Acclaimed Artist Challenges Picasso’s Assertion of ‘Never Leaving Him’: ‘Let’s See’

Francoise Gilot, a prolific and acclaimed painter who produced art for well over half a century but was better known for her tumultuous relationship with Pablo Picasso, passed away on Tuesday in New York City where she had resided for many years. She was 101. According to Artforum, Gilot’s daughter Aurelia Engel said her mother had died after heart and lung issues at Mount Sinai West hospital. Engel further added that she would continue working on her mother’s legacy, including the extraordinary paintings and works of art that Gilot had produced. The French-born artist Gilot had often expressed her frustration that, despite her artistic accomplishments, she was still best known for her relationship with the much older and more famous Picasso.

Gilot met Picasso in 1943 at the age of 21 when she was four decades his junior. Driven by a shared passion for art, the couple had two children named Claude and Paloma. However, unlike Picasso’s other wives and lovers, Gilot ultimately left him. “He never saw it coming,” said Engel of her mother’s decision to leave. “She loved him and they shared an incredible passion for art, but she was a very independent person who came and went of her own free will, despite her young age.” Speaking to the Guardian in 2016, Gilot emphasized that she was never a prisoner of their relationship, saying, “I came and left by choice.” She also recalled her conversation with Picasso before leaving, “I told him, ‘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.'” According to the New York Times, when Gilot left Picasso, he taunted her, saying, “You imagine people will be interested in you?”

Born on November 26, 1921, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a wealthy suburb of Paris, Marie Francoise Gilot knew she wanted to be a painter when she was just five years old. Despite her parents’ wishes that she study law, Gilot pursued her passion for painting. She showcased her paintings for the first time in 1943 coincidentally when she met Picasso. At first, he was amused that two young women claiming to be artists had come to his studio. Nevertheless, he invited Gilot to his studio, and their relationship soon pursued.

After leaving Picasso, Gilot married artist Luc Simon in 1955 with whom she had a daughter named Engel. They divorced in 1962. In 1970, Gilot married Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine. Over the years, her art only increased in value. Her work was displayed at prestigious museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. In 2021, her painting “Paloma a la Guitare” (1965) was sold for $1.3 million at a Sotheby’s auction. The 1996 movie Surviving Picasso, directed by James Ivory, illustrates the years that Gilot spent with Picasso. As a writer, Gilot authored several books, including Life With Picasso, which she co-wrote with Carlton Lake in 1964. Picasso tried unsuccessfully to prevent its publication, but Gilot challenged him, and he eventually congratulated her on publishing it. Engel, who manages her mother’s archives, says, “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.”

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