The Painter Who Stood for Life against Death; Tate Liverpool's Landmark Picasso Exhibition Will Focus on His Political Beliefs. LauraDavis Discovers They Were as Complicated as His Art

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Byline: Laura avis

HE ARRIVED in Northern England plainly dressed in an old raincoat and blue beret, carrying a bunch of chrysanthemums.

A humble figure on the railway platform but a colossal one in the world peace process.

When he stepped off the boat - he was uncomfortable with flying and only once travelled by plane - Pablo Picasso had been seized by Immigration and questioned for 12 hours.

Eventually, he was allowed to attend the 1950 World Peace Congress in Sheffield, though many other artists and thinkers were not.

To open the event, which was later abandoned due to a lack of speakers, the Spanish painter gave a short speech, stating he had learned to paint doves from his father. He ended by saying: "I stand for life against death. I stand for peace against war."

It is Picasso's appearance at this Congress, vehemently opposed by the Attlee government due to Communist associations with the Cold War, that led curator Lynda Morris to want to hold an exhibition of his work at Tate Liverpool - in the heart of the left-wing North.

Thirty years in the making, it is the first in history to focus on his political beliefs and feature work from 1944, the year he joined the French Communist Party (FCP), to his death in 1973.

"When I looked at the map after the election results, England is a sea of blue but Merseyside is one of the greatest areas of red," says Prof Morris.

"I could have held this exhibition in London, but Liverpool seems a more appropriate choice."

Born in Malaga, Spain, in 1881, Picasso found his political voice in protests over the Spanish Civil War that devastated the country from 1936 to 1939, killing an estimated 300,000 people.

Like many artists and writers, including Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell, he objected to General Franco overthrowing the Republican government for a dictatorship.

His 1937 painting, Guernica, was named after the Basque town bombed by German and Italian warplanes at the behest of Spanish Nationalist forces, and later became a worldwide anti-war symbol.

"As a youngman living in Barcelona, he saw a lot of destitute soldiers returning from the American-Spanish wars over Cuba," says Morris, a professor at Norwich University College of the Arts.

"The First World War broke out then the Russian Revolution and the Great Depression and the Second World War - Picasso was made by that series of events."

Unfortunately, Tate's exhibition will not include Guernica, which due to its fragile state can no longer be moved from New York's Museum of Modern Art.

However, it will feature The Charnel House (1944), another major political work depicting a murdered family sprawled beneath a dining table that suggests the piles of corpses discovered in Nazi concentration camps upon their liberation.

Both paintings are black and white, inspired by newsreels of the time.

The Rape of the Sabine Women (1962), which compares the violence of this episode in Roman History to 20th century events, is also among the works going on display.

Despite being a card carrying member of the FCP - in fact, his membership card is also included in the Tate's exhibition - Picasso's relationship with the Communist Party was a rocky one. …