Acclaimed painter Francoise Gilot dies at 101, leaving vibrant legacy

Acclaimed painter Francoise Gilot, who was known for her turbulent relationship with Pablo Picasso, has passed away at the age of 101. Her daughter, Aurelia Engel, confirmed that Gilot died in a New York hospital, where she had been residing for many years.

Engel praised her mother’s artistic talent, stating, “She was an extremely talented artist, and we will be working on her legacy and the incredible paintings and works she is leaving us with.” Despite her success as an artist, Gilot was often overshadowed by her relationship with Picasso.

The two met in 1943 when Gilot was 21 years old and Picasso was in his sixties. They had two children together, Claude and Paloma, but never married. Gilot eventually left Picasso, a decision that she later explained in Janet Hawley’s 2021 book Artists and Conversation: “Pablo was the greatest love of my life, but you had to take steps to protect yourself. I did, I left before I was destroyed.”

Gilot was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris, on November 26, 1921. She knew from a young age that she wanted to be a painter and held her first exhibition in 1943 during the Nazi occupation of France. It was in that same year that she met Picasso, beginning their tumultuous relationship.

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After leaving Picasso in 1953, Gilot went on to marry artist Luc Simon in 1955, with whom she had a daughter, Engel. The couple divorced in 1962. In 1970, she married Jonas Salk, the American virologist who developed the first polio vaccine, and subsequently moved between France and the United States.

Gilot’s artwork can be found in the collections of renowned museums such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2021, her painting Paloma à la Guitare (1965) sold for US$1.3 million at Sotheby’s.

Simon Shaw, Sotheby’s vice chairman for global fine art, commented on Gilot’s artistic achievements, stating, “To see Francoise as a muse [to Picasso] is to miss the point. She was established on her course as a painter when first she met Pablo. While her work naturally entered into dialogue with his, Francoise pursued a course fiercely her own — her art, like her character, was filled with colour, energy and joy.”

Gilot’s life with Picasso was the subject of the 1996 film Surviving Picasso, directed by James Ivory.

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