Prints specialist Lucia Tro Santafé on a pair of etchings made in the same year as one of the artist’s most famous works
When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Pablo Picasso had already fled his native country, having lived and worked in France at the turn of the 20th century. His former home, however, continued to exert an influence, becoming a theme in impassioned works that openly condemned General Francisco Franco’s military campaign.
Created in 1937, Sueño y Mentira de Franco (the ‘dream and lie of Franco’) is a series of 18 cartoon-line scenes printed from two plates, intended to both ridicule the general and expose the suffering of the Spanish people at the hands of his forces. Produced in the same year as Guernica — considered to be one of the most powerful anti-war paintings in history — it echoes many of the great work’s motifs, from violent bulls to weeping women.
Here, specialist Lucia Tro Santafé looks at five of Sueño y Mentira de Franco’s most significant scenes, tracing the forms that would later come to be integral components of one of art history’s most celebrated works.
Playing with the tradition of chivalric literature, Picasso’s first plate depicts a medieval knight carrying out feats that would ordinarily be heroic. Here, however, the knight is not a chivalric figure, but a representation of Franco, drawn with biting satire.
‘At the centre of the plate, in the second image (reading from left to right), he is shown as a tightrope walker with a giant phallus,’ explains Tro Santafé. ‘Farther down, in the fourth image, he prays before an altar to money — a particularly powerful attack on a leader who was ardently Catholic.’ A sixth image depicts the leader in women’s clothing, as a traditional Spanish maja, with the seventh showing Franco the knight riding a pig.
A bull — a prominent theme throughout Picasso’s practice — appears at the centre of each plate, making an angry attack on Franco. At the centre of the first, it is pitted against Franco in a violent bullfight — the ridiculed dictator gored by its horns.
On the second plate, Picasso’s fourth image (again, reading from left to right) echoes the screaming figure that appears beneath the horse in Guernica, painted for the Spanish Pavilion of the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. Immediately below, the seventh image in the sequence also re-emerges in the painting, depicting a wailing woman, grieving over the body of a dead child.
‘Picasso was intensely aware of the suffering of the Spanish people, which he depicted through dramatic figures,’ comments Tro Santafé. Sueño y Mentira de Franco not only recorded this pain, but sought to contribute towards its resolution. ‘The artist printed the works in France, intending to sell them as postcards,’ explains the specialist. ‘The profits would then be sent to the Republicans in Spain’.
At the top of the second plate, the middle image bears striking similarities to scenes in Goya’s The Disasters of War — a series of 82 prints viewed as a visual protest against the violence of the Dos de Mayo uprising, and the subsequent Peninsular War, at the beginning of the 19th century.
‘Picasso depicts a woman lying on the floor with landscape behind her — a recurrent motif in his predecessor’s prints, which starkly represented the human cost of conflict,’ explains Tro Santafé.
At the top of each work Picasso has etched ‘8 janvier 1937’. In doing so he not only documents the date on which the plates were made, but also places his critique firmly on record for posterity, adding his signature in outspoken defiance.
‘The artist produced two editions — a large edition of 800 for popular consumption, bearing a stamped signature, and this hand-signed edition on a larger sheet of paper, which included just 150 impressions,’ explains Tro Santafé.
Although Sueño y Mentira de Franco would be the only overtly political series of prints that Picasso produced, it was not the only image to emerge from Paris in response to conflict in Spain. ‘In the same year, Joan Miró produced Aidez l’Espagne (‘Help Spain’), a one-franc stamp to be sold for the benefit of the Republican government in Spain,’ says Tro Santafé.