“I have never heard anyone say no to Picasso. In fact, he called me “the woman who says no”, because when she had to say no, she said it”. This is how the artist Françoise Gilot summed up her ten years of living together with Pablo Picasso, with whom she had two children, Paloma and Claude, before deciding to put distance between them so as not to be absorbed by the minotaur. She was the only woman capable of surviving living with the painter once the man from Malaga became recognized for his work and talent. On her way to turning 102, Gilot today lives apart from the world, in New York, while she contemplates from old age and with the utmost discretion how her work is finally beginning to be recognized in Europe, andespecially in France, her country, which until very recently marginalized her.
Surely you have already seen her: her long neck, her mole on her cheek and her penetrating gaze star in numerous female portraits by Picasso. Unlike others, she was luckier and did not go down in history as crying womantitle with which the artist portrayed, for example, Dora Maar. Perhaps this is precisely why the elites of French painting have not been as kind to Gilot as they have been to Dora Maar. By your own trajectory but also by Her status as muse, Maar is a figurehead in French surrealism and has been the subject of numerous exhibitions. Instead, Gilot, on this side of the Atlantic it’s little more than a forgotten drawing.
“Gilot is the only woman who did not allow herself to be broken by Picasso, except Fernande Olivier, and it doesn’t seem casual to me. Fernande also wrote books of memories of her with Picasso. He didn’t destroy her, but he did not try to save her either, and she died in misery”, Gilot’s biographer and personal friend, Annie Maïllis, also author of the documentary, tells S MODA La femme qui dit nonwhich returns to the antenna of Art this week on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Picasso’s death.
Françoise Gilot met Picasso in wartime Paris, during the Nazi occupation. She was then a young artist with great aspirations. C.As she herself tells in the controversial book Living with Picassopublished in 1964 together with the literary critic Carlton Lake, who shaped his testimony, is they crossed for the first time at the restaurant Le Catalanmeeting point of artists. “She was with a friend and the actor Alain Cuny, who was having dinner with us. Picasso came to talk to us, telling Cuny that he knew him: can you introduce me to his friends? She responded fearlessly and explained that she was an artist. From then on, and accepting Picasso’s invitation, she began to visit him in his Grands Augustins workshop. in the mornings. “The day he invited me to come in the afternoon, I understood very well what he meant,” adds Gilot in the interview book. Dans l’arène with Picasso (In the arena with Picasso, in Spanish), by Maïllis, reissued in 2021. It was May 1943, Picasso was 61 years old, she was 21.
Gilot and Picasso soon fell in love. the french counted in his book what were the first months of the relationship, where Picasso tried to stir up the jealousy of one and the other, for in reality he was then with Dora Maar, with whom he had previously cheated on Marie-Thérèse de Walter. De Walter did not quite get over the traumas of their relationship and he committed suicide in 1977, four years after Picasso’s death. Maar, for her part, ended up in a psychiatric hospital. Meanwhile, Picasso had never been able to legally separate from his first wife, the Russian dancer Olga khokhlova, who died in 1955 of cancer without being granted a divorce. Picasso, with whom he shared a child, did not bother to go to the burial.
The control that Picasso exercised over his friends and partners has been a source of controversy and the focus of several books such as the minotaurby Sophie Chauveau, or My grandfather, by Marina Picasso, granddaughter of the artist. In the 1960s, Gilot’s book already served as a witness to what it must be like to support the creator every day. He also told it his diaries Jean Cocteauone of the few who remained faithful to Gilot when she left picasso and both the friends ofthe painter like art galleries they started to give it the back. Cocteau was with the couple in the workshop of the Spanish when he heard how Picasso told his partner: “You are nothing more to me than the dust of this staircase.” Gilot responded with a rebuke: “I don’t need to be swept away, I’ll have left before.” One of the numerous anecdotes that have passed down to posterity, and that reflect an indecisive man up to the bars with the most trivial questions and with a mood that is less changeable.
“The Picasso thing was above all psychological torture. He was not a violent man or a predator as we would say now. So much to women like to the men with whom she trusted were continually put to the test. But she was strong enough to answer. Others were not”, says Maïllis. As of Fernande, another free woman, Picasso was deeply in love from Francoisebut he could not bear that she left him. The trauma of abandonment, which she had carried since childhood, resurfaced when in 1954, with two small children, Françoise packed her bags and left the house they shared in Vallauris, in the south of France.
“I think what fascinated Picasso about Françoise was precisely that she was a strong woman. It took a lot of character to leave Picasso. He told Gilot that no one could leave him, and that was precisely what he should not have told him because he immediately increased his desire to leave him ”, comment Maïllis, who has spent thirty years sharing intimacies with Gilot and his children, with whom he has also been able to talk at length about Picasso.
The worst for Gilot undoubtedly came after separating from the artist, with whom had established an interesting pictorial hand in hand during the years they shared. Unlike her previous partners, Gilot refused to become a muse. She did not want to be “the creature” of one of her works, but “the creator” and often painted him. After the separation, Gilot began to have problems with his gallery owners, especially as a result of marrying another man and having a daughter, but the publication of the book in 1964 earned him exile in a way. Picasso tried up to three times to veto its publication. dozens of artists, including Rafael Alberti, José Bergamín, Camilo José Cela, Michel Leiris and other stalwarts of freedom of expression, published a petition calling for a ban on the book in France. They didn’t make it, but Gilot was forced to start a new life. In 2019, during an exhibition dedicated to her in New York, the painter insisted that she could not live in France: “People don’t like me, you can’t imagine how much they hate me.” Gilot did not speak to any of them again, although some tried to apologize.
But the institutional vacuum surrounding the work of Gilot, whose paintings sell in the United States and other countries for hundreds of thousands ofDollarshas been a constant until this decade. “The motivation behind our exhibition was the injustice that exists in the world of art towards women, and very particularly with the case of Françoise Gilot”, explains Elisa Farran, director of the estrine museum, in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, which hosted the first exhibition of his work in 2021, curated by Maïllis. The exhibition was well received, with more than 20,000 visitors in the six months it was open to the public. According to Maïllis, in recent months they have contacted with her for a possible exhibition in Spain and a retrospective in a big city, still unconfirmed.
own Farran was surprised not to know this artist, who did not appear even among the names of the great French artists of the last century, and confesses that there was a point of redemption in trying to bring Gilot’s work closer to the public. “For me, the important thing was to emphasize that we are talking about a French artist, knowing that France has always had her on her blacklist, and that she left her out of it as if she were undesirable. But we had to show to what extent Gilot, trained in France and until long after settling in the United States, kept the characteristics of a French and European painter”.
the french yearsthe title of the show and of the book about it, precisely reflect Gilot’s work in post-picassian figuration from the 40s, his path towards abstraction, the weight of color –which he learned from Matisse, his favorite painter–, but also the strength of his drawings. “When Gilot met Picasso, she was already an artist with some mastery. The construction of her works is very solid, thanks to the strength of her drawings. She has fun portraying her children and giving an answer to her life as a couple. It cannot be compared with Picasso, but it is necessary to insist on that she was not a mere executing hand, but an artist of great talent».
G.ilot, that in addition to painter is an exceptional witness to 20th century artistic circles, she was then unable to attend her first exhibition in France and, at 101 years, he does not leave New York although he is in full control of his mental faculties. He has kept a firm discretion and inaccessibility in the second part of his life, and she no longer wants to give interviews or be bothered. But at least she has come – almost miraculously – to witness how her country I returned to little by little to take an interest in her job.
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