Picasso's Women: Irène Lagut

Spring 1916-Early 1917

Image © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; used with permission
Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973). The Lovers, 1923. Oil on linen. 51 1/4 x 38 1/4 in. (130.2 x 97.2 cm). Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Image © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Her Connection to Pablo Picasso: Lover

Date and Place of Birth

January 3, 1893, near Maison Lafitte outside of Paris, France

Life:

Pablo Picasso was notoriously titillated by sleeping with a friend's girlfriend or passing off an ex-lover to a friend. (Germaine Pichot comes to mind and Georges Braque's wife Marcelle Dupré, whom Picasso's introduced to his Cubist partner as the woman Braque would marry - without revealing their past affair.) This "shared" intimacy seemed to be an appropriate connection, Picasso thought, with his male friends.

Irène Lagut met Picasso when she was involved with the artist Serge Férat (1881-1958). Originally from a rural community outside of Paris, she moved to the big city as the mistress of a local doctor and then moved to St. Petersburg with an elderly Russian lawyer of considerable rank who believed she resembled the daughter he lost to suicide. Then she became involved with an eccentric and depraved young archduke, and escaped on a train to Paris with one of the duke's aides-de-camp, who posed as her protector.

At twenty, she found work as a dancer in a music hall, fell in love with one of the chorus girls and also met the artist Férat who lived with his cousin the baroness Hélène d'Oettingen (1887-1950), who was also an artist and a writer. Unfortunately for Lagut, d'Oettingen's demands on Férat occupied much of his time.

In 1913, Férat financially supported the art journal Les Soirées de Paris, produced by Guillaume Apollinaire and friends.

Picasso was part of this clan. In 1916, Picasso saw his chance to steal Férat's mistress Irène and decided to abduct her. The plan resembled the exploits of gods in Greek mythology. Picasso and his friends plied Irène with drinks and dinner one evening in Montparnasse. Then Picasso spirited her away to an old house in Montrouge, outside of Paris.

Locked up like Danäe in her tower, Irène managed to escape through the window.

Nevertheless, Picasso and Irène continued an on-off relationship from the spring of 1916 through early 1917. She may also have been his mistress in 1923, when Picasso's marriage to Olga started to unravel. John Richardson pointed to Picasso's painting The Lovers, 1923, as proof.

Guillaume Apollinaire's saucy yarn La Femme assise (Seated Woman), published posthumously in 1920, bases its plot and characterizations on the four-way relationship of Picasso, Lagut, Férat and d'Oettingen. Lagut extended this circle with her lesbian lover Ruby Kolb, who ended up as Apollinaire's mistress and wife (renamed Jacqueline Apollinaire). Kolb married Apollinaire six months before his death from in November 1918.

Lagut continued to stay in the orbit of Picasso's friends and associates. In 1917, she took up with the young poet Raymond Radiguet, Jean Cocteau's protégé. In 1921, she moved in with the composer Georges Auric. That same year, Cocteau invited her to design the sets for his ballet Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel (The Wedding at the Eiffel Tour) produced by the Ballets Suèdois. Georges Auric was among "The Six" composers for Les Mariés.

A minor artist, Lagut exhibited her work next to Picasso's in 1916 as he tried to support her career. Today a few pieces can be found through an internet search. Toward the end of her life, she agreed to two interviews about her escapades with Picasso: Les Lettres Francaises (1969) and French television in 1973. She lived to be 101.

Date and Place of Death

1994, Menton, France

Sources:

Richardson, John. A Life of Picasso: The Painter of Modern Life, vol. II (1907-1917).

New York: Random House, 1996.

Huffington, Ariana Stassinopoulos, Picasso: Creator and Destroyer.

New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.