Thursday, May 23, 2024

Artist Francoise Gilot, The Only Woman Who Ever Left Picasso, Has Died at Age 101, Mother of 2 of His Children


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?”

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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