Life with Picasso (New York Review Books Classics)

Image of Life with Picasso (New York Review Books Classics)
Release Date: 
June 11, 2019
NYRB Classics
Reviewed by: 

Francoise Gilot was just 21 when she met Pablo Picasso, four decades her senior. He had first seen the young artist in May of 1943, during the German occupation of France at a restaurant on the left bank of Paris, near Notre Dame. Picasso was captivated by her charm and intellect, while Gilot’s first impression of him was a little less than pleasing, “I was a little surprised at Picasso’s appearance . . . his graying hair and absent look—either distracted or bored—gave him a withdrawn, Oriental appearance that remined me of the Egyptian scribe in the Louvre.”

Gilot moved in with him in 1946, and during the following ten years they worked closely together. They never married, but they did have two children together. During their time together Gilot was often hassled on the streets of Paris by Picasso's legal wife, Olga Khokhlova, a former Russian ballet dancer, and Picasso himself physically abused her as well.

Eleven years after their separation, Gilot wrote Life with Picasso (1964), a memoir that sold over one million copies in dozens of languages, despite an unsuccessful legal effort from Picasso attempting to stop its publication. From then on, Picasso refused to see the children. All the profits from the book were used to help her children mount a case to become Picasso's legal heirs.

In 1970, Gilot married Jonas Salk, who pioneered the polio vaccine, and they remained married until his death in 1995. Gilot lives in Paris and New York, works on behalf of the Salk Institute in California, and at age 98, still continues to exhibit her own artwork internationally. New York Review Books has recently republished her timeless memoir with a brief introduction by Lisa Alther. She is the author of six novels, a memoir, a short story collection, and the book About Women: Conversations Between a Writer and a Painter, co-authored by Francoise Gilot.

“I lay there in his arms . . . Until then he had been, for me, the great painter that everyone knew about and admired . . . From then on he became a person . . . Now my emotions and affections were involved. I had not thought before then that I could ever love him. Now I knew it could be no other way.”

Brutally honest but even-handed, Gilot openly describes her often-turbulent life with the volatile genius.

Picasso is revealed as brilliant but calculating, a man who despised sentimentality and mostly sought to shock the senses. It is filled with emotional and often surprising disclosures about the man, his work, his thoughts and his contemporaries such as Matisse, Braque, Gertrude Stein and Giacometti, among others.

Evocative of the time and full of remarkably detailed commemorations of conversations between Pablo and his famous friends. Gilot provides a brilliant self-portrait of a young woman with enormous talent figuring out who she really wanted to become. She provides a detailed insider's view of the great artist at work and delivers a dynamic understanding of his inner thoughts. A captivating and monumental snapshot of a bygone era that still resonates 57 years after its first publication.