Picasso: Life and Art

By Pierre Daix; Olivia Emmet | Go to book overview

26
THE WAR
1938-1940

Although mounting tensions and pressures to declare loyalties and close ranks increased daily, deep differences inside the anti-Fascist camp were also intensifying. Picasso found himself caught in the rupture between Éluard and Breton. The execution of Bukharin in Moscow in March 1938—the month of the Anschluss—had precipitated their political divorce, and Breton, with his usual authoritarianism, called on all Surrealists to shun Éluard. They should, he said, neither see him nor mention his name, on pain of exclusion from the movement. He wrote a number of threatening letters. "Picasso is right in the middle," Éluard lamented. 1 He was so shaken, he didn't notice that his friend had refused to yield to the admonitions not only of Breton but of Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Roland Penrose as well. Such discord in his own camp as Spain was falling to the Fascists made Picasso both sad and angry. The future now seemed blocked, cut off. At just this point he was stricken with a painful attack of sciatica. The injustice of biology was always particularly difficult for him to accept.

In the still-lifes, a bull's-head—black, and then red—yields in January 1939 to an ox skull picked up on the beach: 2 a subject already loaded with death. At the same time a Femme sur une chaise (Woman on a Chair) painted during the spring, in howling striations, explodes onto a large canvas to become Femme au jardin (Woman in a Garden), completed on 10 December 1938. 3 The chair on which she sits resembles an instrument of torture. The picture is an absolute "chosification" (thingification) of the "wicker-work" woman.

On 13 January, thirteen days before Franco's troops entered Barcelona, during the final agony of the Spanish Republic, Picasso's mother died. This loss was compounded: not only his mother Doña Maria but the city of his youth as well and his hopes that Spain might escape from a black past. On 15 January the bull's skull appears in his painting. When one follows the entire sequence of paintings, the distance between Picasso and the Symbolists can be readily understood. This skull is an instrument with which to make painting scream and weep. It represents an aspect of death, of course; but above all it is a reflection of the death that Picasso carried in

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