Françoise Gilot, portrayed here, was the essential Muse who presided over the remarkable three-fold endeavor upon which Picasso embarked during the immediate post-war years, no mean feat for a man who in 1951 turned seventy. While exploring new ideas in sculpture, ceramics, and printmaking, as well as painting, the artist placed his work and international fame at the service of left-wing political ideology, principally for the cause of world peace. With Françoise, he fulfilled his desire to create a new family: Claude was born in 1947, Paloma in 1949.
In the Midi town of Vallauris, home to the Madoura pottery works, Picasso came close to achieving his vision of a Mediterranean Arcadia. “In this fertile and friendly atmosphere Picasso resembled the chief of a tribe—a tribe which had as its nucleus the family at ‘La Galloise’ and extended to the craftsmen at the potteries,” Roland Penrose wrote (Picasso: His Life and Work, Berkeley, 1981, p. 371). By 1952, however, Picasso’s relationship with Françoise was showing signs of strain. She avoided participating in the highly visible public aspect of her partner’s life, preferring to remain out of the limelight to preserve the privacy of their children. As an aspiring painter when she met Picasso during the wartime Occupation, Françoise now wished to return to her art, to make a career of it on her own terms. Her first solo exhibition opened in Paris on 31 March 1952.
Picasso desired instead that Françoise continue to devote herself to their family; he had been, moreover, pressuring her to have a third child, which she refused to do. They began to grow apart, a situation further exacerbated by rumors that Picasso was seeing another woman, subsequently revealed to be Geneviève Laporte, who was in her mid-twenties. Picasso evoked the psychology of this developing drama in the series of heads he painted of Françoise during 24-27 May 1952, in which he employed simultaneous frontal and profile view-points—her face folded in upon itself, her large eyes seemingly fixed on her own aims, while defiantly glaring back at the painter. Her abundant hair, in early depictions often seen loosed and free in a manner that most charmed Picasso, is here instead pulled back into a chignon, as if to infer a growing constraint in her feelings toward him.
At the end of September 1953, Gilot took their children and left Picasso for Paris. “Pablo told me, that first afternoon I visited him alone, in February 1944, that our relationship would bring light into both our lives,” she later wrote. “My coming to him, he said, seemed like a window that was opening up and he wanted it to remain open. I did, too, as long as it let in the light. When it no longer did, I closed it, much against my own desire. From that moment on, he burned all the bridges that connected me to the past I shared with him. But in doing so, he forced me to discover myself and thus to survive. I shall never cease being grateful to him for that” (Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 367).