Picasso: Life and Art

By Pierre Daix; Olivia Emmet | Go to book overview

30
BETWEEN SOCIALIST REALISM AND
ABSTRACT ART
1947-1951

Returning to Paris from Antibes in late November 1946 was to leave an oasis of poetic calm and re-enter a world of tensions, disputes, and war. France was shaken by the murderous bombing of Haiphong, a large port on the Gulf of Tonkin. This marked the beginning of a colonial war—a brutal awakening from the illusions of peace produced by the Liberation and victory of 1945. This shock was closely followed by a private tragedy: the sudden death of Nusch, who collapsed in the street on 28 November, a victim of cerebral congestion. With her end, a part of Picasso's life as a painter ended, too. And as for Éluard, his friends feared for his reason.

The pastoral happiness of Antibes seemed no longer relevant or fitting. Instead, still lifes began to include the owl perching on a chair, while lithographs returned to fauns, centaurs, and bacchantes. Inès appears with her child, and pigeons forecast the dove which in 1949 will become the consecrated "dove of peace." Françoise can be recognized in the plastic variations deriving from the Femme-fleur. Picasso was seeking his current self.1 In a lithograph he attacked a Cranach painting—David and Bathsheba—of which he had a photograph.2 He concentrated the composition, nullifying the distance between David, playing his harp on a terrace, and Bathsheba, sitting in a garden while a servant washes her feet. This scene is a point of departure. In the four states which followed, the forms were simplified using a multiplicity of virtuosic techniques.

Since autumn the Communist party had been debating the question of a Communist esthetic: Could such a quantity, in fact, be said to exist? Roger Garaudy, speaking for the Central Committee, said it could not. As proof he submitted that "a Communist has a right to enjoy and admire the work of Picasso—or of anti-Picasso." To which Aragon replied that "the party has an esthetic, which is called Socialist Realism." Picasso himself felt that his work fitted neither that brand of "realism" nor the "anti-Picasso" category and that the argument was entirely irrelevant to the problems confronting art in the wake of World War II. Both sides were becoming extremely exercised: Breton, who was preparing to exclude Picasso (as well

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