I’m a few hours catching up to the death of Francoise Gilot, a formidable presence, at age 101.
A respected artist in her own right. Gilot had two children with Picasso at the end of the 1940s– Claude and Paloma. The latter went on to become a tycoon in jewelry, fashion, and perfume.
Gilot was the only woman who ever left Picasso. When she returned to the south of France and saw that Picasso had installed a young girl in her house, she picked up her children and went back to Paris. And that was it. He seethed because she defied him, and she didn’t care.
In 1964, she published a memoir, “Life with Picasso,” that was the most devastating look ever into the famous artist’s life. She went on to write several more books, have exhibitions all over the world, and eventually wed Dr. Jonas Salk. They were married for 25 years.
Gilot lived the last chapters of her life on West 67th St. between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. I was lucky enough to visit her there in the late 80s and early 90s and we had several lunches at Cafe Des Artistes. In 1986, I was part of a team that published Picasso’s sketchbooks, “Je Suis Le Cahier,” for the Atlantic Monthly Press and the Pace Gallery. We became friendly, same as I did with Claude and Paloma, and her sister in law Christine Ruiz Picasso.
In 1996, Merchant ivory released a film called “Surviving Picasso,” starring Natasha McElhone as Gilot and Anthony Hopkins as Picasso. The movie didn’t work, and Gilot was not happy with the outcome. Everyone in the art world wanted a piece of Picasso through Gilot, who stood her ground as a fiercely independent woman who would not ride anyone’s coattails.
There was another instance of sycophancy, however. In 1988, writer Arianna Stassinopolous, then not yet Huffington, wrote a book about Gilot and Picasso called “Creator and Destroyer.” Gilot was furious with Stassinopolous, who used “Life with Picasso” as her main source and convinced Gilot they were chums. Gilot never forgave her.
Gilot was a tough cookie but she was also sweet and funny. A few years ago, the New York Times devoted the whole cover of its Arts section to her. Above the fold was a sensational picture they’d taken. Below was wonderful tribute to this witness to greatness. I immediately called her and said, “Francoise, congratulations. What an amazing story,” I said.
Francoise responded without missing a beat. “Yes,” she said, “but what do you think of the picture?”