Lithographs of a ‘legend’: La Jolla exhibit showcases works of Françoise Gilot

Elisabeth Frausto | September 14, 2023

Highlighting late French artist and longtime La Jollan Françoise Gilot, the Athenaeum Music & Art Library in La Jolla will host an exhibition of her works featuring many never-before-exhibited lithographs, beginning with an opening reception from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15.

The exhibition, “Françoise Gilot: Lithographs: 1950–1990,” is even more poignant given that Gilot died in June at age 101, according to Gilot’s former studio assistant and longtime friend in La Jolla, Diana Pickett. 

Pickett curated the upcoming Athenaeum exhibit, featuring 25 to 60 lithographs Gilot created from 1950 to 1990.

The lithographs all belong to a private collector but will be available for sale during the exhibition, with a portion of the proceeds being donated to the Athenaeum. 

“This is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate her and to give homage to this wonderful woman,” Pickett said, noting the show is the only exhibit of this many of Gilot’s lithographs in the world.

The Athenaeum hosted a private reception and pop-up show in 2022 to celebrate Gilot’s 100th birthday.

The lithograph show had been planned for a year but took on new meaning for Pickett after Gilot’s death at the beginning of the summer, though plans for the exhibit did not change.

Gilot is a “solid artist,” Pickett said, noting Gilot was born in France in 1921 and had her first Paris exhibition in 1943, months before she met famed artist Pablo Picasso, with whom she spent the next decade and had two children.

Gilot married artist Luc Simon in 1955, with whom she had a daughter before divorcing in 1962.

Gilot met Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, a few years later, marrying him in 1970 and moving to La Jolla, where she remained with Salk until his death in 1995. 

“She needs to have some acknowledgment for spending 25 years in San Diego,” Pickett said.

Pickett met Gilot in 1971 and began archiving her work in 1980.

Throughout her life, Gilot remained “fiercely independent,” Pickett said and was always creating art. 

“[Gilot] always said, ‘You live your own life. You don’t live anyone else’s,’” Pickett said.

Gilot’s first local studio was in La Jolla near the intersection of Pearl Street and La Jolla Boulevard, where the artist would work on several paintings at a time.

“She’d been doing art since she was five years old,” Pickett said. “This was her life.”

Gilot’s artistic contributions to La Jolla and the San Diego region are invaluable, Pickett said. 

“She was a legend. … She wasn’t appreciated here,” Pickett said, adding science is often emphasized here more than art. “I truly miss her spirit. … We had a star here.”

Gilot moved to New York in 1995 and kept painting there until her death.

“Françoise Gilot: Lithographs: 1950–1990” is free to the public and will run through Nov. 11. 

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