This painting has been requested for the exhibition Picasso and the War: 1937-1945, to be held at the Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco, Oct. 1998-Jan. 1999, and The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Jan.-April 1999.
In 1944 Picasso said, "I have no doubt that the war is in the paintings I have done." Perhaps no painting which he made during the Occupation more directly conveys this feeling than Le marin. Created only weeks after the most dangerous crisis Picasso personally faced in World War II, the picture almost certainly reflects the artist's emotional and psychological distress. To understand this, one need only look at the historical and biographical context of the picture.
At the outbreak of the war Picasso elected to stay in France, despite offers to move to Mexico and the United States. He told Franoise Gilot, "Oh, I'm not looking for risks to take, but in a sort of passive way I don't care to yield to either force or terror. I want to stay here because I am here" (F. Gilot and C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 46). No doubt Picasso was also motivated by the desire to remain near Marie-Thrse Walter and their daughter, Maya. Moreover, in August 1944 he told a reporter, "Most certainly, it is not a time for a creative man to fail, to shrink or to stop working" (quoted in M. Cone, Artists under Vichy, Princeton, 1992, p. 135); and in much the same vein he said to his close friend Lee Miller, then a correspondent for Vogue, "There was nothing to do but work and struggle for food, see one's friends quietly, and look forward to the day of freedom" (quoted in ibid., p. 141).
Although Picasso was a Spanish citizen, the decision to stay in France required a great deal of courage. He was an internationally recognized anti-fascist, the painter of Guernica (Zervos, vol. 9, no. 65; Museo del Prado, Madrid). The Nazis had included some of his works in the notorious Entartete Kunst exhibition in 1937. In a speech, Hitler had denounced him by name as a "Judeo-Marxist degenerate," and collaborateur critics and artists, such as Maurice de Vlaminck, repeated such charges in pro-fascist newspapers in Paris. These articles contained such epithets as "Picasso the Jew...the decadent Picasso...the obscene pornographer" (quoted in ed. M. McCully, op. cit., p. 226). Moreover, at the request of the Spanish ambassador, Picasso was forbidden to exhibit during the Occupation, and the one time that some of his pictures were shown at the Galerie Charpentier, the authorities quickly arrived and had them removed. Additionally, many of Picasso's friends were Jewish and many were known anti-fascists and members of the Resistance. German agents regularly visited his studio in search of incriminating evidence, and even insulted him and destroyed his paintings.
It used to be thought that these threats never rose above the level of harassment. However, Gertje Utley has recently published documentation which she found in the Archive Picasso at the Muse Picasso which demonstrates that the Nazis planned to deport Picasso to a concentration camp. In a letter dated September 16, 1943, just five weeks before he painted Le marin, the "Office de Placement Allemand" informed Picasso that he had to report on the September 20 for a medical examination and to sign his work contract. The letter reads in part:
I should inform you that you have been selected to leave as part of the program of voluntary workers to [Essen] Germany... We expect that you will understand your duty towards Europe and that, in spirit of the motto of the national revolution, "Work, Family, Fatherland," you will answer our appeal willingly. You are forewarned that any attempt at sabotage or any failure to comply will be punished mercilessly. (Quoted in G. Utley, Picasso and the Parti' de la Renaissance Franaise, Ph.D. Dissertation, New York University, 1997, pp. 61-62)
Moreover, Utley has connected this letter with the most threatening visit by the Gestapo to Picasso's studio. This incident has been recounted by Andr Dubois, Picasso's friend in the Ministry of Interior who visited him daily in order to protect him. Dubois received a call:
"It's Dora. They are here."
I arrive at Picasso's. A mess. Some canvases are slashed. Picasso is smoking. He has an impassive mask.
Picasso says, "They insulted me, and called me a degenerate, a communist and a Jew. They kicked the canvases. They told me, We'll be back." (Quoted in M. Cone, op. cit., pp. 133-134)
Conceivably, these attacks were brought on by Picasso's attendance of Chaim Soutine's funeral in August 1943. Picasso was saved only by the intervention of friends, Dubois and Cocteau, and especially by Arno Breker, Hitler's favorite sculptor, who spoke to Hitler on the artist's behalf. Other people in Picasso's circle were not so lucky. Max Jacob, who had been one of Picasso's closest friends, was deported to a concentration camp in the spring of 1944 and died there.
It would be hard to believe that the sense of anxiety and captivity evident in Le marin does not reflect Picasso's own feelings at that time. Moreover, it is possible that the picture is in some sense a self-portrait. To be sure, the features do not resemble Picasso's; and related drawings, in which the figure sports a beret (fig. 1), seem to be based on the appearance of some specific but as yet unidentified acquaintance. But according to his own testimony, Picasso's portrait of Maya in a sailor suit is also a self-portrait (fig. 2). This painting, like the present picture, was originally titled Le marin. Jerome Seckler, who interviewed Picasso in 1944, has recounted their discussion of that portrait:
I described my interpretation of his painting, Le marin, which I had seen at the Liberation Salon. I said I thought it to be a self-portrait... He listened intently and finally said, "Yes, it's me, but I did not mean it to have any political significance at all."
I asked why he painted himself as a sailor. "Because," he answered, "I always wear a sailor shirt. See?" He opened up his shirt and pulled his underwear--it was white with blue stripes! (Quoted in ed. M. McCully, op. cit., pp. 227-228)
The same symbolic use of the shirt may be at work in the present painting. Picasso's identification with this picture may also explain why he elected to be photographed with it by Lee Miller (fig. 3).
Four published drawings, all dated October 24, 1943, record Picasso's preliminary thoughts for the upper portion of the figure. These sketches share certain key features with the present painting: the club-like fist, the distorted face, the look of angst and abandonment in the eyes. For the pose, Picasso returned to an idea he had used in a group of paintings and drawings from 1938 and 1939, including Homme au cornet de glace (Zervos, vol. 9, no. 190; Private Collection) and Buste d'homme au tricot ray (fig. 4). These too are images seething with frustration and anxiety.
The present picture is distinguished by its enormous spatial plasticity. All the visual clues in the painting pull and push at the space. The major vertical and horizontal lines in the background are not parallel and the result is that the perspective seems askew and mutable; moreover, the figure's right arm projects towards the viewer with exaggerated energy. The image is alive, but with a gothic, almost monstrous, vitality.
On October 12, 1943, Brassa and Jacques Prevert visited Picasso. Later that day, Prevert said to Brassa:
Picasso, more than any other artist, reacts to the things around him. Everything he does is a response to something he has seen or felt, something that has surprised or moved him. (Quoted in M. Cone, op. cit., p. 135)
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Buste d'homme, 1943
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Le chausseur de papillons, 1938
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
(fig. 3) Lee Miller, Picasso in his studio, September 1944
Photography by Lee Miller Lee Miller Archives, Chiddingly, England
(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Buste d'homme au tricot ray, 1939