Françoise Gilot Blue eyes (Les yeux bleus)

Inspired by her mother, who was a watercolourist, Françoise Gilot decided to become an artist herself at the age of five. She was tutored first by her mother and then by her mother’s art teacher. In 1938 Gilot attained a Bachelor of Arts (Philosophy) at the University of Paris, and then completed another degree in English literature at Cambridge University in 1939. In order to please her father Gilot enrolled to study law from 1940−42, during the Nazi Occupation of Paris, but eventually decided to pursue a full-time career as an artist, spending her time sketching in Paris subways and cafes. Her art heroes at this time were the masters of the Italian Quattrocento, as well as Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh. In 1941 at the Salon des Tuileries she met a young Hungarian painter Endre Rozsda, who was an enthusiast of Surrealism and the work of Pablo Picasso, who allowed her to work in his studio. Gilot now developed an interest in the work of Henri Matisse and Georges Braque. In Paris from 1943–45 she studied at the Académie Julian, the Académie Ranson and the École des Beaux-Arts.

In 1943 Gilot held her first exhibition in Paris, showing work alongside another artist friend, Geneviève Aliquot. In this same year, at age twenty-one, she met Pablo Picasso. The two were romantically linked as partners for the next decade, and had two children together, Claude and Paloma. Following the war, the couple lived primarily in the south of France. Gilot continued to work as an independent artist during and after her relationship with Picasso. In 1949 she entered into a contractual arrangement with the Galerie Louise Leiris, becoming the first woman artist to exhibit with this prestigious gallery in 1952. Gilot separated from Picasso in September 1953, leaving the home she shared with him in Vallauris and returning to Paris with their children. In May 2016 Françoise Gilot recalled:

From 1946 to the end of 1953, while sharing Pablo Picasso’s life, I relied mostly on my imagination and no longer on observation. Back in Paris, in my studio, it was time to shake off some of the stylistic habits I used during this artistic dialogue. Therefore, in 1954, I decided to resume drawing from nature, taking inspiration from professional models or from friends. For the later part of 1954 and all of 1955, most every day, I worked with a young English classical dancer called Germaine Brocks. Having fair hair, pale complexion and a fine silhouette, Germaine was a well-known model in the Paris art world and she became for me quite an inspiring and poetic presence.

In Blue eyes, 1956, Germaine Brocks is shown seated on a chair in a neutral space with a thin red skirting board, her hands clasped around her left knee, and her piercing blue eyes anchoring the composition. While Brocks often posed for Gilot in ballet costume, here she wears everyday attire that captures perfectly the spirit of modernity in 1950s Paris.

Dr Ted Gott, Senior Curator, International Art, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2017)