Picasso and Communist Art
Pablo Picasso joined the French Communist Party (PCF) immediately after the Liberation of Paris, where he had been living throughout the war. Under the Nazi occupation he had continued to work but, classified as a ‘degenerate’ artist (like Matisse), was forbidden to exhibit. Periodically German officers would search his studio in the rue des Grands-Augustins. After the Liberation the invaders were admiring young Americans GIs.
On the front page of L’Humanite (5 October 1944) Picasso was styled ‘the greatest of living painters’ and shown, hat in hand, earnestly conferring with two elder statesmen of the Party, Marcel Cachin and Jacques Duclos. Describing itself as ‘the Party of the French renaissance’, the PCF welcomed Picasso into the ‘Communist family’. The painter was equally effusive:
My adherence to the Communist Party is the logical outcome of my whole life…
I have always been an exile, and now I am one no longer; until Spain can at last
welcome me back, the French Communist Party has opened its arms to me. I have
found there all those whom I esteem the most, the greatest scientists, the greatest
poets and all those faces, so beautiful, of the Parisians in arms which I saw during those
days in August. I am once more among my brothers.
By ‘the greatest poets’ he meant his friend Paul Eluard, the most important single influence on Picasso’s decision to join, and Louis Aragon, the prince1 of Communist intellectuals, poet, novelist, and reformed surrealist. As editor of Les Lettres francaises, Aragon set the tone for ‘les lendemains qui chantent’ (the tomorrows which sing), the Party’s claim on a majority shareholding in the future. Warning those who ‘wear the livery of the harlequin’, Aragon sternly rebuked Roger Garaudy and other potential deviants: ‘The Communist Party has an aesthetic and it is called realism.’2 Was Pablo Picasso a ‘realist’? The Russians certainly did not think so, and showed open hostility