Picasso Said She'd Never Leave Him. Acclaimed Artist: 'We'll See'

Francoise Gilot, who produced decades of lauded art, ditched Pablo, married Jonas Salk, dies at 101
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 7, 2023 11:15 AM CDT
She Was Famous for Decades of Art, Dumping Picasso
Artist Francoise Gilot poses with her work at a personal art exhibition in Milan on Dec. 21, 1965.   (AP Photo, File)

Francoise Gilot, a prolific and acclaimed painter who produced art for well more than a half-century but was nonetheless more famous for her turbulent relationship with Pablo Picasso—and for becoming, as he freely admitted, "the only woman ever to leave him," per Artforum—died Tuesday in New York City, where she'd lived for decades. She was 101. Gilot's daughter Aurelia Engel told the AP her mother died at Mount Sinai West hospital after suffering both lung and heart problems. "She was an extremely talented artist, and we will be working on her legacy and the incredible paintings and works she is leaving us with," Engel said. The French-born Gilot had long made her frustration clear that, despite acclaim for her art, produced from her teenage years until five years ago, she would still be best known for her relationship with the older, more famous Picasso.

Gilot met Picasso in 1943 at age 21, his junior by four decades, and their union produced two children, Claude and Paloma Picasso. But unlike the other key women in Picasso's life—wives or paramours—Gilot eventually walked out. "He never saw it coming," Engel said of her mother's departure. "She was there because she loved him and because she really believed in that incredible passion of art which they both shared. [But] she came as a free, though very, very young, but very independent person." Gilot herself told the Guardian in 2016 that "I was not a prisoner" in the relationship. "I'd been there of my own will, and I left of my own will," she said, then 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.'" Per the New York Times, when she left him, Gilot quotes him as saying: "You imagine people will be interested in you?"

Born on Nov. 26, 1921, in leafy Neuilly-sur-Seine in suburban Paris into a wealthy family, Marie Francoise Gilot was an only child. "She knew at the age of 5 that she wanted to be a painter," Engel said. In accordance with her parents' wishes, she studied law, however, while maintaining art as her true passion. She first exhibited her paintings in 1943. That was the year she met Picasso, by chance, when she and a friend visited a restaurant on the Left Bank, amid a gathering that included his then-companion, Dora Maar. When Picasso asked Gilot and her friend what they did, the friend responded that they were painters, to which Picasso responded, Gilot writes: "That's the funniest thing I've heard all day. Girls who look like that can't be painters." The two were invited to visit Picasso in his studio, and the relationship soon began.

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Not long after leaving Picasso in 1953, Gilot married artist Luc Simon in 1955. They had a daughter—Engel—and divorced in 1962. In 1970, Gilot married Jonas Salk, the father of the polio vaccine. Her art only increased in value over the years. In 2021, her "Paloma a la Guitare" (1965) sold for $1.3 million at a Sotheby's auction. Her work has shown in many prominent museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. Her life with Picasso was illustrated in the 1996 movie Surviving Picasso, directed by James Ivory. Gilot wrote several books, the most famous of which was Life With Picasso, written in 1964 with Carlton Lake. An angry Picasso sought unsuccessfully to ban its publication. "He attacked her in court, and he lost three times," said Engel, 66, who now manages her mother's archives. But, she said, "after the third loss he called her and said congratulations. He fought it, but at the same time, I think he was proud to have been with a woman who had such guts like he had."

(More artist stories.)

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