Surviving Picasso: A Mistress who Made it Out

Martin Art Gallery hosts screening of "Surviving Picasso"

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On Thursday, Feb. 9, the Martin Art Gallery hosted a screening of the 1996 movie Surviving Picasso. Directed by James Ivory, the film is told through the eyes of one of Pablo Picasso’s many lovers, Françoise Gilot, with whom he had two children.  She was his only lover who managed to leave him and live a life unbroken by him, hence the film’s title. Prints of Gilot’s paintings and work are currently displayed in the gallery, inspiring the screening.

Picasso (Anthony Hopkins) and Gilot’s (Natascha McEhlhone) relationship was anything but perfect, and the film reflects that.  It draws inspiration from the book “Picasso: Creator and Destroyer” by Arianna Stassinopolous, which itself gathers inspiration from Gilot’s memoir, “Life With Picasso,” which documents the many hardships of their life together. Hopkins was not able to attain the rights to Gilot’s memoir directly, but the film depicts her struggle effectively nonetheless.

“Gilot would discover the extreme length of the list of woman Picasso had scorned”

Almarah Urman

Gilot met Picasso when she was 21 and he was 61 in 1943.  She was a young, beautiful, aspiring artist and he was a rich and world-renowned painter well-known for using gorgeous women as his muse. He quickly replaced his previous muse, Dora Marr (Julianne Moore) with Gilot. When they were further into their relationship, Gilot would discover the extreme length of the list of women Picasso had scorned. In the beginning, however, she was a young woman whose father wanted her to go to law school while she wanted to study art. Naturally, she took up an apprenticeship with Picasso, moving in with her grandmother after being disowned by her father.

During this apprenticeship, their relationship quickly grew romantic and sexual, their feelings for each other being the subject of many of their paintings. Picasso, not wanting to keep Gilot in Paris, would move her around to live in various places throughout the European countryside. Essentially, anything to keep her away from his main business hub.

Gilot and Picasso spent a decade together, never marrying as he remained legally bound to another woman and a child that would do anything for him, despite living in abject poverty.  They had two children together, Claude and Paloma. After the death of her grandmother, Gilot broke off their relationship, being the first woman to successfully leave Picasso. After the end of their relationship, he discouraged all the art galleries he had relationships with from buying her work and attempted unsuccessfully to block the publishing of her memoir.  She would subsequently bar their children from attending his funeral.

“He repeatedly made women swear their love for him while abjectly refusing to do the same for them.”

Almarah Urman

Since the film is shown through Gilot’s eyes, Picasso is painted as a self-assured, egotistical man who got everything he wanted, from women to money and having the whole world at his feet. He repeatedly made women swear their love for him while abjectly refusing to do the same for them. When he grew tired of his muses after a few years, he went from painting them as beautiful creatures of desire to portraying them as horrifying monsters attacking him until he dumped them and moved on to the next, younger woman. He used his power and age to make them do whatever he wanted, then left them sobbing and hopelessly devoted to him once they hit thirty.

Surviving Picasso is a bit of a frustrating watch that may leave you screaming “finally” when Gilot finally leaves Picasso. You spend almost the entire film desperate for her to leave him as their relationship is obviously unfair and toxic. After watching, the image of Picasso as a fabulous artist who defined abstract work is tainted, because you know how horrible he was to the people in his personal life. This film,  along with Gilot’s prints hanging in the Martin Art Gallery, depicts Picasso in a new light, for anyone who wants to engage with them.

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