For this session of the Reading Club we counted on the presence of Malén Gual, curator of the Collection of the museum to talk about Life with Picasso, the narration that Françoise Gilot made of her nine year relation with the artist.
It is a book of memoires, and we can therefore read it like a document, and not so much as fiction (even though in all narrations there is always a subjective point of view); it is a novel of formation, we see how Gilot grows, is trained as a painter, learns, discusses, agrees and disagrees with Picasso and, in the end, frees herself. We can also read it as a peculiar and personal aesthetic treatment, given that many conversations are “transcribed” around painting, procedure, and the relation of the painting with reality, of the process of construction and exploration of cubism, with Braque, etc.
The attendees of the session especially highlighted those marvellous moments when she talks about painting: memoires written from the vision and knowledge of a painter, despite the fact that Gilot was never a significant painter.
The other aspect which was pointed out was the fact that nowadays Picasso is a difficult man to understand: as an example of this point, one of the participants read a paragraph in which the artist said that he wanted Françoise in a dress down to her feet and her head covered. As Malén Gual highlighted, Picasso was a man from the 19th century with an important chauvinist inheritance.
In this sense the narration is perceived as a fascinating psychological portrait. The psychology of Picasso is drawn little by little, but with profundity over the pages with the narration of historical and personal episodes, and also his feminine universe. In the same way it is also a portrait of Gilot herself in which she emphasises the fact that she is the only woman who has freed herself from the weight of the artist:
“I am the only woman to have left Picasso, the only one to not have been sacrificed to the sacred monster, declared Françoise Gilot, with a calm and challenging smile. I am the only one alive to tell the tale. After everything, I look at what happened to the others – she continued with her brows arched in a circumflex. Both Marie-Thérèse and Jacqueline committed suicide [the first hung herself; the second shot herself], Olga became hysterical and almost mad. Dora Maar went mad.”
Pablo Picasso, Françoise, 1946. Print with lithographic pencil, on transferred report paper on a stone plate, printed on Arches paper (un-numbered artist proof). 65-5 x 50 cm. MPB 70.184
For her part, Malén Gual also indicated that these were memories from some years before, explained with a certain bitterness, and that they should be understood from the filter of a woman who had had to break away from this time and from this man. Gilot was the companion with the biggest age difference that the artist had had until then, and this was therefore an important element to take into account, with this Picasso who wasn’t only a companion but also a father, teacher, mentor, etc. Even so, Françoise Gilot was, along with Fernande Olivier, one of the strongest women with whom he lived, and someone who fully remade her life after the separation.
For Picasso and those close to him, these memoires were not especially well received, to such an extent that Picasso refused to receive the children that they had had together (Claude and Paloma), and the problems went on until long after the death of the artist; they had to fight to be recognised as successors, as Picasso didn’t write a will. The book also stirred up a lot of jealousy and bad feelings among his friends and surrounding the feminine and family nucleuses that the artist dragged with him.