PICASSO & IDEALS OF PEACE: Better Red than Fed

Pablo Picasso found himself in Paris during World War II. Stranded…….

Overall, reading through Matisse’s correspondence with Camoin in La Revue de l’Art (12, 1971) makes me suspect that Matisse’s behavior during Vichy had little to do directly with the presence of Marshall Pétain at the helm of the French government. The master could accommodate himself with “any regime, any religion, so long as each morning, at eight o’clock I can find my light, my model and my easel.” Or so he told Georges Duthuit. (Transition Forty Nine, no. 5, December 1949, p. 115). What was a more likely influence on his behavior was the absence of Picasso from the Paris art scene. For four years, Picasso, the foreigner, did not have a single exhibition of his recent work, and Matisse had the limelight all to himself. During Vichy, the foreigner who had successfully competed with the equally famous French artist (on the latter’s turf, so to speak) was not on view. At a time of French nationalism and Fascism in Franco’s Spain, the Loyalist Picasso and his art, symbols of Judeo-Marxist foreign decadence in France, were in purgatory.

Picasso. Head of a Woman. 1940. "Head of a woman, 11 June 1940, a grimacing, haunted skull with clenched teeth set against a background of menacing greys, seems to epitomise the essence of death and the defeat of France. The grim bronze and copper sculpture Death's head, which cries out with the same hellish intensity as Edvard Munch's agonised figure in The Scream, 1895, also does. A spotlight that he borrowed from Dora cast dark shadows at night, encircling his canvases and setting off every object in Picasso's still–lives. In these the imagery of the traditional vanitas of the Old Masters is recalled. Pitcher and skeleton, 18 February 1945, and Still life with candle, 21 February 1945, show the ghostly luminescent quality of the objects emerging from the gloom, evoking dread and foreboding. The works from this time are images of despair, pouring forth a sense of isolation, fear and introspection, while at the same time retaining a cynical sense of humour and defiant strength. "

A sense of fear and claustrophobia gripped the city. Life was characterised by rations, curfews and biting–cold winters where fuel shortages led to people huddling together in cafes to keep warm. There was also the chilling presence of the omnipresent Nazis. Picasso and Dora were constantly receiving news of Jewish friends who had been deported to concentration camps or tortured for taking part in the Resistance. Dora, in particular, must have been racked by anxiety as she was a member of the leftist group, Contra–Attaque. It is also believed that she had Jewish parentage.

"Picasso's insistence on responding to the present rather than working in a strictly developmental manner is evident in his paintings of the time, which have an eerie sinister presence. Cat seizing a bird, April 1939, depicts a self–satisfied cat triumphantly gripping a defenceless bird, its flesh torn to reveal a gaping wound. It can be read as an evil symbol of General Franco defeating Madrid in the preceding March. "

Despite the fact that Picasso was regarded by the Nazi regime as a degenerate artist and Guernica had become a symbol of defiance against Fascism he remained free from persecution. At the time the Nazis were keen not to offend the U.S.A. and it was probably Picasso’s widespread fame that protected him. However, he was denied publicity and prevented from exhibiting his work, resulting in his disappearance from the world stage. Some of Picasso’s closest friends had been claimed by the Nazis, including the poet Max Jacob. While some artists colluded with the Germans, he vehemently refused to engage with them, declining offers of extra food and tours of Germany. According to an anecdotal account, the Gestapo searched his apartment. During their visit he showed them a black and white photograph of Guernica. When a German soldier asked him if he had done it, he replied, “No, it was you!” Picasso’s willingness to shelter anyone sent to him from the Resistance Movement was a further indication of his rebellious attitude.

Picasso. Leeks, Skull and Pitcher. 1945.

…Not only were the ex- and old Fauves going to triumph at the Salons, in the galleries and elsewhere during Vichy, but they could, like Vlaminck, publish anti-Picasso diatribes in the French press (Comoedia, 6 June, 1942). They could also rise in anger when someone dared to say positive things about Picasso. Thus, Camoin tells Matisse in August 1941, after reporting on a talk in which a “Jewish” lecturer had called Picasso the greatest French painter of our time, because he has done the French the honor of coming to France to work: “I left before the end. . . . It is another proof of the hold of the Jews in our era, out of which the judeo métèque [central European] style has emerged for which Picasso is the inspiration.”

"There was a severe backlash following Picasso's public unveiling as a communist. Protests by right-wing groups were held at exhibitions after liberation and he was barred from entry to the United States. But the artist began to travel widely, addressing public audiences for the first time, and giving donations to causes including a one million Franc gift to striking French coal miners. He joined protests against the Korean War, and the execution of Nikos Beloyannis, the Greek communist and resistance leader. "

In August 1944 came the Liberation of Paris, and the first Autumn Salon to be held in the newly freed city. This time Picasso is given a room of his own that he fills with examples of his wartime production. It is a triumphant return for Picasso, marred, however, by disturbances that have remained unattributed. On Nov. 16, 1944, Matisse wrote a letter to Camoin: “Have you seen the Picasso room? It is much talked about. There were demonstrations in the street against it. What success! If there is applause, whistle.” One can guess who the demonstrators might have been — cronies of the Fauves, still ranting against the Judeo-Marxist decadent Picasso.


