Pushing the Envelope: 1965 to 1990


“Painting is a consuming passion; like a gambler I venture my luck, not to win but to play. The challenge excites me; I need to try and be tried.”

Françoise Gilot, from “Art, Last Refuge of the Sacred,” in Françoise Gilot: Painting – Malerei, 2003

Move to the United States

By 1965, Gilot had built a successful career, spending most of her time in Paris and London and three months out of the year in the United States. She continued making lithographs at Mourlot Atelier in Paris, and the Tate Gallery had helped her secure her own studio in London. She was so passionate about her work that she occasionally went seventy-two hours without needing sleep.

Her visits to the United States in the late 1960s included lectures and exhibitions throughout the Midwest, particularly in Michigan. She befriended many American artists and collectors in those years, including Philip and Muriel Berman, who first commissioned her lithographs in 1967.

In 1969, Gilot was working at the Tamarind Institute when she decided to visit a friend in La Jolla, California. There, she met Dr. Jonas Salk, pioneer of the polio vaccine. When the two married in 1970, Gilot split her time between California and Paris, where she continued to make lithographs at Mourlot Atelier.

Gilot quickly adjusted to the United States as her new home. In 1973, she was appointed Art Director of Virginia Woolf Quarterly magazine, and she held that position until 1977. She served as Chairperson at the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California, the Isomata Program, from 1976 to 1983 and taught summer courses at the university’s Idyllwild campus. Her exhibitions in the 1970s were primarily in the United States; she exhibited in California, New York, Florida, Michigan, Texas, and New Mexico. In 1980, she was granted dual citizenship.

Artistic Exploration

Gilot experienced an explosion of creative output during these years. As she grew more confident, she was in constant pursuit of new challenges, and she explored numerous mediums and series.

She experimented with:

  • Circular and oval canvases in the late 1960s and early 1970s, finding rectangular canvases too limiting.
  • Vibrant color and movement in 1973, resulting in her circus series.
  • A blended inking technique in lithographs for her 1975 exhibition at the Tamarind Institute in New Mexico.
  • New technical procedures with color aquatint in 1976.
  • Monotypes in 1980, abandoning lithography for something new.

Françoise Gilot with her floating paintings, c. 1980 Also in 1980, Gilot experimented with what she called floating paintings. These were on massive pieces of unstretched, unprimed cotton canvas hung by a wooden bar at the top. She was inspired by both Kakemonos from Japan, large tankas of Tibet, and her own work on theatre backdrops from the 1950s. In 1984, she was commissioned by composer Joel Thomas to create a 15’x30’ floating painting to be used as a backdrop for his concert in the Guggenheim Museum Theater. She completed it in just 14 days.

Gilot stopped creating floating paintings after 1986, due to an allergy she had developed to the paint and chemicals required to make them. In the absence of floating paintings, her enthusiasm for printmaking was renewed.

She began working in New York at SOLO Impressions, which her friend Judith Solodkin founded and directed. Solodkin had been the first woman master printer at the Tamarind Institute.

Gilot worked very closely and intensely with Solodkin on collage and monotype prints for over a month in 1989. In these pieces, abstraction returned to Gilot’s work and The Wanderer Seriesemerged.


Publications and Awards

Gilot’s achievements in these three decades go beyond her art and exhibitions. She published two books of original poetry: Sur la Pierrein 1972, with accompanying color lithographs, and The Fugitive Eye in 1976, with early drawings of Genevieve.

She was recognized by the French government twice: the French Minister of Culture honored her with L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 1978, and the French President awarded her the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneurin 1990.

In 1983, she followed up her 1964 memoir Life with Picassowith an autobiography titled Interface: The Painter and the Mask , which traced her artistic development over her career. She also published Matisse and Picasso: A Friendship in Art in 1990 to capture her memories of the two titans’ complex relationship.

Françoise Gilot in the studio, c. 1972

Françoise Gilot in her studio, c. 1972

Françoise Gilot printing Air at Tamarind with Joy Purmal Baker, 1977

Françoise Gilot printing Air at Tamarind with
Joy Purmal Baker, 1977


  • Gilot, Françoise. Interface: The Painter and the Mask. The Press at California State University, 1983.
  • Huffington, Arianna and Françoise Gilot, The Gods of Greece: Paintings by Françoise Gilot. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1993.
  • Massinger, Ingrid and Beate L. Ritter, eds. Françoise Gilot: Painting – Malerei. Kunstammlungen Chemnitz, 2003.
  • Vierny, Dina and Mel Yoakum. Françoise Gilot: Monograph, 1940–2000. Sylvio Acatos, 2000.
  • Yoakum, Mel. “Biography.” The Françoise Gilot Archives. http://www.francoisegilot.com/frames.html. 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.
  • —-. Stone Echoes: A Catalogue Raisonné. The Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College, 1995.


Works from the Gilot Collection