‘A life lived bereft of the sun’

In summer 2009 followers of David Sylvian’s music were awaiting a firm release date for his new solo album. A mid-March announcement had been made on davidsylvian.com revealing the title – Manafon – and promising that more information about this ‘powerfully bold, uncompromising work’ would be shared ‘shortly’.

The next news to be posted on the official site, nearly four months later, was therefore a surprise. ‘This month, in the July/August music issue of The Believer magazine, David has a previously unreleased track entitled ‘Jacqueline’ included on the free cd as compiled by the writer Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket)…Other contributors to the cd include Lisa Germano, Mary Margaret O’Hara and Mike Scott.’

I remember calling in at one of London’s major book stores on Tottenham Court Road where I had spotted a wide range of arts magazines available on previous visits. To my delight, there I found a copy of the San Francisco-published journal, complete with the all-important cover cd.

Inside the covers of the annual music special of the magazine, Handler shared more of the background. ‘Back in April, we asked some of our all-time favourite songwriters, including a few who haven’t been recording new material lately, to send us acoustic versions of new songs. Surprisingly, they did so. We’re thrilled to be able to present a brilliant collection of new work from these masters of the form, available here and only here.’

What a treat! Whilst on the threshold of the release of the long-awaited and long-worked-upon follow up to Blemish, here was a taste of what was occupying Sylvian’s creative imagination right now, and what we might expect to hear from him in the future. The supporting text in The Believer ran as follows: ‘Plenty of songwriters become sonic experimenters, but too many of them forget to keep writing songs. David Sylvian led his band Japan from post-punk to New Romanticism and then to something much more ethereal, even spacey, but never forgot to give us melody and a lyric, and his collaborations with such offbeats as Japanese pop artiste Ryuichi Sakamoto and avant-garde guitarist Derek Bailey aren’t just interesting, they’re good.’

Sylvian’s official site confirmed: ‘The track is a demo version of a song which will be recorded in earnest later this year.’

‘Jacqueline’ by David Sylvian – the track is still available for free download from davidsylvian.com, a facility replicated here for ease.

Once Manafon had been released, Sylvian spoke to eminent improvising musician (and Manafon collaborator) Keith Rowe about his intended next steps. ‘A reordering is on the cards,’ said the singer. ‘I’ve been working on and off with contemporary classical composer Dai Fujikura, who’s reworking elements of Manafon, further confusing its genealogy. We’ve also written some material unassociated with this project and are looking to see how we might build upon it. Again, uncharted territory for me. To counter this I’ve been sitting with an old semi-acoustic Gibson enjoying the simplicity of writing miniatures. If there are goals in mind they’re not fully formed.’ (2010)

Listening to the familiar song structure of ‘Jacqueline’, performed to Sylvian’s acoustic guitar backing, it’s easy to imagine that it might be one of those of miniatures that Sylvian mentioned to Rowe. Hypergraphia places the lyric earlier, towards the end of time period 2003-06, so perhaps it had been around for a little time at this point, but clearly it was now in his mind to record it. This co-existence of work based on improvised material and more traditional song-writing was something Sylvian spoke about on the release of Sleepwalkers in 2010, a collection he said was designed to ‘show something of a companion body of work to the solo work that I’ve been doing, you know with Blemish and Manafon, [about] which people have been saying that I’ve been moving further and further away from melody – traditional melody – and traditional forms of popular music. But I wanted to show that that wasn’t necessarily the case. I never really moved that far away from it because I’ve always got my toe dipped into that stream as well as working with more abstract forms.’

The identity of the song’s subject was a mystery to me until Sylvian briefly posted the song on soundcloud in 2017 with the following explanation: ‘It imagines the possible interior life of Jacqueline (Roque) Picasso, particularly during her last 12-13 years. A life lived bereft of the sun that had once dominated/illuminated her existence. Often denigrated as being controlling etc. I’d found great sorrow in her eyes and this made her relatable to me regardless of the “facts”. She’s also the subject of some of Picasso’s finest portraits. The piece rose out of empathy with what led to her end, suicide by gunshot.’

The featured image for this article is the one that Sylvian chose to accompany the track on soundcloud – a collage portrait of Jacqueline produced by Picasso in 1957 and forged from ‘charcoal on paper and industrially produced wrapping paper, metal ribbon and adhesive.’ The picture is from the collection of Jacqueline’s daughter from her previous marriage, Catherine Hutin.

John Richardson describes being introduced by Picasso in his memoir, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1999): ‘In the early fall of 1952 he introduced us to a new attachment: a small, dark, striking twenty-seven-year-old girl with enormous eyes, called Jacqueline Roque, who had lived until recently at Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, with her husband, a French colonial official [named Hutin]. Bored with the husband as well as Africa, she and her young daughter, Cathy, had settled in a villa at Golfe-Juan…Jacqueline had found work at the Madoura shop.’ That shop was a pottery where Picasso worked extensively using the owners’ wheels and kilns to create his own ceramics, and it was here that the two would meet.

