02 October 2016

Francoise Gilot: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman

"A touch of red, how nice, why not a little more of the same, and then it is too much!  All the more reason to go on adding more and more.  It is good to exaggerate, to go beyond, to pursue the extreme limit of what is suggested by the pictorial imagination." - Francoise Gilot, in Francoise Gilot Monograph 1940-2000, Lausanne, Editions Acatos: 2000, p.26.

No equivocation is possible here: I love this painting. 
Francoise Gilot was twenty-two when she painted this self portrait.  She would not meet Henri Matisse for another three years but his importance to her work is already evident.  She had learned  lessons from Matisse's use of color;  the orange dress and blue beads  draw the eye upward to the face, modeled in blue-green and pink-purple.   The white  lines take the place of shading, function   as a bright color.

At its extreme, fear of content led modern artists to disdain portraits and this helps to explain why Gilot's unapologetic ambition looks so fresh today.  There is no amount of aesthetic criticism that nullifies the essence of a portrait: it is a meeting of minds: the artist and the sitter and (if these two are one and the same)  the artist and the viewer.   Women have been taught to be exquisitely sensitive to the moods of others and also long excluded from life drawing classes.  These two things could cancel each other out but women have excelled at portraiture during the last century and critics have begun to reconsider artists as various as Cecelia Beaux< once dismissed as a society painter and Alice Neel, whose portraits as nude men were once labelled as "satires." ?

She was twenty-one and at the beginning of her career and he was, at sixty-one, the most famous - and notorious - living artist in the world.  She was beautiful; he was famous.   He knew how lucky he was; then he forget.  They had much in common; both of them had been precocious artists born to bourgeois families.  The difference was that when he displayed artistic talent, his family supported him in every way.  When she told her father that she intended to be an artist, he beat her and then disowned her. She was still the spirited woman who had attracted the famous man, who laughed at his petulant moods; but he was cruel, abusive, and unfaithful.   She was the only woman who ever left him.  She left because he drained her energy; she could only paint when she was away from him.  He told her that, without him, she would be no more than a footnote to the story of his life.  He was wrong, but he must have regretted bringing up footnotes when she published her biography of Life With Picasso.  He sued to prevent its publication but it became a bestseller, selling more than a million copies and drawing back the curtain on the man and the myth.   

To read more:
1. Francoise Gilot, Life With Picasso, New York, McGraw Hill: 1962.
2. Francoise Gilot & Lisa Alther, About Women: Conversation Between a Writer and a Painter, New York, Doubleday: 2015.
Francoise Gilot - Study for a Self Portrait, 1944, private collection, courtesy Sotheby's.


Tania said...

Beautiful portrait, Jane, thank you for your post.

Jane said...

Tania, Gilot tirés de Matisse, ne pensez-vous pas ?

Tania said...

Matisse was her god : http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/tateshots-francoise-gilot-on-matisse

Jane said...

Tania, oui! Après avoir quitté Picasso, Gilot a parlé de combien Matisse l'a influencée. Vous ne pouvez pas manquer, pouvez-vous? Mais certains des partisans de Picasso a tenu contre elle, surtout son biographe John Richardson.

Tania, yes! After she left Picasso, Gilot talked about how much Matisse influenced her. You can't miss it, can you? But some of Picasso's partisans held it against her, especially his biographer John Richardson.

femminismo said...

I am in love with another artist! Too many of my dance card and still hoping for more. Thank you!

Jane said...

Jeanne, how lovely to hear from yoiu again. I've been wondering how you are. And isn't it delicious that Matisse's influence on Gilot is so obvious when Picasso and Matosse were rivals (and sometimes friends, too)?