Artist Francoise Gilot, who loved and left Picasso, dies at 101

Francoise Gilot, a prolific and acclaimed painter who was nevertheless better known for her turbulent relationship with Pablo Picasso – and for leaving him – has passed away. She turned 101.

Gilot’s daughter, Aurelia Engel, told the Associated Press that her mother had died Tuesday in a hospital in New York, where she had lived for decades.

“She was an exceptionally talented artist and we will work on her legacy and the incredible paintings and works she leaves us,” said Engel.

The French-born Gilot had long made it clear her frustration that, despite the praise for her art, she was already one of the most respected artists of the emerging School of Paris, which brought together French and émigré artists in the first half of the 20th century. grouped in the capital. when the two met – she would still be best known for her relationship with Picasso.

The couple met in 1943, when she was 21 and he was already in his sixties and had two children: Claude and Paloma.

Picasso often painted Gilot, portraying her as the radiant and haughty Woman-Flower in 1946 and heavily pregnant in Femme Assise in 1949.

The two never married and, unlike other key women in the famed painter’s life, Gilot eventually eloped.

“Pablo was the greatest love of my life, but you had to take steps to protect yourself. I did, I left before I was destroyed,” she confided in Janet Hawley’s 2021 book Artists and Conversation.

“The others didn’t, they clung to the mighty Minotaur and paid a high price,” she said, referring to Picasso’s first wife, dancer Olga Khokhlova, who fell into depression after he left her; his former teenage lover, Marie-Therese Walter, who committed suicide; his second wife Jacqueline Roque, who also committed suicide; and his most famous muse, artist Dora Maar, who had a nervous breakdown.

“He never saw it coming,” said 66-year-old Engel of her mother’s decision to leave. “She was there because she loved him and because she truly believed in that incredible passion for art that they both shared. [But] she came as a free, though very, very young, but very independent person.

Born on November 26, 1921 in the well-to-do suburb of Paris, Neuilly-sur-Seine, Gilot was an only child.

“She knew at the age of five that she wanted to be a painter,” said Engel. In accordance with her parents’ wishes, she studied law but dropped out to pursue her passion for art.

She held her first exhibition in 1943, when France was under Nazi occupation.

That was the year she met Picasso by chance, when she and a friend visited a restaurant on the Left Bank, in the midst of a meeting with Maar, the photographer, painter and poet who was his companion at the time.

“I was 21 and I felt like painting was all my life,” she wrote in Life With Picasso.

Francoise Gilot with her work at a show in Milan in 1965. Experts say her painting was “filled with colour, energy and joy” [File: AP Photo]

When Picasso asked Gilot and her friend what they did, the friend replied that they were painters, to which Picasso replied, Gilot writes, “That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all day. Girls who look like this can’t be painters.” The two were invited to visit Picasso in his studio, and Gilot and Picasso soon began a relationship.

Not long after leaving Picasso in 1953, Gilot reunited with a former friend, artist Luc Simon, and married him in 1955. They had a daughter – Engel – and divorced in 1962.

In 1970, Gilot married Jonas Salk, the American virologist and researcher who developed the first polio vaccine, and moved to live between France and the United States. She took American citizenship and moved permanently to New York in 1995 after Salk died.

Her work is in the collections of leading museums, including the Center Pompidou in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Her art has only increased in value over the years. In 2021, her Paloma à la Guitare (1965) sold for $1.3 million at Sotheby’s, who described it as a “bewitchingly bold portrait”.

Over the course of her career, Gilot produced at least 1,600 canvases and 3,600 works on paper.

Simon Shaw, Sotheby’s vice-chairman for global visual arts, said it was gratifying to see Gilot’s paintings “getting the recognition they really deserved” over the past decade.

“Seeing Francoise as a muse [to Picasso] is missing the point,” Shaw wrote in an email. “She was established on her course as a painter when she first met Pablo. While her work naturally entered into a dialogue with his, Francoise followed a fierce course of her own – her art, like her character, was filled with color, energy and joy.

Engel noted that while the relationship with Picasso was clearly difficult, it gave her mother a certain freedom from her parents and the constraints of bourgeois life – and perhaps allowed her to pursue her true dream of becoming a professional painter. becoming, a passion she shared with Picasso above all else.

“They both believed that art was the only thing worth doing in life,” she said. “And she was able to be her true self, even though it wasn’t an easy life with him. But she could still be her true self.”

Her life with Picasso was made into the 1996 film Surviving Picasso directed by James Ivory.