Françoise Gilot, who died this week aged 101, was “Picasso’s mistress, model and muse, the mother of two of his children and, by his account, the only woman who ever left him”, says Harrison Smith in The Washington Post. They first met in 1943 at a Left Bank bistro in Paris, when Picasso – a 61-year-old “master artist” four decades her senior – approached her table with a bowl of cherries. On learning that Gilot was also an artist, he scoffed that it was “the funniest thing I’ve heard all day” – but her work was highly acclaimed. As his biographer John Richardson remarked at a joint exhibition of their work in 2012: “Picasso took from her rather more than she took from him”.
Their decade-long relationship was at times brutal. During one argument, he held a lit cigarette to her cheek. “He must have expected me to pull away,” Gilot later wrote, “but I was determined not to give him the satisfaction.” She eventually walked out on him, and ended up marrying the American virologist Jonas Salk, who played a critical role in eradicating polio. Gilot felt the equal of both her famous partners. “Lions mate with lions,” she once said. “They don’t mate with mice.” But she was clear about which of them impressed her more: “In Jonas Salk, the man is equal to the artist. Picasso, the man, was not on the same level as Picasso, the artist.”