WW II and PicassoThe Second World War in Europe had a profound effect upon the artists living, or perhaps to put it more accurately, "surviving" there during its reign of terror. Of course, many artists of some renown, seeing the political handwriting on the wall, or the shadow of Hitler from Germany, simply fled. The U.S., and New York in particular, was one of the prime beneficiaries of this exodus, but South America, Mexico, and Canada also welcomed those fleeing the war. For those who remained, the times were unsettling. Pablo Picasso chose to stay. So did Henri Matisse. Picasso is said to have met him on the street the day the Germans crossed from Belgium into France. Matisse was on his way to his tailors. When Picasso reminded him that the Nazis might arrive in Paris any day, Matisse is said to have asked naively, "But what about our generals, what are they doing?" Picasso responded, "Oh they're all from the College of Fine Arts."
Although Picasso seems to have continued his creative output pretty much uninterrupted, the conflict nonetheless did present him with a number of growing inconveniences as the war progressed. He was forced to abandon his apartment at rue La Boetie for much smaller quarters at rue des Grands-Augustins, where he resorted to turning his bathroom into a sculpture studio. And even there, in spite of a big, brand-new stove, he had to spend much of his time in the neighbourhood cafes just to keep warm. There was a severe shortage of fuel. There was also the problem of his extended family. Picasso chose to stay in Paris to be with his mistress, Dora Maar, leaving his other mistress, Maria-Therese and their daughter, Maia, in Royan. Meanwhile, his estranged wife, Olga and their son, Paulo, remained in the south of France.
By the 1940s, Picasso was something of an international celebrity, which may account for the reason he survived the war relatively unscathed. He was wealthy by this time too, which certainly is no liability in times of war. Still, the war was not without a great deal of emotional trauma as he saw his Jewish friends either killed or hauled off to concentration camps where they more often died of malnutrition and disease than execution. Others were killed fighting in the French Resistance. And yet, his studio was something of a tourist attraction for occupying German soldiers. Picasso even handed out autographed postcards of his most famous painting, Guernica, as souvenirs. A German officer is said to have studied the image and asked, "Did you do this?" Picasso replied, "No, you did."
Contributed by Lane, Jim
23 July 1998