Gilot, Françoise, 1921-

Alternative names
Birth 1921-11-26

Biographical notes:

French painter.

From the description of Françoise Gilot Collection, 1944-1965. (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRC); University of Texas at Austin). WorldCat record id: 85242215

Françoise Gilot (1921- )

Françoise Gilot was born November 26, 1921 in the chic Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. An only child, she is the daughter of Emile Gilot, an agronomist, and Madeline Renoult. Attracted by art from a young age, and influenced by her mother who was herself an amateur artist, Françoise ultimately rebelled against practicing law--her father's chosen occupation for her. In 1943, at the age of twenty-one, Gilot had her first exhibition, despite the ban on modern art by the Nazi occupiers. It was during this same period that she met Pablo Picasso. Eventually, she would become his muse, mistress, and mother of two of his children in a tumultuous relationship that would last ten years. Later, she summarized her feelings at the start of the liaison, "I knew that whatever came to pass--however wonderful or painful, or both mixed together--it would be tremendously important." She was to be the inspiration of many of Picasso's works, such as La Femme-Fleur, and he in turn singularly influenced her own artistic approach. After much hesitation, she finally broke off their relationship in 1953.

In February 1961, with the collaboration of Carlton Lake, Gilot began to write Life with Picasso (1964). While Lake was considerably impressed with her recall of events, and even her memory for dialogue, which he verified against documents and his own interviews with Picasso, the reviews for the book when it came out in 1963 were ambivalent, if not overwhelmingly negative. Although, Gilot was unusually frank about her life with Picasso, she also did not spare herself in the process, which perhaps is one reason why biographers have continued to rely on her work--albeit reluctantly. While she dedicated the book "to Pablo," he tried to prohibit its publication, losing all three lawsuits to that purpose.

In 1962, Gilot divorced Luc Simon, whom she had married in 1955, and with whom she had a daughter. In 1970, she married Dr. Jonas Salk, the discoverer of the polio vaccine. They remained together until his death in 1995. Gilot's artistic style continued to evolve after she broke with Picasso. Later, she would attribute Matisse's use of color as being the greater influence upon her creative process. She also authored Matisse and Picasso: A Friendship in Art (1990), among other works.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Considered one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born October 25, 1881 in Málaga, Spain. Son of the artist José Ruiz Blasco (1838-1913), Picasso went on to adopt his mother's maiden name, dropping Ruiz. Precociously gifted, at fourteen Picasso entered into the prestigious Escuela de Bellas Artes in Barcelona where his father was a teacher.

Around 1899, Picasso encountered his first important circle of artist and writer friends at the café Els Quatre Gats. Notably, his friendship with the poet and sculptor Jaime Sabartés, who later was to become his secretary, dates from this period. After his first exhibition in Barcelona, Picasso visited France for the first time, eventually settling there permanently in 1904.

In Paris, Picasso moved into a studio in the now infamous Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre. The artists Juan Gris and Modigliani and the avant-garde writers Max Jacob, André Salmon, Pierre Reverdy, and Pierre MacOrlan also lived in the complex. His increasing circle of friends also included Guillaume Apollinaire, Gertrude and Leo Stein, Georges Braque, and Henri Matisse. Artistically, Picasso's style was evolving from his somber Blue Period (1901-1904) to his Rose Period (1904-1905). Then in 1907, he painted the critical work Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, which was inspired by Primitivism, and presaged the advent of Cubism--the revolutionary artistic movement created by Picasso and Braque.

Picasso was simultaneously influenced by and a primary influence upon practically every artistic and intellectual movement of the twentieth century, particularly Surrealism. Gertrude Stein, Picasso's friend and patron, wrote of his work, "His drawings were not of things seen but of things expressed, in short they were words for him and drawing always was his only way of talking and he talks a great deal."

Aside from the Blue Period, where his work commonly depicted the poor and abandoned, Picasso's political statements in his art were rare, yet powerful. In 1937, provoked by the aerial bombing of the village of Guernica by Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War, Picasso created his antiwar masterpiece of the same name. While not a member of the French Resistance during World War II, Picasso did remain in Paris when many others chose safety elsewhere. He did join the Communist Party in 1944, however, which may have subsequently affected the market for his work; nevertheless, he remained a member the rest of his life.

Picasso's biographer John Richardson has noted, "Everything about Picasso is interesting. Even the most trifling facts of his personal life turn out to be valuable clues which explain his unpredictable changes of subject, style, or mood....If he acquires a new mistress, her presence will at once be reflected in his work." Picasso's personal life inspired so much of his art that connoisseurs cannot help but acquaint themselves with the vagaries of his romantic relationships. His comment on the subject was, "I paint the way some people write their autobiography. The paintings, finished or not, are the pages of my journal, and as such they are valid. The future will choose the pages it prefers."

Picasso's considerable artistic output continued practically unabated up to his death on April 8, 1973. While Picasso the public figure may have suffered from the stereotypes that come with our modern over-mediatization, some of which he encouraged, Picasso the artist's posthumous reputation remains intact, particularly considering the enormous impact his work has had on the development of twentieth century artistic movements.

From the guide to the Françoise Gilot Collection TXRC06-A22., 1944-1965, (The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center)


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  • Painters--20th century
  • APainters--Biography
  • Painting--Psychological aspects
  • Painters--Biography
  • Painters--France--20th century
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