Pablo Picasso - Femme se coiffant - Study for La Guerre et la Paix
Femme se coiffant - Studie zu La Guerre et la Paix
Tuschpinselzeichnung auf Velin "Ingres" 65 x 50,5 cm Unter Glas gerahmt. Unten rechts mit Bleistift signiert 'Picasso' und mit Tuschpinsel datiert '19.8.52' und bezeichnet 'XI'. - Leicht gebräunt mit umlaufendem schwachen Lichtrand. Die ehemals rote Signatur wurde nach ihrem Verblassen später von Picasso mit Bleistift wiederholt. Hier mit einem helleren Fleck, vermutlich von Fixativ.
The artistic and symbolic significance of this work by Picasso became apparent in Germany after the war, in 1959, when it was shown at Documenta II in Kassel, together with 5 large-format oil paintings from 1954 to 1956 ('Nu accroupi' 1954, 'Femmes d'Alger I' 1955, 'L'Atelier' 1955, 'L'Atelier' 1956 and 'Deux femmes sur la plage' 1956). The work was created in the context of Picasso's panels 'La Guerre et la Paix' of 1952, a project for a chapel in Vallauris which was to be re-inaugurated as a 'temple de la paix', a temple of pacifism. It is without doubt one of the most beautiful drawings by Pablo Picasso from among his works for this project.
Two large-format paintings (each about 5 x 10 metres) were created for Vallauris in 1952, and a third one was completed in 1957. They were first shown in Milan in 1953, as a thematically complementary diptych (see comparative illus. 4,5), and it is significant that they were displayed together with Picasso's 'Guernica' (1937) and 'Massacre en Corée' (1951). They were installed in the chapel (see comparative illus. 6) a year later. It is part of the history of this drawing that, compared with the cohesive structural density of the composition in 'Guernica', we can observe a further aesthetic objective in this project of 'La Guerre et la Paix'. Wilhelm Boeck commented in 1955:
“In February 1954 [the paintings] were placed, as planned, onto the vaults of a small, dark chapel in Vallauris. The impact of 'magic and illusion', as intended by the painter, was achieved by decorating this faintly illuminated room where the viewer stands among the paintings like in a 'dream tunnel' which closes at the top of the vault, with 'War' on the right and 'Peace' on the left. It is an effect that cannot occur through a straightforward encounter in broad daylight. Ideally Picasso wanted visitors to move along the walls in semi-darkness, carrying candles. Like in a prehistoric cave they were to discover the individual figures but gain no more than a partial overview of their connections. In other words, the aesthetic unity of the painting was to be consciously replaced by an experience of space and time. [...] The individual parts were, to some extent, meant to be independent of the whole. This was the master's new idea through which he wanted to ensure that the immediacy with which he recorded his inspiration was left unimpeded by compositional considerations. [...] 'I wanted to paint the way one writes and as fast as I thought in the rhythm of my imagination.' And this creative ideal is expressed even more succinctly in the following words: 'If I had been born as a Chinese person, I would have become a calligrapher, not a painter. I would be writing my pictures.' This view also gives us the key to the extraordinary character of his many drawings which preceded his 'War' and 'Peace' paintings.” (Boeck, op. cit. p. 303)
His early compositional drafts and sketches, where war and peace were still shown as thematically connected, eventually gave way to an independent depiction and to the separation of the opposing motif groups. This was in mid-July 1952. Working within the 'Peace' complex, Picasso created a range of female 'head studies', taken from compositions he had sketched out earlier that year and which showed various Arcadian scenes (see comparative illus. 1,2). They were executed in “a decorative style, reminiscent of Matisse”. “Created in August that year, they continue as half figures of reclining or upright women, with their arms playfully surrounding their heads, often with a sensually caressing brushstroke. Some of them appeared in the same sequence as his war motifs.” (Boeck, op. cit. p. 305, resp. cf. Claude Roy, op. cit., pp. 113-136 with illus.; see comparative illus. 3). When we look at the painting that was eventually executed by Picasso - 'La Paix' (see comparative illus. 5) - we can see that these illustrations found a new form in the two dancing nudes with their expansive movements, accompanied by the music of a fawn on the left-hand side, playing the flute. Elements of play and acrobatic frolic, the Pegasus led by a child, a family at rest and the figure of an inspired poet on the right-hand side complete this picture of peace.
In his realisation of such a theme it was undoubtedly not Picasso's artistic intention to present a historicising, mythological depiction, even though he did use all the elements of an ancient Arcadia. Rather, his expressive style gives way to our emotions, as the spectator is to become passionately involved and should be inspired by the 'joie de vivre' shown here, as an expression and symbol of freedom. The opposite of this feeling is fear, created by suffering, terror and death - and this is expressed in 'La Guerre'. In a very broad sense, Picasso's famous 'dove', his 'Colombe de la Paix', drawn in 1949, and also his 'Colombe volant', drawn in 1952, i.e. in precisely the year of 'La Guerre et la Paix', are part of this artistic and programmatic context. The latter was graphically so convincing that it was adopted as a symbol by the International Peace Movement.
The verve of this ink drawing results from the gesture of the slender arms thrown up, harmoniously enclosing the beautiful profile. It is a free, involuntary movement and one that expresses a relaxed, joyful frame of mind. It is undoubtedly of secondary importance whether the young woman is grooming her hair or whether she is arranging it so that she can put in the ribbons and garlands worn by the others in the series. Her movement is borne out of dancing and joy and also shows Picasso's masterly drawing skills in achieving an ideal match between form and content. And so this free movement is very much in contrast with the sombre shadow profiles of the attacking, armed warriors in 'La Guerre' (see comparative illus. 4).
List of works
Zervos vol. 15, 217
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris; Michael Hertz, Bremen (1954); Galerie der Spiegel, Cologne (1954); Collection Sonja Niehues, Nordhorn; private collection, Baden-Wuerttemberg
Claude Roy, Picasso. La Guerre et la Paix, Paris 1954, full-page illus. 126; Wilhelm Boeck, Pablo Picasso, Stuttgart 1955, p. 317, with full-page illus. ('Nu aux bras levés')
Kassel 1959, II. Documenta '59, Kunst nach 1945 - internationale Ausstellung, Picasso cat. no. 1, p. 312, not illus., titled "La Guerre et la Paix" (frame label)