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Gilot At The Picasso Museum

March 18, 2024
Françoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso, 1952

Françoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso, 1952

It is often said that seven women played significant roles throughout Pablo Picasso’s life. Probably one of the most well-known was Françoise Gilot. Last week, Paris’s Picasso Museum opened with a brand new rehang, with one of the galleries entirely dedicated to her work. This is even though the institution’s namesake tried to destroy her life and career.

Gilot met Picasso in 1943 when she was 21 years old. He was 61 years old and had an incredibly chaotic love life. At the time, he was in a relationship with the French photographer Dora Maar while still married to his wife, the Russian dancer Olga Khokhlova. Maar had actually been his second mistress. His first was a young French girl named Marie-Thérèse Walter, who became his muse and inspired many of his abstract approaches to painting the female form in the 1920s and 1930s. Picasso was, in fact, rather open about his extramarital affair with Walter. His first retrospective at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris in 1932 featured several nude portraits of Walter, including Le Rêve, which would become one of the most valuable paintings in the world when Steve Wynn sold it in 2013 for $155 million.

Despite Françoise Gilot being a figure in the arts for eight decades, many familiar with her name only know of her in relation to Picasso; as his partner and the mother of two of his children. Gilot and Picasso were together for ten years, from 1943 to 1953. In the cases of his previous mistresses like Marie-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar, Picasso would first meet them when they were teenagers, draw inspiration from them, use and abuse them, and then move on to the next woman when she happened to come along.; not exactly surprising behavior from a man who described all women as “machines for suffering”. But it was actually Gilot who left Picasso rather than the other way around. Subsequently, Picasso’s rage fully manifested itself. While he had physically and emotionally abused Gilot throughout their relationship, he went above and beyond after Gilot broke things off. Picasso made a concerted effort to sabotage Gilot’s artistic career. He reached into his network of galleries and dealers, insisting that none of them buy, sell, or exhibit Gilot’s work. She had to leave Europe for the United States to escape Picasso’s influence. According to the Picasso Museum’s painting curator Joanne Snrech, Picasso’s actions are why Gilot has “a very limited presence in French public collections”.

However, the Picasso Museum now wishes to move towards rectifying the damage done in this small way. The works featured in the Picasso Museum’s Gilot gallery are all on loan from other institutions and private collections. These works will only be on display for one year before the museum curators rehang the room again. In the exhibition, they wish to treat Gilot not as Picasso’s mistress but as a great artist in her own right who just happened to have a relationship with Picasso. Her recognition has gained traction in recent years, accelerating especially rapidly following her death in June 2023 at the age of 101. Gilot has always had greater recognition in the United States than in Europe, so this exhibition being staged in Paris is a sign of changing attitudes towards her work and legacy. She should be remembered for the eighty years of work she produced rather than the ten turbulent years she had with Picasso.