Photographer and filmmaker Claude Picasso, the youngest son of Pablo Picasso, died in Geneva, Switzerland, on August 24 at the age of seventy-six. The news was announced by his lawyer, Jean-Jacques Neuer, who did not reveal a cause of death. Claude’s mother was the French painter Françoise Gilot, who died earlier this year at the age of 101 and was also mother to his younger sister, Paloma Picasso, now the Cubist giant’s only surviving child. Having been cut off by his famous father after Gilot left him—she was by the artist’s admission the only woman ever to do so—Claude as a young man sued to be recognized as his legal heir. He won the suit and went on to serve as administrator of the Spanish legend’s estate, from 1989 until this past July, when he relinquished control to Paloma.
Claude Ruiz Picasso was born May 15, 1947, in Boulogne-Billancourt, France, and named, in accordance with his mother’s wishes, after the pathbreaking French Rococo artist Claude Gillot, a mentor of Watteau. Françoise left Picasso in 1953, when Claude was six. Following the publication of his mother’s explosive 1964 memoir Life with Picasso, young Claude became estranged from his father altogether. He moved to New York in 1967, where he took on the role of assistant to renowned photographer Richard Avedon and began studying film at the Actors Studio. In 1970, at the age of twenty-two, he filed suit in a French court, demanding to be recognized as Picasso’s legitimate son and thus his legal heir. The case dragged on for four years, and in 1974, a year after the artist died intestate, leaving a collection then estimated to be worth some $817 million, the court awarded him and Paloma recognition.
Claude in the late 1960s had begun working as a photojournalist, and he enjoyed a successful career shooting for Time Life, Saturday Review, and Vogue, among other publications. In 1989, a court appointed him to the position of administrator of Picasso’s estate. “I never expected or desired to have any kind of role like this, or have any influence over my father’s legacy,” he told John Richardson in 2018. Owing to the demands of the job, he slowly relinquished his career as a photographer, taking up racing vintage cars instead. Claude received the French Legion d’Honneur in 2011 for his contributions as a photographer and filmmaker, and for his role in preserving his father’s heritage. Despite his capacity as his father’s representative in the world for decades, Claude always averred that his mother’s work influenced that of the mythic Spanish artist, doing so years before Gilot would finally gain recognition in her own right.
“There’s a story I sometimes tell, something that was very important for me, determining for my attitude,” he told Richardson. “My father and I were at a bullfight in Nîmes or Arles, and it was El Cordobés, the bullfighter, who had a very unacademic way of bullfighting. So after the bullfight my father and I always had these big discussions dissecting what had happened in the ring, and I was complaining that El Cordobés was always doing strange things and that he didn’t kill the bull properly and wasn’t fighting in the proper way. So my father said, ‘What are you saying? You should like him. He’s a Beatle.’ Like the Beatles! [laughter] And then he said, ‘What would ever have happened if I’d painted like Delacroix?’ So you know, ‘Pfft.’ And I thought, yeah, right, okay. Okay, it’s important to take another risk.”