Picasso tried to ruin his ex’s career. The Picasso Museum will show her art.


In 1953, French artist Françoise Gilot walked out on Pablo Picasso, her partner of 10 years, father of her two children and titan of the European art world.

Doing so took courage: In Gilot’s own telling, Picasso — a capricious man who was married twice and had a string of long-term relationships and extramarital affairs — tried to sabotage her art career, apparently telling her: “One doesn’t leave a man like me.”

But Gilot did it anyway — and is thought to be the only one of his partners who ever left him. She later wrote a book about their life together, which Picasso tried several times to quash.

Because of Picasso’s anger toward her, and because she later moved to the United States, Gilot’s work has had “a very limited presence in French public collections,” said Joanne Snrech, curator of paintings at the Picasso Museum in Paris.

Now, the museum is aiming to change that: It unveiled a new collection Tuesday that features a room dedicated to Gilot’s work — a first in France, according to the Picasso Museum. The goal was to present Gilot as an artist in her own right, “not just as a companion to Picasso,” said Snrech in a phone interview Tuesday.

“It seems absolutely insane that she was known as Picasso’s companion and the mother of her children even though she had this 80-year-long career,” said Snrech.

The room, which is not permanent but is expected to be part of the collection at least until the end of the year, features 10 of Gilot’s paintings. Two more are featured in another room centered around Picasso’s time in Vallauris in southern France, where he and Gilot lived.

The new exhibit comes as “momentum” is building around Gilot, who died in New York last year at the age of 101 — and as museums around the world take steps to reexamine the often-underappreciated work of female artists, said Snrech.

Françoise Gilot, celebrated artist, writer and muse to Picasso, dies at 101

As The Washington Post previously reported, Gilot met Picasso in a Parisian bistro in 1943. He was 40 years older than her and had already achieved artistic renown. She was a 21-year-old painter who had just left her parents’ home, and she was “fascinated” by him, she would later tell Paris Match magazine.

At first, she kept her distance from Picasso: He was “invasive and dominant,” and she valued her “freedom,” she told Paris Match. But eventually, the pair formed a relationship that would last about a decade. They had two children: Claude, who died last year, and Paloma.

But Gilot and Picasso’s relationship was tumultuous, and Gilot has described how she struggled to get the painter out of bed in the morning when he was in melancholic moods. “I was only happy with him for the first three years, when we didn’t live together,” Gilot told Paris Match.

In 1953, Gilot left Picasso and moved to Paris and then the United States. “It was no longer tenable … for my children nor for me,” she told Paris Match. After Picasso turned 70, “my youth became unbearable for him. He was aggressive and unpleasant,” she recalled. “I had changed too. I was no longer the discreet conciliator I once was.”

As The Post reported, Gilot said Picasso sought to take his revenge by sabotaging her art career, persuading some galleries not to exhibit or sell her paintings. In an interview with Charlie Rose in 2012, Gilot said Picasso “had a very sadistic side to him,” though she said, “he did not try to destroy me.”

Eventually, she told Paris Match, she “returned to painting, timidly, opting for a minimalism that was the opposite of his style.”

Gilot went on to have a distinguished career as a painter in the United States, with her work shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art.

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Gilot’s body of work spans different formats and artistic disciplines, and though her style evolved several times, she developed a love of color, which she used liberally in her work. She was interested in Greek mythology and thought deeply “about the way she paints, why she does it and how she does it,” said Snrech. “She was a true intellectual.”

In 1964, Gilot published “Life With Picasso,” a memoir co-written with American art critic Carlton Lake. Picasso sued three times to block its release. His efforts failed and the book was a commercial success, but it meant Gilot was “cast away and banned from the French artistic, cultural environment,” said Snrech. She hopes the opening, 60 years later, of a room inside the Picasso Museum dedicated to Gilot, the artist, will help change that.

Though the planning for the room in the collection began before Gilot’s death, the artist was not involved because she was in poor health. The Picasso Museum worked with two of Gilot’s children to make it happen, Snrech said.

But the paintings, which are on loan from private collectors, will eventually have to be returned, and the room will likely be replaced by another. The museum does not own any of Gilot’s work.

Harrison Smith contributed to this report.


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