Picks and Pans Review: Matisse and Picasso: a Friendship in Art

updated 12/17/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/17/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Françoise Gilot

The artist Françoise Gilot has previously written at length about her turbulent life with Pablo Picasso. In that earlier work she also sketched a portrait of Picasso's relationship with Henri Matisse. In Matisse and Picasso she expands further on the remarkable friendship between these titans of 20th-century art, and includes never-before-published letters to her from Matisse.

It is a fascinating account, developed from a most unusual vantage point. Gilot lived with Picasso from 1946 to 1954 and is the mother of their two children, Claude and Paloma. For the past 20 years, she has been married to Dr. Jonas Salk.

During the intense early years with Picasso, Gilot experienced a relationship marked by deep affection and respect, shadowed at times by Picasso's gnawing jealousy. Picasso sulked when Matisse sent Françhise presents and invited her to model for him. The bearded, buttoncd-up Matisse looked, says Gilot, like a famous surgeon. For Picasso, he served as a surrogate father.

Picasso and Matisse had met in Paris in 1905 at the home of Gertrude and Leo Stein. But during Gilot's reign as Picasso's mistress, the friendship between the two men blossomed. Matisse, who had survived about with cancer in 1941, was often in bed when Gilot and Picasso came calling, once with a magician in tow. One afternoon they glimpsed the 78-year-old Matisse playing hide-and-seek with model-mistress Lydia Delectorskaya. Picasso, uncharacteristically, didn't gossip about it. In this high-powered and complicated training ground, Gilot once found herself mediating a debate between the painters about the role of armchairs in their art.

Gilot's re-creation of conversations held more than 40 years ago is sometimes wooden. She appears at her least appealing when she dissects old fights with Picasso, managing in these jousts with the dead man to have the last word. But she is very good indeed when she analyzes art. Matisse sought to unite, to re-create the idea of an earthly Eden. Picasso was consumed with the need to know and analyze, even if it led to destruction. "They were in fact as complementary as red and green," writes Gilot, "as opposed as white and black.... Matisse's high-tension electricity corresponded to Pablo's magnetism, and their presence in the same room created an extraordinary field of force."

Knowing that encounters marked by such an intense communion were unlikely to last forever, Picasso once commented, "When one of us dies, there are things that the other will not be able to say to anyone else ever again." (Doubleday. $30)

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