Picasso's Muses and the Woman Who Said No

By Charlotte North

S otheby’s Prints & Multiples sale on 26 September includes two masterful lithographs by Picasso: Françoise sur fond gris and Jacqueline lisant. These prints depict the artist’s most inspiring — and antithetical — muses: Françoise Gilot (b. 1921) and Jacqueline Roque (1927-1986).

Picasso met Françoise Gilot in a cafe in occupied Paris in 1943. Gilot was 21 years old at the time, more than four decades younger than the artist. Upon this first meeting, Gilot explained that she was also a painter, to which Picasso replied: “That is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. Girls who look like you could never be painters.” In characteristically defiant fashion — (Picasso would later describe Gilot as the "The Woman Who Says No") — Gilot continued to paint, and still practices art today at the age of 96.

Françoise sur fond gris (B. 681; M., PP. 195), lithograph, 1950. Estimate £60,000-80,000.
© Succession Picasso/DACS 2018

Gilot has suggested that had it not been for the war, her ten-year relationship with Picasso may not have moved beyond friendship: “Because I would have thought he’s very old, I’m very young. The men who could’ve been interested in me, and me in them, just disappeared… It was a time when everything was lost; a time of death. So: do I want to do something before I die, or not? … It was – let’s do something right away!” Gilot also described her relationship with the artist as a “catastrophe I didn't want to avoid.”

Picasso’s portrayal of his lover in Françoise sur fond gris is a lithographic tour-de-force. The artist’s prints from this period are for the most part smaller in scale or relatively schematic in style. By comparison, Françoise sur fond gris is both monumental and intricately-worked.

The resulting image, though monochromatic, is distinctly painterly; and, through chiaroscuro, it exhibits a remarkable sense of depth—Gilot’s poised, luminous face emerges hauntingly from the surrounding dark ground.

Though seemingly revered here, Gilot’s image was soon to be supplanted in Picasso’s work. "The Woman Who Says No" again demonstrated her audacity when she became the first and only woman to end a relationship with the artist. Gilot reiterated a conversation she had with Picasso before making her decision: ‘I said watch out, because I came when I wanted to, but I will leave when I want. He said, ‘nobody leaves a man like me.’ I said, ‘we’ll see.’’

He said, ‘nobody leaves a man like me.’ I said, ‘we’ll see.'
Françoise Gilot

Picasso was still living with Gilot however when he met Jacqueline Roque at the Madoura pottery in the south of France in 1952. Picasso was instantly captivated with the then 27-year-old; it is said that he pursued her by drawing a dove on her house in chalk and bringing her a rose every day until she finally accepted his advances. In 1961, following the death of his estranged first wife Olga Khokhlova, Picasso and Roque married.

Jacqueline lisant is emblematic of Picasso’s portraits of his second wife. Here, Roque is rendered in profile, a pose that allowed for Picasso to emphasise his subject’s most striking features: her straight nose and strong brow, her slim, elongated neck, and prominent, chiselled cheekbones.

Jacqueline lisant (B. 851; M., PP. 309), lithograph, 1957. Estimate £12,000-18,000.
© Succession Picasso/DACS 2018.

Roque was fiercely devoted to her husband for the last twenty years of his life; in fact it has been said that she ‘spoke openly of Picasso as God, addressed him as Monsignor, and often kissed his hand.’ Following his death, as Richard Dorment describes, ‘she would sit in a darkened room, sobbing, or address a photograph of her husband as though he were still alive.’ Having never recovered from her grief, Picasso’s last great love and muse ultimately committed suicide at her Mougins chateau in 1986—the home she had shared with her beloved husband who had also died there, thirteen years earlier.

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