Thursday, 26 January 2012

Life with Picasso by Françoise Gilot – Book review

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – January 2012. 

I have read several books by and on Picasso, but “Life with Picasso” by Françoise Gilot shades a very different view on the artist’s life.

Françoise Gilot, as painter, brings an artist’s view on Picasso’s life, like the photograph Brassaï did when he published a book on his encounters with Picasso. She can give an accurate description of Picasso’s technique for paintings, lithographs or sculptures.

Sunday Times' article reproducing the interview from the Sydney Morning Herald

The striking difference with Brassaï’s knowledge of Picasso is that Françoise Gilot was one of the women in Picasso’s life. She lived with him from 1943 (when she was 21) to 1953 and they had two children together: Claude and Paloma Picasso. She also left him. As she put it in an interview she gave in 2011 to the Sydney Morning Herald: “I am the only woman who didn’t sacrfice herself to the sacred monster.”

On the artistic side, Picasso acted as a mentor to Françoise. He would set her some exercises and direct her research in new directions. She admired his great focus and commitment:

“One of the qualities I had admired most about him was his intense power of self-concentration to unite and direct his creative energies. He attached no importance to the facade of living. Any roof would have suited him, so long as he could work under it. He spent no time on "entertainment": we almost never went to the theater or the movies.”

This intimate portrait of Picasso shows a deep apreciation of his work but also describes how manipulative and cruel Picasso could be.

Pablo had a prima donna attitude to life. He liked to have people around him and be the centre of attention. A notable exception was his relationship with Matisse. Both men showed mutual admiration and respect. Françoise Gilot explains it clearly in a few words:

“Pablo had almost a reverence for Matisse because Matisse's manner reflected an inner balance, a calm that brought peace even to a man like Pablo. Also, I think that Matisse had eliminated from his thinking any sense of rivalry, and this made their friendship possible.”

The book contains some interesting quotes from Picasso. Here are two examples:

“God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant, and the cat. He has no real style. He just keeps on trying other things.”

“If a sculpture is well done—if the forms are perfect and the volumes full—and you pour water from a pitcher held over the head, after it's run down, the whole sculpture ought to be wet."

Related resources and articles
Buy the book

Other blog articles on Picasso

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