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Life With Picasso Paperback – 15 Nov 1990
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[Gilot's] recall of his [Picasso's] discussions about art, details of private visits to friends such as Matisse, Braque and Giacometti, and her intimate understanding of his temperament, make this work unique (DAILY TELEGRAPH)
This memoir is both a vivd portrait of a monstrously difficult man and a brilliant depiction of a great artist at work (NEW YORK TIMES)
... no-one in the Picasso entourage was so close to him... fascinating. (Tim Hilton)
About the Author
Francoise Gilot was made a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture in 1987 and a Knight of the Legion of Honour in 1990. Carlton Lake is a writer, editor and arts correspondant having contributed to numerous magazines.
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Top customer reviews
A great read whether or not you are interested in Picasso and his art.
This is the first autobiographical memoir I've read on this theme so far (I'd like to read Fernande Olivier's two books, but they're not easily available in affordable English versions, at least as far as I know), and it's closer to Richardson's balanced but informed (and insider) tone, and mercifully free of the macho bombast and mild art-historical cant that rather spoils Mailer's nonetheless enjoyable book. As well as the parade of notable and famous figures, Gilot gives us insights into not only her life and Picasso's, but also some of the more shadowy characters normally ignored in the art history books, such as Marcel, Picasso's chauffeur, Madame Ramié (co-owner of a pottery facility used by Picasso), and Picasso's childhood chum turned dogsbody, Sabartes.
Picasso comes out of the story much as we already know him, only fleshed out in more intimate detail, as both heroic artist and complex and demanding man. Indeed, his bad qualities - chiefly an egocentric and driven nature that will sacrifice all (self included) at the altar of his art - whilst sometimes comical, often sad, and frequently childish, somehow don't threaten to destroy his greatness as an artist. Indeed, they add to it in that perverse way that the idea/myth of the artist as a figure outside mainstream conventions suggests. And at the same time Gilot emerges as a dignified, intelligent and fascinating person herself. On the one hand we pity her the tough experiences, whilst on the other we envy her that closeness to someone she herself clearly not only loved, but admired. Without taking a crass route - revenge by character assassination for example - Gilot just tells it like (we trust and hope) it was. Fascinating!
Being in her own right an artist (good enough for Kahnweiler to put her under contract), she was very knowledgeable about paintings, and eventually about etchings, lithographs and about pottery also. She describes at length the objets trouvés which Picasso used as components of his sculptures. She records how Picasso explained to her what he was trying to do in his paintings and sculptures - and that may indeed help many readers to understand the mental processes and philosophies that lay behind the pictures. He also philosophized to justify his own selfishness and cruelty - he felt entitled to what he called his needs taking priority over everything, including the needs of others. Incapable of real love himself, he constantly complained about not being loved - though his studio was always thronged with admirers (whom he usually deliberately kept waiting for ages before he would receive them.) Of course he was a monster, and Françoise was perfectly aware of this; but she was still fascinated by him and thought she could cope with him and would not become a victim such as poor Dora Maar, his previous companion, had become by that time. But (against protests!) she allowed him to use her to humiliate Dora.
At times he told her that she did not mean all that much to him and that there was nothing permanent in their relationship. She knew that quite well and refused to feel victimized. She would simply not see him for weeks at a time. But then again he said he needed her and urged her to come and live with him. In 1946 she succumbed, merely leaving a note to her beloved grandmother. On two occasions when she was unhappy with Picasso, he suggested she should have a child - that would take her mind off her such thoughts. And on each occasion she followed his advice, giving birth first to their son Claude (1947) and then to their daughter Paloma (1949).
The book is brimful of anecdotes and of incidents in their every-day life - of Picasso’s uncontrollable rages, his self-pity, his selfishness, his sense of entitlement, his bullying, his contrariness and perversity, his jealous possessiveness, his superstitions; of the cruel tricks he played on art dealers. She quotes in inverted commas long passages of what Picasso said to her: not only his theories about art but also his torrents of abuse. They are probably correct in substance, but one does wonder: did she have such total recall? Did she keep a diary? To what extent did she reproduced his sayings reliably.
There are portraits of a plethora of dealers and artists who were in contact with Picasso: I thought those of Braque, of Giacometti and of Matisse are particularly vivid. (At this stage of their lives, in the late 1940s, the famous earlier rivalry between them had given way to as much friendship as Picasso was capable of.) Also excellent portraits of Marcel, Picasso’s characterful and devoted chauffeur, and of Sabartés, Picasso’s gloomy but equally devoted secretary.
Françoise tells us the back-stories of Picasso’s earlier women, and of course she would largely share their fate. Although he had urged her to have children, he became more distant after Paloma was born (just as he had been with Marie-Thérèse after she had given birth to his daughter Maia). He felt tied down to a stable family life, and told her she was no longer sexually attractive to him because she had become so thin. The difference this time was that Picasso said he still needed her (to help him in his work and to discuss his paintings with her), but in 1953 she decided to leave him rather than wait for him to leave her.
What are we to make of Françoise? It is astonishing to me that she had put up for so long with so much ill-treatment and verbal aggression from Picasso because she loved him. She even dedicates the book “to Pablo”, though this may be ironic. In relation to him she was both weak (in going along with him, often against her will) and strong (in apparently refusing to let him treat her like a doormat). The book is absorbing and extremely well-written (Carlton Lake, an American journalist, helped her to write it) - and although she says a good deal about her emotions throughout those years, she remains at the end something of an enigma to me.