In the autumn of 1956, the Hungarian people flocked into the streets of Budapest in protest against the Communist regime inforced on them by the Soviet Union. This popular revolt was short-lived and ended in a bloody massacre when the Red Army let its tanks loose onto the unarmed crowd. Nearly 10,000 Hungarians were slaughtered in the street battles.
Just as the brutality of Tianamen Square provoked world outcry, so did this earlier bloodbath shock the West. In France especially, it struck a cord amongst the intelligentsia, many of whom had before now shown Leftist tendencies. They viewed the suppression of Hungary's free voice as a betrayal by the Communist cause.
Along with Sartre and Camus, Jean Fautrier reacted strongly to the Budapest massacre. So angered was he that after a thirteen year break from the use of politically-charged imagery, he reinvoked the horror and outrage of his 1944-5 series of Otages paintings in a new body of work entitled Têtes de Partisans.
As in the present example, Fautrier modelled the form of a decapitated head out of paste, which he then heightened with ink and powdered colour. This fleshy mass represented a crowd of people, anonymous in death, squashed under the wheels of a tank and bearing the imprint of a fresh track-mark across the face.
At the bottom of the picture Fautrier has inscribed the legend sur toutes les pages lues j'écris ton nom liberté. These passionate words are taken from Paul Eluard's famous poem Liberté and similar lines appear like graffiti on the majority of Partisan heads. It is the epitaph to the whole series and helps clarify and add a specific poignancy to the painted imagery.