Françoise Gilot, acclaimed artist and author, left an undeniable mark on the world of art and culture before passing away earlier this year at the age of 101. While many headlines memorialise her as “Pablo Picasso’s Muse” or “the only woman to leave Picasso”, it is essential to recognise that her life and artistic journey was far more than this. In focusing on her incredible achievements, here are five things you should know about Françoise Gilot, without Picasso.
1. Françoise Gilot knew she wanted to be an artist from childhood.
As an only child, she was born into a ‘haute bourgeois’ family in Paris. Her father was an agronomist, and her mother a ceramicist. As a child, Gilot turned to her parents and said, “I want to become a painter”. This simple declaration marked the beginning of a long journey of artistic exploration.
2. She studied extensively before turning her full attention to her artistic practice.
Following the wishes of her father, Gilot pursued a career in law, graduating from the Sorbonne University with a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy at the age of just 17. In 1939 she enrolled at law school. However, her life took a dramatic turn during World War II when the Germans invaded France. Reflecting on the impact of this experience, she said “after (the invasion), I thought, well, you know, I don’t know how long we will remain alive. So, I’m going to do what I want.”1
3. Contrary to common belief, she was formally inspired by Henri Matisse.
Matisse had exerted the most enduring influence on Gilot’s art, most obviously seen in her use of highly saturated colour. In 1946, she met Matisse who was instantly impressed by this young, confident, and intelligent woman. As Gilot commented, “Matisse was my God. I’m a French artist, that’s for sure. I am colour-orientated and what you might call a composer. I am not pouring my guts out; I keep them inside.”2
4. Françoise Gilot was also a successful author and poet.
Another dimension of Gilot’s creative work that is often overlooked is her tremendous skill as a writer and poet, addressing concerns of humanity, especially issues affecting women, in her numerous books and essays. In 1964, she published ‘Life with Picasso’, much to the dismay of Picasso and numerous critics. Despite this, the book became a bestseller and has recently been reissued.
5. Françoise Gilot considers printmaking to be an integral part of her creative oeuvre.
Her introduction to printmaking was in 1935, at the age of 14. In 1951, Gilot began her journey of lithography at the Mourlot workshops in Paris, under the acclaimed printmaker Fernand Mourlot. Her colour lithographs are a force of her relentless persistence as an artist.
1. Smith, H., ‘Francoise Gilot, Celebrated Artist, Writer and Muse to Picasso, dies at 101’, The Washington Post, 6 June 2023, accessed 4 September 2023: https://www.washingtonpost.com/obituaries/2023/06/06/francoise-gilot-dead-picasso-muse-dead/
2. Kazanjian, D., ‘From the Archives: Francoise Gilot on Life After Picasso’, Vogue Magazine, 7 June 2023, accessed 4 September 2023: https://www.vogue.com/article/life-after-picasso-franoise-gilot
A collection of Françoise Gilot lithographs will be featured in the upcoming Prints and Multiples auction, taking place on Wednesday 15 November at 6pm in Melbourne.
HANNAH RYAN / Prints & Multiples Specialist
Banner Image (Detail): Françoise Gilot (French, 1921-2023) Stone Echoes: Original Prints by Françoise Gilot (part), lithograph in colours, on Lana 1590 paper, ed. 10/60 (4), 29 x 19cm (image) $5,000-7,000