Portrait of Jacqueline Roque, Pablo Picasso, 1954

First-hand accounts in both Richardson’s book and Patrick O’Brian’s biography, Picasso (1976), reveal that the relationship between the two could be strained and fiery in the early years. Richardson: ‘My own view is that Picasso was testing the limits of Jacqueline’s devotion. This time around, he could not afford to make any mistakes. It was up to her to prove by the sheer force of her love that she was the best candidate for his hand. She knew that none of the other contenders had anything like her appetite for self-sacrifice. Sure enough, when Picasso returned to Vallauris at the end of the summer [1954], Jacqueline had won out over the competition. She was the maîtresse-en-titre and would never leave his side until his death nineteen years later.’

Jacqueline was indeed devoted to the artist and took to addressing him as ‘Monseigneur’, a title usually reserved for princes. His health was erratic and the popularity of the man and his work caused real challenges for day to day living. O’Brian gives an insight into how things were in 1958: ‘That summer at Cannes was very wearing at times. Every highly-publicised exhibition increased the number of people who wanted to see Picasso and who were not always very delicate about the way they did so; and recently there had been several, including another great retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Jacqueline protected him as well as she could, sometimes without much discernment; but lion-hunting is a trait combined with extraordinary pertinacity, and the prey, Picasso reduced to the status of an object, was sometimes hunted down; although, on the other hand, he was often separated from friends he would have liked to see.’

‘The big man came and took the sun away
And replaced it with one of his own
There was no room for sharing
Just nurse and care for him
Fill his shoes with concrete and stone

Oh, Jacqueline, Jacqueline
Things are getting harder
There’s only now ’til the end and nothing in-between

Pablo Picasso and Jacqueline Roque, 1957, Villa Californie, photograph copyright David Douglas Duncan

The couple would eventually marry in March 1961 once the way had been cleared by the death of Picasso’s first wife, Olga. It was a quiet civil ceremony undertaken in secret in Vallauris before a very small gathering. O’Brian’s explanation for the low-key arrangement was that it ‘might be taken as a consciousness of age, as though the marriage of a man in his eightieth year to a woman of thirty-five was slightly ridiculous; but the more probable explanation is that they feared persecution by journalists, the incessant click of cameras and the blinding flash, and the congratulations of Picasso’s enormous acquaintance.’

Jacqueline’s reputation became that of someone who separated Picasso from his friends and his family, most especially from his children from previous relationships. Paulo Picasso’s wife, Emilienne, was quoted as saying that ‘Jacqueline created a vacuum around him.’ Their daughter, Marina, would recall, ‘Every time I went up to the house, Jacqueline received me for a few minutes and told me that grandfather was too tired to see me.’ Marie-Thérèse Walter, with whom the artist had a daughter, Maya, said, ‘When that person arrived, Picasso’s whole life underwent a change.’

Top: Jacqueline, Pablo Picasso, 1960. Below: Jacqueline with the portrait, photograph copyright David Douglas Duncan.

Inevitably, the motivation for Jacqueline’s behaviour was called into question by those consequently excluded. O’Brian: ‘Some maintained that the group financially interested in Picasso’s production cut him off from his friends and kept him at work, encouraging him to produce, produce and produce, even if it meant spreading his invention thin: quantity alone was what mattered, since any canvas daubed with paint and signed Picasso was worth a purse of gold. This rumour was repeated by those who could not speak too much evil of Jacqueline: certainly she had a great deal of power…Kinder acquaintances said that she sacrificed her whole life to looking after Picasso, and that if she had a fault it was in taking him too literally when he fulminated against his friends for eating up his time – that perhaps she went far beyond his real wishes in isolating him to the extent that he seemed to demand.’

There was no doubting that Jacqueline was Picasso’s muse as well as his protector. In 1963 alone, over one hundred and fifty portraits were made by the artist of his wife.

Keep his children from his door
Protect the one that you waited for
You can’t breathe when his eyes aren’t on you
Though you may feel the bite of his tongue
The back of his hand, you’re not the only one
And it’s his and he alone will do

Oh, Jacqueline, Jacqueline
Things are getting harder
There’s only now ’til the end and nothing in-between

Picasso’s death on 8 April 1973 left Jacqueline bereft. John Richardson writes of his visits after her husband’s passing: ‘I would go and stay with Jacqueline every year or so. These visits were apt to be exceedingly painful. We would sit in a darkened room listening to recordings of Rostopovich playing Bach’s doleful cello sonatas. She would clutch not so much my hand as a single finger with the desperation of a lost child and sob and sob.’

In 1976 the photographer and neighbour of Picasso, David Douglas Duncan, published a volume of pictures entitled The Silent Studio, showing the artist’s place of work now deprived of his energetic presence. ‘Jacqueline’s world fragmented when Pablo died,’ he wrote in the Preface. ‘For the first two years it seemed that she would never survive her heartbreak. My photographs of her, taken when she was near the end of her physical resources, tell something of her loss.’

In ensuing years Jacqueline took to sharing with friends her conviction that Picasso was still alive.

Jacqueline at the Notre-Dame de Vie studio, 1975. Photograph copyright David Douglas Duncan.

