Françoise Gilot knew that she wanted to be an artist from the age of five. Born to a Parisian businessman and a watercolourist, Gilot studied law while secretly continuing her art. At the young age of 21, Gilot was already an accomplished artist in her own right during World War II. After meeting Gilot in a café in the spring of 1943, Pablo Picasso, already a world-famous artist, fell madly in love with her. This meeting marked the beginning of a decade-long romance, during which she was surrounded by the titans of Modernism including Marc Chagall, Georges Braque and Henri Matisse. Currently based in New York, Gilot was recently appointed an Officer of the Légion d'Honneur, one of France's highest distinctions.
Paula, seated centre left, was a good friend of the artist and the subject of several paintings of this period. Her Tunisian dress, refers back to the month-long soujourn that the artist took in May 1956, which would inspire a number of works throughout the rest of that year. This reminiscence is coupled with the introduction of lush vegetation that frames Paula’s head, a motif which would appear as an important subject for the artist in 1961. Paula in a Tunisian Dress therefore brings elements of both series’ together, employing figurative elements to abstract effect. Colour blocks are composed on the canvas in a harmonious and dynamic fashion that, even without any reference to external objects, would operate superbly as an abstract investigation into colour and form. A dominant presence throughout the artist’s painterly oeuvre, the overall bright red here appears luminous, warm and vibrant, recalling the saturated interiors of Matisse, and is activated relation to the hints of blue, orange and pink carefully orchestrated within.