Françoise Gilot at the Berman
The late artist’s impact on the museum’s history and permanent collection.
Françoise Gilot, one of the most prevailing artists from the post-WWII School of Paris, passed away this week at the age of 101. During her career of more than seventy years she created over 1,500 paintings and 4,000 works on paper.
The Berman Museum of Art is uniquely positioned in relation to Gilot as its founders were collectors and personal friends of the artist.
Friendship with the Philanthropists
Françoise Gilot began traveling to the United States in 1961, hoping that American audiences would be fairer to her work than those in her home country, which had fixated on the dramas of her personal life. The move also allowed her a closer connection to her supporters, as she noticed that about 80 percent of her collectors were American.
Among those collectors were Philip and Muriel Berman, who were significant philanthropists and patrons of the arts in the late twentieth century. The couple first saw Gilot’s work in an exhibition at the Findlay Galleries of New York in the mid-1960s. In 1967, they then commissioned Gilot to create an original lithograph for Cedar Crest College, resulting in Girl with a Crown. The Bermans commissioned several other Gilot lithographs in the following years and, over time, developed a friendship with the artist.
Gilot’s Exhibition at the Berman Museum of Art
Gilot first visited Ursinus College in 1991 with her husband, Dr. Jonas Salk, who was speaking at that year’s Founder’s Day Convocation. The Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus, named after her longtime friends, had opened to the public two years prior in 1989.
During her visit, the museum’s founding director, Lisa Tremper Hanover, proposed an exhibition of her work at the Berman. In 1993, Gilot returned to Ursinus College with her curator and archivist Mel Yoakum, Ph.D., to discuss the details of the exhibition and corresponding publication. And in 1995, the museum opened Stone Echoes: Original Prints by Françoise Gilot and published a catalogue raisonné of the same name. This was the first retrospective and comprehensive exhibition of Gilot’s lithographs and etchings. It was a highly successful venture for the artist, curator, and museum alike.
The opening reception was the last time Salk, Gilot, her children Claude and Paloma Picasso, and her master printers Jacques and Lilianne Mourlot were together before Salk’s death later that year.
Upon witnessing the success of Stone Echoes, Gilot donated a large selection of her original prints to the Berman Museum of Art. Yoakum and the Bermans donated several of their Gilot prints and drawings during this time as well.
Gilot’s relationship with the Berman Museum of Art continued well after the passing of Philip and Muriel in 1997 and 2004, respectively. She received an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Ursinus College in 2001. She made a substantial gift of works on paper in 2008 in support of the Works on Paper Study Room expansion.
Today, the Berman is an international center for the study of Gilot’s works. In addition to her personal archives, the museum houses over 270 works of art by the artist, including the most comprehensive collection of lithographs and etchings in the world outside of the artist’s own holdings.
The Berman has mounted several exhibitions of Gilot’s work since Stone Echoes, including: For Ever and a Day: Floating Paintings and Monotypes; Early Works from 1940-1950; Transitions, which traveled to several other institutions in 2012; and Francoise Gilot: Her Journey Through Portraiture. An upcoming exhibition of Gilot’s work is planned for 2024.
To honor its history and close ties with the artist, the Berman also plans to digitize its Gilot collection starting this fall. The increased access to her works will ensure the celebration of her work for years to come and cement her legacy in the art canon.