Here’s one way to spend your life: Meet Pablo Picasso in occupied Paris during World War II, spend 10 years and have two children with him while you mingle with Matisse and Miro, leave him, become a well-regarded artist on your own, write a best-seller, marry the discoverer of the polio vaccine, and by the time you hit 90, have four of your works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and split your time between New York City and Paris.
Francois Gilot in 1942. (Photo via FrancoisGilot.com)
‘We’re painters,’ Geneviève answered.Picasso burst out laughing. ‘That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all day. Girls who look like that can’t be painters.’
Gilot kept painting throughout their life together, producing works like The Painters (above, from 1953). It shows Gilot and Picasso (second from right) with the artists Pierre Gastaud and Edouard Pignon. Her depiction of Picasso’s piercing eyes and bull-strong torso is pretty marvelous.
Life with Picasso is full of fascinating tidbits about Picasso, from his theories of art (surprisingly accessible!) to his dealings with buyers and his day-to-day life. Here’s Gilot on their morning routine:
One of the hardest of the jobs that fell to me was getting Pablo out of bed mornings. He always woke up submerged in pessimism and there was a definite ritual to be followed, a litany that had to be repeated every day, sometimes more insistently than others.
…Inès, the chambermaid, went in first, carrying Pablo’s breakfast tray — cafe au lait and two pieces of salt-free dried toast — followed by Sabartes with the papers and the mail. I brought up the rear. Pablo would always start to grumble, first about the way his breakfast was laid out on the tray. Inès would rearrange it — differently every day — to suit him, curtsy, and leave. Then Sabartes would set down the papers and hand him the mail…
…Then [Picasso] would groan and begin his lamentations. One day typical of many went this way: ‘You have no idea how unhappy I am. Nobody could be more unhappy. In the first place I’m a sick man. My God, if you only knew what sicknesses I have.’
Despite how gloomy that sounds, Gilot is actually quite upbeat and warm about Picasso throughout the book. She is not bitter. As she says near the end of the book:
At the time I went to live with Pablo, I had felt that he was a person to whom I could, and should, devote myself entirely, but from whom I should expect to receive nothing beyond what he had given the world by means of his art. I consented to make my life with him on those terms.
She seems to have kept those terms with herself. When things soured after 10 years, François Gilot left Picasso, taking the kids with her, and was quickly blackballed by Picasso’s entourage. 10 years later she published Life With Picasso. Five years after that she met Jonas Salk, the polio vaccine creator, and they were happily married for 25 years until his death in 1995.
© 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society, New York
François Gilot is still keeping busy. Vogue had a wonderful feature on her, Life After Picasso, a few years back. She was interviewed last October by the Wall Street Journal for a piece about a Matisse exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
Gilot was back in the news recently when Christie’s announced it would auction Picasso’s 1955 work The Women of Algiers (above) for a hoped-for $140 million. Gilot is said to have been a major inspiration for the painting.
Life With Picasso is warmly recommended here at the Who2 book desk. She also has her own website: FrancoisGilot.com.