Maya Ruiz-Picasso Obituary: How Did Maya Ruiz-Picasso Die? Maya Widmaier-Picasso, Pablo Picasso’s eldest daughter, died on December 20 in Paris of pulmonary problems at the age of 87.
Her son, actor Olivier Widmaier-Picasso, confirmed the news. He tells The Art Newspaper that she “died quietly, surrounded by her family,” which includes himself, his sister, art historian Diana Widmaier-Picasso, and their father, Maya’s husband, Pierre Widmaier.
The Picasso Museum in Paris is now hosting two shows dedicated to Maya’s life and collection, both organized by Diana and running through the end of the month.
The first exhibits Maya’s paintings, which she handed to the French government as “payment in lieu” of inheritance tax last year. She had chosen six paintings, a sculpture, a sketchbook, and a tribal statue to round off the massive collection that had become the Musée Picasso following her father’s death in 1973.
“She was very attached to the idea that her inheritance should go to a museum,” Olivier says, “so I always thought I had a ‘little brother’ called the French public collection.”
“For my mother it was a duty,” Diana says. “She was deeply attached to Picasso’s legacy. She became an expert of his oeuvre and gathered a great body of archives.”
The second exhibition at the museum depicts Maya’s private life with her father through pictures he painted of her in the 1930s. One of them was stolen in a burglary in Diana’s residence in 2007 and was recovered by French art police in a spectacular gang arrest.
The exhibition also includes various drawings, photographs, poetry, and other artifacts from their daily lives. “He saved fragments of nails and hair as a charm to protect her,” Diana explains. Another exhibition now on display at the Musée Montmartre in Paris is dedicated to Picasso’s first wife, Fernande Olivier, in a first.
Maya herself was a character larger than life, capable of teasing French president Macron during an exhibition opening with the quip: “I could be your mother, you know”. She was born in Paris on 5 September 1935, eight years after Picasso’s met Marie-Thérèse Walter. He was 45 and she was 17. Her early life was not easy.
As an illegitimate child, her birth and first years of childhood had to be “kept secret” she once said. She was named Maria de la Concepción, after Pablo’s sister who died when he was 14. But she could not pronounce the name and was nicknamed Maya. “It took me almost 60 years to have the name listed in public records,” she said.
“As an expert [on Picasso, my mother] authenticated thousands of works,” Olivier says. She stopped about 6 years ago when her eyesight began to fail because of a cataract. In 2012, Picasso’s son Claude and the other heirs formed a body named ‘Picasso Authentification’ which she did not take well, reminding them “I am not dead, you know!”