Françoise Gilot Was More Than Picasso’s Muse

The artist famously inspired the Cubist, but a new book shows that her own paintings deserve renown

Main image
The Painter (Self-portrait at Work), oil on canvas, 1946. Gilot painted the self-portrait while she and Picasso were staying in Antibes, on the French Riviera. Françoise Gilot, 2021

Françoise Gilot was fresh off her first gallery exhibition when, at 21, she met Pablo Picasso in a Paris bistro. While she remains best known for their decade-long affair, during which she served as his favorite model, Gilot, who turned 100 in November, has undergone an artistic reappraisal—one that some critics say was long overdue. Her spare abstract works, expressionist landscapes and perceptive portraits hang in top museums. Now a new book, Françoise Gilot: The Years in France, offers a survey of her oeuvre before she emigrated to the United States, in 1970. “Picasso created portraits of his young muse in all kinds of media...that would guarantee the immortality of his model,” Annie Maïllis, Gilot’s friend and biographer, writes in an introductory essay. “To maintain control over her own image, Françoise responded in self-portraits.” Or, as Gilot herself once put it, “One’s ego is not satisfied by the fact that one had been painted by Picasso.”

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This article is a selection from the April/May issue of Smithsonian magazine

Porte-fenêtre en bleu, 1939, oil on canvas.
Porte-fenêtre en bleu, 1939, oil on canvas. Ⓒ Françoise Gilot, 2021, photo by Rodolphe Haller
Picasso
Portrait de Pablo (de mémoire), 1945, gouache on paper.

  Ⓒ Françoise Gilot, 2021, photo by Mathieu Polo
Autoportrait (Visage dans le vent), 1944, oil on canvas.
Autoportrait (Visage dans le vent), 1944, oil on canvas.

  Ⓒ Françoise Gilot, 2021, photo by Rodolphe Haller

Françoise Gilot: The Years in France

Portraits, abstraction and more from Gilot's early years