The Battle for Picasso’s Multi-Billion-Dollar Empire

  • 2016-04-11
  • Vanity Fair

When he died, Pablo Picasso left behind some 45,000 works, all complicated by countless authentications, rights, and licensing deals. Milton Esterow delves into the challenges faced by the five surviving heirs and the simmering conflict between two of them.

“I had a papa who painted,” Maya Widmaier-Picasso once said when she exhibited some of her father’s paintings, drawings, and watercolors that she inherited after he died, in 1973. Her papa was Pablo Picasso. Her mother was Marie-Thérèse Walter, whom Picasso met one evening in 1927, when she was 17 and he was 45. Nine years before, Picasso had married Olga Khokhlova, one of Diaghilev’s dancers, with whom he had a son, Paulo, but the marriage was collapsing.

Maya’s mother later confided that Picasso had seen her leaving the Paris Métro and said, “You have an interesting face. I would like to do a portrait of you.” She had no idea who Picasso was, so he took her to a bookstore to show her a book about himself. Maya’s parents had split up when she was about eight, but she spent a great deal of time with her father.

Now 80 years old, she lives in Paris, has three children, and is one of Picasso’s five surviving heirs, all of whom have become multi-millionaires. The other heirs are Claude Picasso and his sister, Paloma, the children of Pablo and his mistress Françoise Gilot, the only woman who ever left him; and Marina and Bernard Picasso, the children of Paulo, who died in 1975. Since one of Picasso’s paintings, Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O) (Maya had watched him paint it), set a record last year for a work sold at auction ($179.4 million), the five Picasso heirs—who control the art world’s richest dynasty—are likely to become even richer.