Françoise Gilot, celebrated artist who loved and later left Pablo Picasso, has died aged 101

NEW YORK (AP) — Françoise Gilot, a prolific and celebrated painter who created art for more than half a century but is nonetheless more famous for her turbulent relationship with Pablo Picasso — and for having left him — is in on Tuesday New York City died. where she had lived for decades. She was 101.

Gilot’s daughter, Aurelia Engel, told The Associated Press her mother died at Mount Sinai West Hospital after suffering from lung and heart problems. “She was an extremely talented artist and we will continue to work on her legacy and the incredible paintings and work she leaves us,” Engel said.

Born in France, Gilot had long expressed her disappointment that despite the acclaim for her art she spawned from her teens to five years ago, she would still be best known for her relationship with the elder Picasso whom she 1943 met 21 years old, four decades younger than him.

The marriage produced two children – Claude and Paloma Picasso. But unlike the other key women in Picasso’s life – wives or lovers – Gilot eventually left the room.

“He never saw it coming,” Engel said of her mother’s departure. “She was there because she loved him and because she genuinely believed in the incredible passion for art that they both shared. (But) she came as a free, albeit very, very young, but very independent person.”

Françoise Gilot, a prolific and celebrated painter who created art for well over half a century but is nonetheless better known for her tumultuous relationship with Pablo Picasso — and for leaving him — died Tuesday in New York City.
Françoise Gilot, a prolific and celebrated painter who created art for well over half a century but is nonetheless better known for her tumultuous relationship with Pablo Picasso — and for leaving him — died Tuesday in New York City.

Gilot himself told The Guardian newspaper in 2016 that “I was not a prisoner in the relationship.”

“I was there of my own volition and left of my own volition,” she said, then 94. “I told him that once before I left. I said, “Look, because I came when I wanted to, but I’ll go when I want to.” He said, “No one leaves a man like me.” I said, “We’ll see.”

Gilot wrote several books, the most famous being 1964’s Life with Picasso with Carlton Lake. A disgruntled Picasso tried unsuccessfully to ban the publication. “He attacked her in court and lost three times,” said Engel, 66, an architect by training who now manages her mother’s archives. But she said: “After the third loss, he called her and said congratulations. He fought it, but at the same time I think he was proud to have been with a woman who had as much courage as he did.”

Gilot was born on November 26, 1921 in leafy Neuilly-sur-Seine in the Paris suburbs and was an only child. “By the time she was five, she knew she wanted to be a painter,” Engel said. Following her parents’ wishes, however, she studied law but kept art as her true passion. She exhibited her paintings for the first time in 1943.

Gilot wrote several books, the most famous being 1964's Life with Picasso with Carlton Lake. A disgruntled Picasso tried unsuccessfully to ban the publication.
Gilot wrote several books, the most famous being 1964’s Life with Picasso with Carlton Lake. A disgruntled Picasso tried unsuccessfully to ban the publication.

Andrew Toth via Getty Images

That year she met Picasso by chance while she and a friend were visiting a restaurant on the Left Bank, amid a gathering that included his then-girlfriend, Dora Maar.

“I was 21 and felt like painting was my whole life,” she writes in Life With Picasso. When Picasso asked Gilot and her friend what they did, the friend replied that they were painters, to which Picasso replied, Gilot wrote, “That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all day.” Girls who look like that can not be painters.” The two were invited to visit Picasso in his studio and the relationship soon began.

Shortly after leaving Picasso in 1953, Gilot reunited with a former friend, the artist Luc Simon, and married him in 1955. They had one daughter – Engel – and divorced in 1962. In 1970, Gilot married Jonas Salk, the American virologist and researcher famous for his work with the polio vaccine, and began living between California and Paris, and later New York. When he died in 1995, Gilot moved to New York full-time and spent her final years on the Upper West Side.

Her art has grown in value over the years. In 2021, her Paloma à la Guitare (1965) sold for $1.3 million at a Sotheby’s auction. Her work has been featured in many major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. Her life with Picasso was portrayed in the 1996 film Surviving Picasso directed by James Ivory.

Françoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso, pictured in the early 1950s.
Françoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso, pictured in the early 1950s.

Lipnitzki via Getty Images

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

“To see Françoise as a muse (to Picasso) is to miss the point,” Shaw wrote in an email. “She was well established on her path as a painter when she first met Pablo. While her work naturally dialogued with his, Françoise had a path all her own – her art, like her character, was full of colour, energy and joy.”

Engel noted that while her relationship with Picasso was clearly difficult, it gave her mother some freedom from her parents and the constraints of middle-class life — and perhaps allowed her to pursue her true dream of becoming a professional painter, a passion she had shared especially with Picasso.

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

And for Engel, her mother’s most important legacy was not only her creativity, but also her courage, which was reflected in her art, which was constantly changing and never remained safe.

“She wasn’t without fear. But she always faced her fears, jumped into the void and took risks no matter what,” Engel said.

Rick Schindler

Rick Schindler is a Worldtimetodays U.S. News Reporter based in Canada. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Rick Schindler joined Worldtimetodays in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: RickSchindler@worldtimetodays.com.

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