Françoise Gilot: Surviving Picasso

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Françoise Gilot: Surviving Picasso
Update: Françoise Gilot passed away on June 6, 2023 at Mt. Sinai Hospital West, New York City. She was 101 years old. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Pablo Picasso’s death and many exhibits have been organized in Europe and the United States to celebrate his work. There’s also been much analysis and media coverage exploring his influence and legacy such as this thought-provoking New York Times piece, “Picasso: Love Him? Hate Him?” Of all Pablo Picasso’s partners, only one of them walked away. Françoise Gilot may not have walked away unscathed, but she certainly remained unbowed. However, when she wrote Life with Picasso in 1964, she paid a heavy price for her defection. Furious at her revelations, Picasso unsuccessfully attempted to stop the book’s publication and subsequently disowned not only Gilot but also their two children. Such was Picasso’s influence that many of their mutual friends shunned her and started a petition to have her book banned in France (only Jean Cocteau remained loyal). Eventually Gilot felt compelled to leave France, where she believed she was hated. Certainly art galleries no longer wanted to display her work, and agents would not represent her, fearing Picasso’s displeasure. The Second World War was still in progress 1943 when Gilot and Picasso first met in Le Catalan, a small restaurant in Rue des Grand-Augustins on the Left Bank where Picasso had his studio. Gilot was 21 years old and Picasso was 62. Picasso invited her to his studio. Gilot claims that despite her inexperience, she always knew what this would eventually mean, but she could not have failed to be deeply affected by the great artist’s interest in both her and her drawings. At the time Picasso was still with Dora Maar, although Maar never lived in Rue des Grandes Augustins with Picasso but around the corner. Their affair had lasted almost nine years from 1937, and Maar— a talented artist and photographer — suffered a breakdown when Picasso abandoned her for Gilot. It was a pattern that Picasso continued to repeat, replacing one lover with another, with often disastrous consequences for the discarded partner. Gilot was well aware of Picasso’s track record; she had met Maar numerous times, and both she and Picasso were often besieged by his tempestuous wife, the former Russian ballet dancer, Olga Khokhlova. (Khokhlova refused to divorce Picasso, but he also dragged his heels to prevent sharing any of his assets. In return, Khohklova hounded Picasso and Gilot whenever she could. In a quirk of French law, a marriage ceremony involving two foreigners could only be dissolved in accordance with the laws of the husband’s country. The government having been overthrown in the Spanish Civil War, and now under Franco’s regime, did not permit a Spanish subject who had been married in church to divorce. Khoklova and Picasso remained married until her death in 1955.) Marcel Duval (1890 – 1985), Restaurant Le Catalan, 19 Rue des Grands-Augustins At first in Paris, Gilot lived with her grandmother, visiting Picasso’s studio as often as she thought appropriate. But she neither played games with the artist nor encouraged his attempts at seduction. Picasso was doubtless intrigued by this calm young woman who was not overwhelmed by his reputation but could converse with him on an equal intellectual level. Gilot had reservations about moving in with Picasso. She had fallen in love with him but was very aware of the disparities in their temperaments and was uneasy about his fractured relationship with Dora Maar. It was not until May of 1946 that Picasso finally persuaded her to move into his apartment on the Rue des Grands-Augustins.

Lead photo credit : Françoise Gilot, Self Portrait, 1970, watercolor on paper, 64,8 x 50,2 cm. (25.5 x 19.8 in.)

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After some dreary years in the Civil Service, Marilyn realized her dream of living in Paris. She arrived in Paris in December 1967 and left in July 1969. From there she lived in Mallorca, London, Oman, and Dubai, where she moved with her husband and young son and worked for Gulf News, Khaleej Times and freelanced for Emirates Woman magazine. During this time she was also a ground stewardess for Middle East Airlines. For the past 18 years they've lived on the Isle of Wight.


  • Beth Gersh-Nesic
    2023-06-08 06:42:15
    Beth Gersh-Nesic
    Dear Marllyn, I read your article after Françoise Gilot passed away. Thank you for honoring her while she was still alive. Quite a tough cookie - and a charming one as well. Beth


    •  Marilyn Brouwer
      2023-06-08 07:30:18
      Marilyn Brouwer
      Thanks Beth, she was so talented and brave and quite wonderful that she lived so long, still painting with no regrets.