Françoise Gilot’s Artistic Career Persisted Long After She Left Picasso. Now, She’s Getting an Exhibition in Paris

At the Picasso Museum, the talented painter’s artistic legacy is finally getting the recognition it deserves

Françoise Gilot
Artist Françoise Gilot was a talented painter, but her work never achieved widespread recognition in France. Michel Ginfray / Sygma via Getty Images

The French painter Françoise Gilot is perhaps best known as Pablo Picasso’s partner, though her work never achieved comparable acclaim. Now, the art world is finally beginning to recognize her talent.

This week, the Picasso Museum in Paris opened a room dedicated to Gilot’s artistic career. She will not be presented as Picasso’s muse, and there will be no photos he took of her or paintings he created that she inspired.

“She was an artist in her own right with a very long career during which her work evolved,” Joanne Snrech, a curator at the Picasso Museum, tells the Guardian’s Kim Willsher. “What we show here is the diversity of her work.”

Gilot met Picasso in 1943 at a Parisian bistro when she was 21. He was 61. At first, she saw him as “invasive and dominant,” as she told Olivier O’Mahony of the magazine Paris Match in 2012, per a translation from the Washington Post’s Annabelle Timsit. With time, the pair grew close, going on to have two children together, Claude and Paloma.

Pablo Picasso and Françoise Gilot
Françoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso in 1951 Roger Viollet via Getty Images

Gilot would later say that their relationship was marked by both emotional and physical abuse. In 1953, after a decade, she left Picasso.

“It was no longer tenable … for my children nor for me,” she told Paris Match. “My youth became unbearable for him. He was aggressive and unpleasant. I had changed, too. I was no longer the discreet conciliator I once was.”

Gilot claimed that after the separation, Picasso went after her reputation, convincing certain galleries to cut ties. “Picasso and his influential friends in France’s artistic and intellectual circles waged what she described as a ‘war’ on her, eventually forcing her to leave France,” writes the Guardian. He also launched an unsuccessful campaign and three lawsuits to stop the publication of her memoir, Life With Picasso, in 1964.

“You imagine people will be interested in you? They won’t ever, really, just for yourself,” Gilot recalled Picasso telling her. “Even if you think people like you, it will only be a kind of curiosity they will have about a person whose life touched mine so intimately.”

After the separation, Gilot left her country and built a new life in the United States, where she developed a reputation of her own. While her work appeared at institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, she never achieved widespread renown in France.

Françoise Gilot with art
Françoise Gilot continued painting until her death last year at age 101. Jean-Pierre Muller / AFP via Getty Images

The Picasso Museum hopes to correct the record, highlighting a legacy that has long been obscured by Picasso’s shadow. Gilot’s art is colorful and dynamic, and she experimented with several styles throughout her life.

Her career persisted long after her relationship with Picasso ended. She continued painting until she died last year at age 101.

“We thought it was important to show not just her place in Picasso’s life but also that she was much more than just his companion,” Snrech tells the Guardian. “After all, she spent just 10 years with him out of more than 100.”

The room dedicated to Gilot’s paintings, located on the third floor of the Picasso Museum, will be open through the end of the year.

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