Acclaimed artist Françoise Gilot, the only woman who broke up with Picasso, passes away aged 101

Despite her artwork, she was better known for her tumultuous relationship with the legendary Spanish painter

author_img   |   Published :   |  07th June 2023 06:16 PM

In Frame: Françoise Gilot

French artist Françoise Gilot, who has been active for the last 50 years, passed away at the age of 101 on June 6. When she met Picasso, she had already achieved success as an artist, particularly in ceramics and watercolours. But she was better known for her tumultuous relationship with the legendary Spanish painter and, more particularly, for leaving him.

Francoise died at Mount Sinai West Hospital after suffering both lung and heart problems, as reported by her daughter, Aurelia Engel. The artist had long expressed her dissatisfaction with the fact that, despite receiving praise for the work she produced from her teenage years until five years ago, she would always be remembered more for her relationship with Picasso, who was senior to her by four decades and whom she first met in 1943 when she was 21 years old. The couple had two children, Claude and Paloma Picasso.

Unlike the other key women in Picasso's life, who seemed to suffer disastrous consequences after their relationships with Picasso, Francoise eventually walked out. "He never saw it coming," Aurelia said in an interview, connoting her mother’s decision to leave Picasso. "She was there because she loved him and because she believed in that incredible passion for art that they both shared. "But  she came as a free, though very, very young, but very independent person."

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"I'd been there of my own will, and I left of my own will," Francoise had said, back when she was 94. "That's what I told him once before I left. I said, 'Watch out, because I came when I wanted to, but I will leave when I want.' He said, 'Nobody leaves a man like me.' I said, 'We'll see.' "

Francoise has authored several books, the most famous being Life with Picasso, written in 1964 with Carlton Lake. Picasso angered, sought to ban the book multiple times, but upon being defeated three times, he congratulated her. On this matter, Aurelia stated, “He fought it, but at the same time, I think he was proud to have been with a woman who had such guts as he had."

Francoise knew she wanted to be a painter at the early age of five. However, she complied with her parent’s wishes and studied law while keeping true to her passion on the sidelines. She first exhibited her paintings in 1943, which was also the year she, while accompanying a friend, chanced upon Picasso at a restaurant, in a gathering that included his then-companion, Dora Maar.

"I was 21, and I felt that painting was already my whole life," an excerpt reads in Life With Picasso. He had asked Francoise and her companion what they did, and the friend replied that they were painters. To this, Picasso responded, "That's the funniest thing I've heard all day. Girls who look like that can't be painters." Following an invitation to see Picasso at his studio, the two started dating.

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Francoise reunited with artist Luc Simon, a previous friend, shortly after leaving Picasso in 1953. They got married to him in 1955, and they had Aurelia. They got divorced in 1962. Francoise began dividing her time between California, Paris, and eventually New York after being married to American virologist and researcher Jonas Salk in 1970. Francoise relocated permanently to New York after he died in 1995, where she lived out her final years on the Upper West Side.

Aurelia observed that although her mother's relationship with Picasso was undoubtedly challenging, it also provided some freedom from her parents and the restrictions of bourgeois life, possibly allowing her to pursue her true dream of becoming a professional painter—a passion she shared above all else with Picasso.

"They both believed that art was the only thing in life worth doing," Aurelia said, "and she was able to be her true self, even though it was not an easy life with him. But still, she was able to be her true self."