I must cancel the emptiness of the canvas like an opening gambit in a game of chess.

Françoise Gilot

Françoise Gilot b. 1921

Born in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, French artist Marie Françoise Gilot decided that she would become a painter at the age of five. With the guidance of her mother, an artist, and her grandmother, Gilot practiced painting with watercolor and India ink — she was not, however, taught to draw, as her mother believed artists had become too dependent on erasers. Gilot’s mother strongly encouraged her to pursue a career as an artist, which she herself had been denied. The precocious young Gilot would spend time in the studio of Emile Mairet, and first encountered ceramics at the age of fourteen. At fifteen, she began to study with the Post-Impressionist painter Jacques Beurdeley. Though Gilot’s father charted her course to become an international lawyer, Gilot secretly continued to study art before eventually dropping out of law school to openly work towards becoming a successful painter.

In 1943, Gilot was 21 and already selling works, building a promising reputation for herself within and beyond art school. That year she met Pablo Picasso, then 61, who reportedly told her that “Girls who look like you could never be painters.” Gilot described the 10-year relationship that followed as one predicated foremost on shared interests and intellectual compatibility. Together, Gilot and Picasso had two children, Claude and Paloma, and in 1953, Gilot distinguished herself as “the only woman to ever walk away from Picasso.”

In the aftermath of her split with Picasso, Gilot moved to the United States and continued to create – and sell – her work, despite Picasso’s best attempts to thwart her career. In 1970, she married the pioneering doctor Jonas Salk, who is credited with inventing the first polio vaccine. In 1973, Gilot became art director for the Virginia Woolf Quarterly and, that same decade, became involved as a board member and teacher with the University of Southern California Department of Fine Arts. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Gilot worked designing theatrical productions for the Guggenheim.

Today, Gilot continues to bid on her own artworks at auction in an attempt to retrieve as many of them as possible. As she offers in her own words, “I live my own life in my own way. It doesn’t matter where I am.”

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