Art in times of war: Picasso during WWII
When the Nazis occupied France, they labeled Pablo Picasso's art "degenerate," yet the painter stayed in Paris. The show "Pablo Picasso: The War Years 1930-1945" delves into the relationship between his art and the war.
Morbid still life
"I have not painted the war, because I am not the kind of painter who goes out like a photographer looking for something to depict. But I have no doubt that the war is in these paintings I have done," Spanish painter Pablo Picasso said after the end of WWII. From 1939-1945, Picasso primarily painted portraits, nudes or still lifes such as "Three Lamb's Heads" (1939), which had dark undertones.
Degenerate and forbidden
In June 1940 the Nazis occupied Paris. Picasso, who had called the city his home since 1904, had fled to southern France when war broke out. But in August 1940 he returned to his Parisian studio, despite the occupation. The Nazis termed him "degenerate" and prevented him from exhibiting his art. Yet Picasso remained in his adopted homeland until the war's end, unlike many of his colleagues.
Across the Atlantic
Picasso, a Spanish citizen, had applied for French citizenship in early 1940, but his application was rejected because of his supposedly extremist communist tendencies. Unable to show in Paris, the artist was celebrated in New York. In 1939-40 the Museum of Modern Art hosted a retrospective of his major works, including "Guernica," the stark mourning tribute to the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).
Fighting for a cause
Before World War II, the Spanish artist had taken a clear political stance. He even mocked dictator Francisco Franco, portraying him as the hapless Don Quixote. He donated proceeds from published works to Spanish refugee aid organizations and gave the profits from exhibitions to Spain's republican party. Yet his works during WWII, including this dove from 1942, appeared harmless in comparison.
It depends on the context
"Why do you think I date everything I make? Because it's not enough to know an artist's works. One must also know when he made them, why, how, under what circumstances," Picasso explained in 1943. "Still Life with Skull of Ox" was created one year earlier. Skulls, often a symbol of the fragility of life, are a frequently recurring motif in his work during the WWII years.
In 1944 the Allies liberated Paris. Picasso was celebrated as a survivor. He joined the Communist Party but was accused by some of his comrades of having been too apolitical artistically. He replied that the artist "is a political being, constantly aware of the heart-breaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image."
In times of peace
Picasso frequently traveled to the South of France after WWII. In 1945 his style changed again, and he began to reinterpret works by the old masters. The artist remained politically active, taking part in world peace congresses, among other events. During this time, he also created his drawing of a dove of peace, which remains an internationally recognized symbol to this day.
Picasso and war on show
"Pablo Picasso: The War Years 1939-1945" shows Picasso's life during a challenging period of threats and destruction. The exhibition runs from February 15 to June 14 at the K20 exhibition space in Dusseldorf, part of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, in Germany's northwest. The show is a collaboration with the Museum of Grenoble and the Picasso Museum in Paris.