Marie Françoise Gilot (1921) was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. Gilot was raised in an environment that fostered interest in both the arts and the sciences – her father was a well-respected businessman and agronomist and her mother was an accomplished watercolorist. Although her father deemed that Gilot was to become an international lawyer, her independent spirit compelled her to lead a double life, secretly studying art instead of attending her morning law classes. A consuming passion to continue her studies solely in art further aliented her from her parents and Gilot sought the support of other family members establishing her first studio in the attic of her grandmother’s house in Paris.
Even at the young age of 21, Gilot was one of the most respected artists of the emerging School of Paris, a movement struggling for recognition during the years of The Occupation. Then, in 1943, during the time of her first important exhibition in Paris, Gilot met Pablo Picasso, an artist 40 years her senior. In 1943, Gilot and Picasso began a decade long relationship and Françoise became both a witness and a participant in one of the last great periods of the modern art movement in Europe. Their circle included poets, philosophers, writers and many of the legends of the art world, such as Braque, Chagall, Cocteau and Matisse. This artistic union was also shared with their two children, Claude and Paloma – whose antics and acrobatic postures were often captured in drawings and paintings. By late 1953, her relationship with Picasso has run its course and Gilot left the home she shared with him in Vallauris and returned to Paris with their children.
In 1964, Gilot published Life with Picasso, and over a million copies were sold the first year. Life with Picasso has been translated into more than a dozen languages and it remains today a uniquely compelling and insightful observation about the human side of creative genius.
In 1969, during an exhibition in Los Angeles, Gilot travelled to La Jolla and was introduced to Dr. Jonas Salk. Their mutual admiration of architecture prompted Dr. Salk to offer Françoise a tour of The Salk Institute, the renowned research faculty he had founded on the bluffs overlooking the pacific. Their courtship was brief – Gilot knew well the source of art and Jonas understood the art of science. With both their families in attendance, Paris was the site of a private wedding ceremony in June of 1970.