And when you wake, you wake to the same day
The one where your Mediterranean sky turned grey
And you withdrew into the shadow of you
And while asleep you’d lose his name
And the footsteps of one defiantly sound the same
So you bolted the bathroom door and flew

Jacqueline, Jacqueline
Things can’t get much harder
Only now it’s the end

The New York Times obituary was titled Artist’s Wife and Muse and published on 16 October 1986. It read:

Jacqueline Picasso, second wife of Pablo Picasso, the prime inspiration of his later work and a generous benefactor of the Museum of Modern Art in New York since his death in 1973, died yesterday at her house in Mougins, France. Police officers who were called to the house reported that she had shot herself in the head with an automatic pistol. She was 60 years old.

It was thanks above all to Jacqueline Picasso, whom the artist married in 1961, that the phenomenon of “late Picasso” came into being with minimal interruption and Picasso was left free to work in ideal conditions at the paintings and prints with which he is widely seen to have made a new career.

William Rubin, director of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, said yesterday that “since Picasso’s death, Jacqueline Picasso devoted herself entirely to her husband’s work, and to those deeply concerned with it.” He noted that “though not always in the best of health,” she organized many exhibitions of works that she inherited from or was given by Picasso. Among the venues were museums in France, Canada, Iceland and Spain.

“Her generosity was extraordinary,” Mr. Rubin said. “Apart from her gift to the French state of Picasso’s private collection, she gave important works from her husband to a number of museums, and in particular to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona.”

Jacqueline Roque, who was born in Paris and had been a dance teacher, came into Picasso’s life in 1952. She quickly became the inspiration of paintings, drawings and prints, in all of which her huge eyes, her breadth of brow and her firm, straight nose were unmistakable. Though of less than medium height, she was granted monumental proportions in image after image. Sometimes she looked like Shakespeare’s Cleopatra. Sometimes there was both Spanish fire and Spanish reserve in the gaze that she turned toward us. Sometimes she looked what she was in life – an inimitable amalgam of ardour and loyalty, steadfastness and serene mischief.

In Picasso’s output, which was never more prolific than in the years when she was by his side, she was ubiquitous almost until the day of his death. In the repertory company of womankind that he summoned up with brush, pen, pencil and etcher’s needle, she played all the key roles. Never did he turn against her, or reinvent her features in rage and derision. But neither did he sentimentalise her. Her fine head, set on a tall neck, was the unchanging, dominant image in his work.

After Picasso’s death, Jacqueline Picasso, who was 44 years younger than her husband, endured periods of deep depression, aggravated by troubles over the artist’s estate. Picasso refused to make his will, and he had children in and out of marriage whose claims on the estate had to be settled.


David Sylvian – vocal, guitar

Music and lyrics by David Sylvian

Included on the cover cd of The Believer, July/August 2009 and subsequently available for download on davidsylvian.com

lyrics © copyright samadhisound publishing

Sources and acknowledgements for this article can be found here.

Download links: ‘Jacqueline’ (davidsylvian.com)

‘Although a great many unpleasant things have been said about her, mostly by excluded friends, nobody has ever questioned her devotion.’ Patrick O’Brian of Jacqueline Picasso, 1976

4 thoughts on “Jacqueline”

  1. Thanks for the excellent piece of historical writing, together with some music from the man we are fans of and facts about the life of one major 20th Century artist. My thoughts upon reading, are multiple action potentials; she became his, he became hers, he created a life for himself that many men, consciously or unconsciously, would wish for themselves – in some ways, I am one – then I throw the idea out – even if I had the talent (is that the attraction of creativity and celebrity?) Loneliness is the undercurrent, avoiding anxiety is a driver, pleasure is, a sought outcome. Those things are undeniable. I feel, sense of purpose (or its loss), is at the foundation. “There’s only now ’til the end and nothing in between”. I don’t feel that, at this time, but like most of us, have had my ‘blue periods’. Picasso was constantly experimenting with his work, throughout his career. Sylvian also. I was particularly interested in David kind of experimenting with melody, whilst not reneging it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. (without going through the procedure of being able to activate ‘Like’, I like the 4th instant post, thevistablogger, thank you)

    This is interesting. I’ve just listened to ‘Jacqueline’ (Sylvian, D, 2008) once again – on this site, to see whether I would want to add to any of my comments, from last summer.

    I’m glad that David has brought the song into further daylight because it seems it was written in a similar vein (of reflection) to ‘Beautiful Country’ (Sylvian, D, circa 2011, 12). When juxtaposed in the mind, there is no doubt that they were written, by the same person.

    Even when thinking of my favourite Japan songs, there is no disputing the fine quality of lyric writing. This is why I prefer the more whole, more ‘traditional’, Sylvian package.

    The later songs are evocative though, of the man older, experienced, slightly ‘world weary’, but at the same time, with an underlying spirit of optimism – I think back to those photos of the hospital ward…

    ‘Ghosts’ still yes, but this is a progression from the exquisite funk of ‘The Art of Parties’. (I) Love all of it. I listen to some of it, nearly every week…do you? Have a good week…

    Liked by 1 person

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