France signed an armistice with Nazi Germany in June, 1940 and two months later Picasso abandoned his studio in Royan in the south when German troops appeared and returned to Paris. He gave up his Paris apartment on the rue de la Boëtie, and for the duration of the war stayed in the larger but less comfortable quarters of his studio on the rue des Grands-Augustins. Despite invitations to live abroad in Mexico and the United States, the destination of many European artists and intellectuals, Picasso chose to remain in Paris. The German occupiers tried to court the sympathies of the world's most famous living artist, but even as shortages of food and fuel grew acute, Picasso refused their offers of special favors. When one visiting German officer accepted from Picasso a souvenir photograph of Guernica, the artist's already famous outcry against fascism and war, the puzzled visitor asked "Did you do this?" Picasso replied: "No, you did."
During the war years Picasso only rarely made works that refer directly to the cataclysmic events going on around him. "I have not painted the war because I am not the kind of painter who goes out like a photographer for something to depict. But I have no doubt the war is in these paintings I have done." Picasso appears to have internalized the overt violence seen during the Spanish Civil war in his pictures. Haunted by the menacing forces that darkened the lives of his countrymen, his expression found outlet in symbols that are less overtly tragic and dramatic, but nonetheless speak of a dark night of the soul. He called these years "the loneliest period of my life." (Quoted in R. Shone, Picasso: Works from the rue des Grands-Augustins Studio, Matthew Marks Gallery, exhibition catalogue, 1995, p. 22) The dark tonalities of the nightmarish world of Night Fishing at Antibes (Zervos, vol. 9, no. 316; coll. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund) completed just before the outbreak of the war, set the stage for the great series of austere still-lifes and interiors which Picasso, having withdrawn into the confines of a far smaller personal world than to which he was accustomed, painted during the war years.
The great series of drawings which depicts a young man holding a lamb was done during 1942, and is a poignant image of human compassion and the helplessness and frailty of life. This theme also carries over to the extensive series of drawings of pigeons and doves during the same year. Ranging from finely observed naturalistic representations, such as the present work, to more schematized and analytically abstract versions, the artist looks to the magical, peaceful, almost angelic nature of these gentle but hardy survivors of city life. Seen singly or in mated pairs, they become symbolic of the possibilities of human love and hope. On the very day that Picasso painted the present work, American troops landed in French North Africa, signaling the beginning of the great offensive strategy that would reverse the tide of war and achieve the victory for the Allies.
Maya Widmaier Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this gouache.