniel mix, three Siamese cats, a turtle, and a female monkey. And the nameless mouse.

The image of the mouse (right) is a serigraph attributed to Picasso and available throughout the internet, home shopping run amok. Unsigned and unnumbered with no mention as to its origin, the print gives me a tiny tickle that perhaps it had nothing to do with Picasso—after all he’s one of the artists whose works over time have been forged the most. But just for the moment I’d like to imagine, this mouse belonged to him.

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Sources: Patrick O’Brian, Picasso: A Biography; Arthur I. Miller, Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time, and the Beauty That Causes Havoc; Fernande Olivier, Picasso and His Friends


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