A few weeks ago, during a stay in Münster, I took a brief glimpse at the “Peace. From Antiquity to the Present” exhibition in the Picasso Museum. It is named “Picasso – From the Horrors of War to the Dove of Peace”. I quickly noticed that I was walking through the rooms a little confused and without any plan and finally made the decision to take part in a guided tour on my next visit to Münster.
Last week the time had come. The result: The guided tour through the exhibition was very enriching. I was less “enthralled” by the exhibits themselves, but rather by the story the exhibition tells.
The exhibition tells of the discords in Picasso’s life and his country that have led him to create political works of art. One gets to know the older Picasso and begins to understand under what difficult circumstances he worked during the National Socialist era and what a turning point the civil war in Spain marked for him.
The beginning is in the last room
For the tour I had arranged to meet Birthe Sarrazin. To my surprise, the spokeswoman of the museum and I started our exploration in the back room of the exhibition. “It’s a little unfortunate that we can’t show the exhibition in chronological order. But due to the size of Tatjana Doll‘s painting, the beginning had to be moved to the last room” explains Birthe Sarrazin.
This room, the largest room in the Picasso exhibition, shows how it all began: “Here you can see Picasso suddenly becoming political in his works at the age of over 50. At first with humour and satire. Later, with great emotionality.” Birthe Sarrazin tells me that the beginning of the Spanish Civil War strongly touched Pablo Picasso, who lived in France. “Franco in particular was an almost impossible character for Picasso,” she explains to me. The press spokeswoman points to a showcase with postcard-sized sketches entitled “Franco’s Dream and Lie”. Franco is ridiculed here by Picasso in various poses – sometimes as riding a pig, sometimes as a woman.
“But do you see this?” Mrs. Sarrazin asks me. She points to the last four pictures in the series and explains: “The expression becomes completely different, the satire ends.” But what happened? During production, Picasso had found out about Guernica. The almost complete annihilation of the Basque city in April 1937 by the Condor Legion, consisting of German and Italian fighter planes, marked a change for him. The destruction of a civilian city in broad daylight by extensive bombardment gave the war a new dimension.
“This seems to be a turning point for Picasso,” says Birthe Sarrazin. Indeed: If you look at the creative frenzy with which he began to paint the mammoth painting “Guernica” shortly afterwards, you will get the impression that the attack struck him straight to the heart. In a photo series of his then wife Dora Maar you can observe his creative process. It depicts the formation of the mammoth oil painting measuring 3.49 x 7.77 metres in eight stages. The original picture can be seen on photos and in its effect. It became world-famous and was often used as an inspiration for new art. In the exhibition at the Picasso Museum in Münster, Tatjana Doll’s extensive paraphrase of this picture can be seen. The original hangs in Madrid and cannot be loaned due to its size.
After Franco came Hitler
The second blow that hit Picasso badly was the Nazi occupation of France. Birthe Sarrazin tells me that many of Picasso’s artist friends soon left the country. “Picasso stayed. He was already famous at that time but was considered a degenerate artist under Hitler. He was permanently monitored and harassed but got off unscathed.”
The second exhibition room shows this terrible and extremely difficult time for Picasso. The sculpture “Man with sheep” dominates it. It shows a shepherd with his sheep, that is not save in the arms of the man but looks terrified and anxious. A sheep on its way to the butchery? Maybe. Picasso knew about the deportations of Jews by the Germans at the time of the sculpture’s creation in 1943.
At first, Picasso could only realize the sculpture as a plaster cast. At a time when monument after monument was melted down for weapons, a figure in this size could not be realized as a bronze statue. It wasn’t until after the war that he was able to do so. He cast it three times, one stood in his garden as long as he lived.
The art in the second room of the exhibition is full of subtle allusions and hidden criticism of the German occupation. It becomes clear that Picasso could live and work only under difficult conditions during this time.
Picasso no fan of his Dove of Peace
The third and for me last room of the exhibition tour is devoted to the period after the Second World War and the peace activities of the Communist Party. Pablo Picasso wanted to support the first international peace congress and was asked to provide a poster motif. The “comrades” decided on his lithograph of a dove – about which Picasso himself was not happy at all. The museum’s press spokeswoman explains: “He found the dove unsuitable as a symbol of peace because he had two of these animals that were constantly attacking each other. Furthermore, the chosen picture was too naturalistic for him.” Yet he gave in and the poster became world-famous.
Thus, the Dove of Peace was set as a symbol. Picasso supplied a wide variety of motifs, which can also be seen in the exhibition. Among other things, a scarf he designed for the peace movement in the GDR is on display.
I leave the museum very satisfied and say goodbye to Birthe Sarrazin. She and the exhibition “Picasso – From the Horrors of War to the Dove of Peace” have given me completely new perspectives on the artist. My understanding of Picasso’s works has also deepened. For me, this is an exciting insight into the work of an artist whose works I have seen very often, but of whom, it seems to me now, I knew less than I thought.