For Picasso, Dora Maar's underlying 'reality,' was as the lachrymose Weeping Woman. Developed alongside Picasso's creation of Guernica, and beyond into the autumn of 1937, the Weeping Woman series evolved into a powerful metaphor for the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and universal suffering.
In all Picasso's graphic work it is La femme qui pleure, I--a 20th century secular reworking of the ubiquitous Mater Dolorosa theme-- that stands unique in its power to move. This seventh (final) state of La femme qui pleure, I brilliantly contrasts the incisive cut of the burin against the subtle shadows of aquatint, as the eye is led across a range of texture and tone that echo the depth of her pain. In Picasso's other versions of Weeping Woman it is the grief stricken eyes that arrest the viewer first. Here, however, it is the muscular contortion of the forehead leading down to the animal snout and the swelling cheekbones that create the heightened sense of drama. For Picasso it represented a rare landmark work that only a privileged few, like Roland Penrose, Marie Cuttoli, Yvonne Zervos and the Catalan poet Josep Carner received as a dedicated gift.
This print, the third of fifteen, of state 7, dedicated 'de su amigo Picasso para Larrea Hoy 16 de septiembre del 38' is both image and unique historical document.
From the early spring of 1937, when Dora Maar succeeded in ousting Picasso's secretary, Jaume Sabartés, from his life, Juan Larrea stepped in to fill the void.
In the run up to the 1937 Paris World's Fair, for which Picasso would paint Guernica, Larrea acted as Head of Public Relations for the Spanish Republic. One of Larrea's first propaganda tasks was to plan the distribution of Picasso's savage satire The Dream and Lie of Franco. Almost certainly apocryphal, a story was put out that it was Larrea who came up with the subject for Guernica by telling the artist to imagine the effect of a bull in a china shop.
Larrea and Picasso's relationship is fascinating. According to Buñuel, Larrea was "one of the greatest Spanish poets." (Years later, Larrea would play an unacknowledged role in developing the script of Buñuel's masterpiece Los Olvidados.)
During 1938, with Picasso's full approval, Larrea and Penrose prepared Guernica's British tour; taking in London's New Burlington and Whitechapel galleries, and a car showroom in Manchester.
Larrea also played a key role in forming the Comité de Ayuda a los Intelectuales Españoles en Francia, set up to save the cultural life of the endangered Republic, to which Picasso generously gifted 25 percent of all his profits on his United States sales. On 16 September 38, as Franco's victory seemed increasingly likely, Picasso dedicated La femme qui pleure I to Larrea. Within months, invited by Mexico's President Cérdenas, Larrea joined some of Spain's greatest intellects on their journey into exile.
Almost immediately Larrea and his friend Bergamín founded the influential magazine España Peregrina, in which he eulogised Picasso as their 'simbolo primordial'--a spiritual founding father. On 16 March 1940 Republican Spain opened its Casa de Cultura in Mexico City with a Picasso show in which Larrea's "prodigious, extraordinary" print of La femme qui pleure, I was the star exhibit.
Larrea would continue to see Picasso's importance to the New World in almost mythic terms. In 1944 he negotiated with New York's MoMA for a large Picasso retrospective in Mexico City. Comically, a cubist still life was briefly confiscated at customs, bearing as it did an unlikely similarity to a map of the Panama Canal.
In 1947, the publication of Larrea's monograph, entitled Guernica (translated into English) repaid Picasso's generous gift of La femme qui pleure, I, offering insights into Picasso's masterpiece for an entire generation.
We are grateful to Gijs van Hensbergen, author of Guernica: The Biography of a 20th century icon for the above essay. Gijs van Hensbergen is collaborating with John Richardson on his fourth volume of A Life of Picasso.