Sixty years ago the great painter became besotted with the teenage Sylvette David. Laura Gascoigne tracked her down in Devon on the eve of her own exhibition.
"My grandfather was a Sun King," writes Olivier Widmaier Picasso in his family history, ‘a fixed point in the firmament around whom women moved like planets in perpetual orbit, sometimes coming close, other times drifting further away – assuming that he had not banished them to burn out at the far end of the universe.’ But in 1953 the Sun King himself was badly burned when the most independent of his muses, Françoise Gilot, left him, taking their children, Claude and Paloma, with her.
Aged 72 and living in Vallauris, Picasso was suffering a belated mid-life crisis when a meteor with a long blonde ponytail crossed his path. Since his move to the pottery-manufacturing town outside Antibes five years earlier, Vallauris had attracted a lively community of artists. Among them was the young English avant-garde furniture-maker Toby Jellinek, who one day delivered two chairs to Picasso’s villa in the company of his beautiful nineteen-year-old girlfriend, Sylvette David.