Establishing a Career: 1943 to 1953


“As young women, we were taught to keep silent. We were taught early that taking second place is easier than first. You tell yourself that’s all right, but it’s not all right. It is important that we learn to express ourselves, to say what it is that we like, that we want.”

Françoise Gilot, in The New York Times, 2022.

Pablo Picasso

Françoise Gilot met Pablo Picasso while out with friends in a Left Bank restaurant in May of 1943. After some initial flirting and a visit to their joint exhibition, Picasso invited Gilot and Genevieve to his studio. Gilot quickly became a regular there, enjoying the intellectual banter she exchanged with Picasso and their dialogue about art.

Gilot’s life changed drastically in the subsequent months. In the fall of 1943, Gilot cut ties with her family, moved in with her maternal grandmother, and established her first studio after a particularly egregious argument with her father. Then, in 1944, she enrolled at The School of Fine Arts to continue her studies in a classroom setting. She took classes with French artist John Souverbie and joined her peer Sonja Delauney at the Group Nouvelle Realities.

While visiting Picasso at his studio, she met, befriended, and conversed with several poets, philosophers, writers, and other artists, including Gertrude Stein. Despite her proximity to Picasso, Gilot looked most often to Henri Matisse’s style to inspire her own.

Gilot’s fondness for Matisse contributed to her relationship with Picasso becoming more romantic. On a visit to Matisse’s home in early 1946, the post-impressionist painter speculated how fine it would be to depict Gilot with green hair and blue skin. Picasso was furious, and he argued that Matisse would never stand for it if Picasso considered painting his girlfriend, Lydia.

Initially, Gilot didn’t understand why he’d been upset, but Picasso made his intentions clear upon their return to Paris. That spring, he insisted that she move in with him. When she refused, he began a coercive campaign to convince her to share his life. She was 24, and he was 64. In later interviews, Gilot described those months as a period of intense destabilization.

Ultimately, she succumbed to Picasso’s wishes, and in May of 1946 she left her grandmother’s home to move in with him. That month, Picasso painted her in a piece titled La femme-fleur , with her hair green and skin blue.


An Evolving Style

The sudden lifestyle change did not stop Gilot from making art. To avoid comparisons to Picasso, she abandoned oil painting and focused on works on paper. The switch to paper was also cheaper, which was necessary since Gilot did not have her own income and wouldn’t use Picasso’s supplies.

Gilot gave birth to her first child with Picasso, Claude, in May of 1947. They had a second child together, Paloma, in 1949. Gilot drew much joy and inspiration from her young children, evident in her many portraits of them in this period.

In 1949, Picasso’s Paris dealer and the director of the Galerie Louise Leiris, Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, offered Gilot a contract to be her exclusive dealer. She was one of only two women to ever have a contract with him. The agreement wasn’t so lucrative that Gilot had a steady income, but it offered her a taste of what it felt like to make a living as an artist.

In 1950, Gilot worked on lithographs at the Mourlot Atelier studio for a book of poetry she was asked to illustrate. She was the first woman to ever print at Mourlot.


Gilot began to feel a shift in her relationship with Picasso in the early 1950s. Sensing that they were drifting apart, Gilot tried to reconnect with him through their shared love of art. Despite her reluctance to do so, she began to work with the type of paint Picasso was experimenting with. Previously, she had believed the world would view her work as derivative if she worked in the same style and media as Picasso. However, she felt it was necessary to leverage their artistic connection and compete with the women with whom he was having affairs.

In the end, art wasn’t enough to salvage their connection. As she grew into herself, Gilot felt more and more stifled by Picasso’s patriarchal attitude, and she feared he would devour her.

In August of 1951, Gilot inherited a sum of money from her late maternal grandmother. She also reconnected with her father at the funeral for the first time in nearly a decade. He had read about her in the newspaper, sensed she was in a precarious situation with Picasso, and offered financial assistance if needed. Combined with her Kahnweiler contract, this gave Gilot enough money to financially support herself and her children. So, in 1953, when she had no more patience for Picasso’s inability to recognize her autonomy, Gilot left him.


“At seventy-one, he was pretty much the same as he had been ten years earlier. As for me, I had matured into a willful person […] The tiger could not change his stripes and as far as I was concerned freedom had a fragrance that nothing else could match.”

Francoise Gilot, from Françoise Gilot: The Early Years, 1940–1955, 1998



  • Crawford, Amy. “Françoise Gilot Was More Than Picasso’s Muse.” Smithsonian Magazine, Apr. 2022. Accessed 7 Apr. 2022.
  • Gilot, Françoise. Françoise Gilot: The Early Years, 1940–1955. The Elkon Gallery, Inc, 1998.
  • Gilot, Françoise, and Carlton Lake. Life with Picasso.McGraw-Hill, Inc, 1964.
  • Kazanjian, Dodie. “Life After Picasso: Françoise Gilot.” Vogue, 27 Apr. 2012,,at%20the%20age%20of%2090%2C. Accessed 23 Apr. 2019.
  • Massinger, Ingrid and Beate L. Ritter, eds. Françoise Gilot: Painting – Malerei. Kunstammlungen Chemnitz, 2003.
  • Picasso, Marina. Picasso, My Grandfather. Riverhead Books, 2001.
  • Robinson, Susan Barnes. Françoise Gilot: A Retrospective, 1943–1978. The Art Gallery, Loyola Marymount University, 1979.
  • Yoakum, Mel. “Biography.” The Françoise Gilot Archives. Accessed 25 March 2024.
  • —-. For Ever and a Day: Floating Paintings and Monotypes by Françoise Gilot. Exhibition catalogue. The Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College, 1997.
  • —-. Francoise Gilot: 1940–1950. Exhibition catalogue. The Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College, 2001.
  • —-. Interview by Charlie Rose. Charlie Rose, 13 February 1998,

Works from the Gilot Collection