Pablo Picasso The Charnel House Paris, 1944-1945, dated 1945 Mrs. Sam A. Lewisohn Bequest (by exchange) and Mrs. Marya Bernhard Fund in memory of her husband Dr. Bernhard Bernhard and anonymous funds.


Determined not to be cowed by the atmosphere of confinement and uncertainty, he continued to work feverishly, including writing poetry and making portraits and busts of Dora. In January 1941 he surprised his friends by writing a play entitled “Desire Caught by the Tail”,  a curious blend of Picasso’s biting wit, allusions to Dora, macabre imagery and the bleakness of wartime Paris that culminates in disappointment for the bizarre characters obsessed with hunger, cold and love. In 1944 a clandestine reading of the play was organised, in itself an act of defiance in the face of occupation. This illustrates how deeply Picasso was embedded in the intellectual and literary circle of the time. The performance was directed by Albert Camus and the actors included Jean–Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Dora.

Angel Flores Jr.:One of the things that made Picasso and the communist's unlikely bedfellows was the party's official embrace of the Social Realist School and official opposition to the Modern movement of which the "decadent" Picasso was perhaps the greatest exponent. But his long exile from his native Spain in opposition to the regime of General Franco coupled with the brutal experiences of life during the Nazi occupation of Paris, meant he saw communism and the ideal of peace as the key to a world free of fascism.

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Picasso. ENlevement des Sabines. Six weeks after Liberation Picasso was honoured by an invitation to take part in an exhibition of French art at the newly reopened Salon d'Automne. Regrettably, his works were physically attacked by conservative youths who had been seduced by right–wing politics during France's Occupation. Police were brought in to guard the exhibition. A few months later he exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London where his work from the war years elicited a mixed reaction. Some viewers were taken aback by the raw, powerful and brutal expression, particularly when compared with the gentle, lyrical work of Matisse who was also exhibiting at the museum.

Some of Spotts’s nastiest reportage concerns Parisian society women:Their salons and soirées offered a discreet way for the gratin of the Occupation to meet the gratin of cultural collaboration. This is the way it worked. At one of her soirées, the marquise de Polignac, for example, might introduce the collaborationist editor Ramon Fernandez to Gerhard Heller, the officer responsible for censoring books, who would in turn be introduced to Marie-Louise Bousquet, who would invite the German officer to a private recital in her residence on the Place du Palais-Bourbon, where the collaborationist cellist Pierre Fournier would play to a collaborationist audience. There Heller would meet, among others, the collaborationist Marcel Jouhandeau, who would introduce him to his close collabo friend Florence Gould, who would incorporate him into her collaborationist “literary” salon. This is almost exactly the way Heller infiltrated Parisian high society.

Fond of juicy gossip, Spotts tells us that American multimillionaire Florence Gould “enjoyed the pleasures of the bed, a bed that [writer Ernst] Jünger and other German officers came to know well.”

Michele C. Cone:For example, public opinion on Picasso has lately changed for the worse. While his friends, including Matisse, always said that he behaved with dignity during the war—he helped comrades with money and hiding places, never attended parties at the German embassy and advised against taking propaganda trips to Germany—he has in recent times been unfairly maligned. Detractors point out that he was visited by Heller and other Nazi officers, and did not try to save the life of his friend Jacob. In fact, however, Picasso was in no position to deny the Germans access to his studio, lest he be made to pay with surveillance and possible arrest, and he held no power to rescue anyone because he was himself suspect in the eyes of the occupiers. Picasso’s accusers obviously don’t know what it means to live in a police state, in which to display one’s opposition to the regime exposes one to arrest, deportation and probable death.

Not mentioned in this passage is the presence at Gould’s events of someone ethically above board, the resister Jean Paulhan. It was apparently at one of her dinners that Heller warned Paulhan, an editor and writer, of his imminent arrest. If nothing else, the story suggests that the word “collaborator” ought to be used sparingly in regard to people like Gould, and that even the most collaborationist salons had some moral usefulness.

Having personal contacts with Hitler’s emissaries in Paris and with collaborators as intermediaries proved beneficial not only for Paulhan but for other French personalities who needed help. The French sculptor Aristide Maillol called on his longtime German friend Breker (who was close to Hitler) to help free his young model, Dina Vierny, interned at the Drancy transit camp and about to be deported to Auschwitz. Cocteau and playwright Sacha Guitry, both frequently seen at parties at the German embassy and thus tagged as collabos, approached Heller to intercede on behalf of the poet Max Jacob. He did so, but Jacob was already dead by the time the release order came. In his autobiography, Guitry mentions being solicited by the painter Demetrios Galanis, a friend of Henri Matisse, to save from deportation Matisse’s wife, arrested for Resistance activities.


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