MARSEILLE, France » Since Marina Picasso was a child, living on the edge of poverty and lingering at the gates of a French villa with her father to plead for an allowance from her grandfather, Pablo Picasso, she has struggled with the burden of that artist’s towering legacy.
When she was in her 20s and inherited the 19th-century villa, La Californie, as well as a vast trove of Picasso’s art treasures, she turned the paintings to face the walls in resentment. Through 15 years of therapy, she dissected bitter family memories of her grandfather’s perceived indifference and her brother’s suicide. In her 2001 memoir, "Picasso: My Grandfather," she bared her pain and anger at the Picasso clan.
Now 64, Picasso acknowledges that she is expanding her rebellion by preparing to sell off many of his artworks to finance and broaden her philanthropy — aid for a pediatric hospital in Vietnam and projects in France and Switzerland benefiting the elderly and troubled teenagers.
And her unconventional sales approach is reverberating through international art markets, worried dealers and auctioneers accustomed to playing key — and lucrative — roles in the sale of renowned art. In an interview, Picasso said she would sell works privately and would judge "one by one, based on need," how many, and which, of the remaining Picasso works, of about 10,000 that she inherited, she would put up for sale.
Picasso has been regularly selling her grandfather’s works for years to support herself and her charities. And since the death of her longtime dealer in 2008, she has tried various strategies in the market — auctioning two major paintings in 2013 and displaying a collection of nude drawings by her grandfather at Sotheby’s in Paris last year.
But her decision to sell them on her own suggests a more aggressive effort to purge herself of her legacy. And while other Picasso heirs have occasionally sold works, Marina Picasso is the only one who seems to be "accelerating" the sale of art objects, said Enrique Mallen, an art history professor at Sam Houston State University in Texas who created the Online Picasso Project to track the art.
"It’s better for me to sell my works and preserve the money to redistribute to humanitarian causes," Picasso said, speaking publicly about her new strategy for the first time while inspecting a hospital site in Marseille, where she is financing a psychiatric unit for teenagers in crisis. "I have paintings, of course, that I can use to support these projects."
The news of her unusual strategy is spreading in select circles by word of mouth, generating rumors and misinformation — including a recent tabloid report that she planned to sell off her grandfather’s villa and seven major works. That is leading to speculation that she could flood the market and depress prices.
"Instead of having a dealer show them, it’s been an open secret that there are works for sale and people have been asking other people if they would be interested," said John Richardson, a Picasso historian and biographer in New York. "I’ve been asked by odd people who tell me, ‘We are in on a great deal, and Marina is selling all her stuff.’"
While bypassing dealers and auction houses in the sale of major works is not unusual, sellers going it alone can be at a disadvantage in trying to estimate the value of their own works and to vet the buyers and their source of funds. At the same time, with some auction houses increasing their fees, it can be a smart move in the end for a seller eager to make more money.
Marina Picasso, who inherited about 300 paintings among those 10,000 Picasso artworks — ceramics, drawings, etchings and sculptures are among the others — said she had not decided on the number to be sold and had no plan to put the villa on the market. But she knows which piece she will sell first: "La Famille," a 1935 portrait of a family surrounded by an arid landscape.
"It’s symbolic because I was born in a great family, but it was a family that was not a family," Picasso said. By the time of his death in 1973, Pablo Picasso had created some 50,000 artworks and left behind a tangled brood of four children and eight grandchildren, as well as wives and muses, who have had a long-running battle over his estate and his legacy. Marina Picasso is the daughter of Pablo Picasso’s son Paulo, and she has long kept her distance from the rest of the family. For years she was guided in her sales by Jan Krugier, a Swiss art dealer who curated and sold off many of the best works in her collection until he died in 2008.
She was disappointed, she said, by other sales routes, like a 2013 Sotheby’s auction of two major paintings, including "Femme Assise en Robe Grise." The works drew $6.8 million, according to Sotheby’s in Paris, but Picasso said she had expected more because buyers knew the money was going to support her charities.
Her timing is good: Last year, auction sales of Picassos were second only to those of Andy Warhol — $449 million last year in a $16.1 billion international market, according to Artnet, the New York-based art researcher.
While the sales will broaden Picasso’s philanthropy, they will also help her move on from the burden of her family history, she said.
Picasso said that she had no photographs of herself with her grandfather and had none of his works until she received her inheritance. She recalled that he would fashion flowers out of paper for her, but she was never allowed to keep the trinkets.
Her father, Paulo, was the son of Picasso and his first wife, Olga Khokhlova, a Russian ballerina. Picasso said she still suffered from the memories of Paulo serving as her grandfather’s chauffeur, among other lowly roles, and begging for money.
Her mother, Emiliinne, split from her father after a brief marriage and struggled with alcoholism. She relied on handouts from her ex-husband to raise Marina and her older brother, Pablito.
"I saw my father very little," Picasso said. "I didn’t have a grandfather."
Her alienation from her grandfather and his entourage intensified after her brother was barred from Picasso’s funeral in 1973 by the artist’s second wife, Jacqueline Roque. A few days later her brother committed suicide by drinking bleach. Contributions from friends paid for Pablito’s funeral, according to Marina Picasso, who supported herself then by working in a hospice for autistic and mentally ill children.
Pablo Picasso left no will when he died at 91, setting off a bitter struggle among his widow, children and grandchildren. Unexpectedly, Marina Picasso was named an heir and inherited a fifth of the estate, including the villa.
"People say I should appreciate my inheritance and I do," Picasso said, "but it is an inheritance without love."
In the end, she learned from her past.
"It was really difficult to carry this celebrated name and to have a difficult financial life," Picasso said. "I think because of it I developed my sense of humanity and my desire to help others."
Olivier Widmaier Picasso, a grandson descended from the artist’s mistress Marie-Thirhse Walter, who published his own biography of Picasso, holds a more benign view of his grandfather’s legacy. As for Marina, with whom he tangled when he tried to brand Citroen cars with Picasso’s name, he said he understands her anger, but thinks it is misplaced.
"We need to be honest," he said. "Pablo Picasso was not the cause of all of this. Her mother had exclusive custody. Picasso didn’t want to give money to her mother because he worried she wouldn’t spend it on the children. So he paid directly for their schooling."
He said he was surprised to learn about Marina Picasso’s sales approach.
"All the heirs have always worked with major dealers, like Picasso did in his life," he said. "They know the market and the buyers and work to avoid any bad moves."
In the 1970s, when the estate was split to pay off taxes, "La Famille" was considered one of the most valuable because its realistic style was so unusual, he said.
"The scale is enormous and it is obviously an important work," said James Roundell, a dealer with Simon Dickinson Fine Art in London, who says it is worth "in the millions" of dollars.
Picasso has not publicly disclosed what she hopes to earn.
Picasso, who has five children, three of them adopted from Vietnam, said that selling more of Picasso’s art to expand her charities is a fitting use. In just the last year, she has donated 1.5 million euros (roughly $1.7 million) to the Hospital Foundation of Paris and France. Some went to the psychiatric emergency unit for teenagers, and Picasso also financed a project for elderly patients in long-term hospital care.
"I live now in the present," she said. "The past rests in the past. But I will never forget, never. I respect my grandfather and his stature as an artist. I was his grandchild and his heir, but never the grandchild of his heart."