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War and peace

In 1952, Picasso produced an immense painting in his Le Fournas studio in Vallauris – War and Peace.
Although dealing with a subject that was directly connected to this postwar period and the countless international calls for Peace around the world, this work of art maintains an undeniably allegorical dimension. The culmination of 300 preparatory drawings done over the months prior, it required a large number of hardboard panels that were stood upright on a specially designed wooden structure.

 

La Guerre

La Guerre
War

   Picasso began with War. A hearse drawn by war horses – caparisoned and harnessed – is being driven by a horned creature, armed with a bloody cutlass.
He is carrying a sort of basket on his back piled high with human skulls. Other characters emerge in the middle as shadowgraphs in the background.
The attitude is threatening like the first figure mentioned. The three horses pulling the unstable and chaotic catafalque are trampling on an open book – finishing off the destructive work that the flames devouring it began.
The trampled book here conjures up the stance taken by all dictators with regard to culture – generally considered to be dangerous and subversive.
At the same level, two painted hands appear in a sort of black hole. They may hark back to those found on the wall of some prehistoric caves, particularly the Lascaux cave – which had only been discovered a few years before.
In stark contrast to the violent colours surrounding the sinister hearse scene, the blue background in which the peace fighter emerges is calm and soothing, just like the latter.

Naked and armed with a lance that is holding up the scales of justice, his only protection is a simple shield on which the artist has drawn a dove – the well-known symbol of peace.
The man seems to show no fear before the savage figures careering towards him. A portrait shows faintly through behind the dove on the white shield, like a watermark, and it too is of a serene beauty.
It is the artist’s partner, Françoise Gilot. In contrast – practically at the same height – a small, round, white dish is releasing strange black forms wielding pincers or thorns.
They may hint at the research conducted at the time by the world’s superpowers to arm themselves with biological weapons.

 

La Paix

La paix
On the wall opposite, Picasso painted Peace. The scenes are to be read from right to left. The first is composed of four figures involved in peaceful activity in a tenderly, restfully coloured garden.
A woman breastfeeds her child while reading under a hanging vine dripping with grapes, a solar urchin with abundant, coloured rays and a tree bearing luminous fruit.
In addition to the rich and generous symbol of motherhood is that of the liberating culture, damaged, we saw, in the opposite panel.
In a vast swathe of blue taking up a large section of the wall, several scenes are depicted side by side – all exuding exuberant joy.
A white horse pulls a harrow held by a child ploughing this sea blue field.
The little labourer’s attention has been caught by the previous scene and, another image of fertility, draws a link between the two.
The animal is winged like those that feature in Greek mythology. Picasso shows a vibrant interest in these, which make regular appearances in his paintings at this time – such as the Centaur.
The pipe-playing faun that we can see in the work, on the far left of the panel, is also a frequent feature.
Two naked women in the centre are dancing to his music.
They are accompanied in their progress by two other children whose light and nimble game reveals a certain air of mischief.
The birds in the bowl and the fish in the cage evoke the fun topsy-turvy of things which, in this enchanting Eden-like setting, only bodes well rather than ill.
Even the owl – usually a creature of the deep, dark night – perched on the head of the balancing child lends none of his usual unease to the panel.
It finds a sort of positive pendant in the shape of a bunch of grapes that the other child is holding in his left hand.

Last but not least, other intriguing clues are the hourglass right on the edge of the white support, balanced on the woman’s finger, which relays the image of time visible in the spiral of the shell on which the musician is sitting. Linear, precarious and limited, the time of man thus seems to find an eternal thread in this communicative joie de vivre here.

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