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Sunday, May 19, 2019


Mata Hara, an international woman of intrigue, an entertainer/dancer, courtesan, and alleged double agent spy, is posed in her late twenties in Paris.
A New Delhi based critic writing a review of Paulo Coehlo’s 2016 novel “The Spy” mentions a brief encounter in Coelho's narrative between Mata Hari, Pablo Picasso and Amadeo Modigliani sometime in the teen years of the 20th century.

Photograph (above) was taken on a sunny summer afternoon in Paris,  Amadeo Modigliani, left, with Pablo Picasso, along Avenue Montparnasse most likely near Le Dome restaurant and CafĂ© de la Rotonde on Saturday, August 12, 1916, one of a series of photos taken one afternoon by artist filmmaker Jean Cocteau.
Here’s what the critic wrote:

“...Mata Hari, in her exotic dance, removes her clothes one by one and in the process, she realizes that she is absolutely comfortable with her body. She is now the much written about cultural personality of Paris and everyone wants to be with her and of course to sleep with her. In one of the episodes, we also see how a young artist of that time namely, Pablo Picasso trying to flirt with her and as she understands, to ‘bed’ her. But she likes an Italian artist present there, Modigliani and he treats her with due dignity...”

Here is what Coehlo wrote of the same encounter:

“This is Pablo Picasso, the artist I was telling you about.” [Mata Hari’s words in a letter written to her lawyer in the days leading up to her execution, October 15, 1917]. 
         [She continues]: From the moment we were introduced, Picasso forgot about the rest of the guests and spent the entire evening trying to strike up a conversation with me.  He spoke of my beauty, asked me to pose for him, and said I needed to go with him to Malaga if only to get a week away from the madness of Paris.  He had one objective, and he didn’t need to tell me what it was: to get me into his bed.

I was extremely embarrassed by that ugly, wide-eyed, impolite man who fancied himself the greatest of the greats.  His friends were much more interesting, including an Italian man, Amedeo Modigliani, who seemed more noble, more elegant, and who at no point tried to force any conversation.  Every time Pablo finished one of his interminable and incomprehensible lectures about revolutions taking place in art, I turned to Modigliani.  That seemed to infuriate Picasso.

“What do you do?” I asked Amadeo [they conversed about sacred dances].
Picasso interrupted the conversation the whole time with his theories, but Amadeo, elegant and polite, knew to wait his turn and return to the subject.

“Can I give you some advice?” he asked when the dinner was drawing to a close and everyone was preparing to go to Picasso’s studio.  I nodded yes.
“Know what you want and try to go beyond your own expectations.  Improve your dancing, practice a lot, and set a very high goal, one that would be difficult to achieve.  Because that is an artist’s mission: to go beyond one’s limits.  An artist who desires very little and achieves it has failed in life.”

I never ran into Pablo or Amedeo again.


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