In 1948, Picasso came to live in Vallauris where he stayed until 1955. During his time there, he created a great many sculptures and paintings including War and Peace, which was one of the major artworks of the period. He also developed a fascination for the two techniques of ceramics and linocuts.
As freeman of the town, Picasso greatly contributed to the renaissance of the Vallauris pottery industry in the 1950s, this mythical golden age and time when everyone was a potter. Many inhabitants still evoke his presence and that of his contemporaries (Françoise Gilot and her children, Claude and Paloma, then Jacqueline Roque, his last partner (whom he married amid the greatest secrecy at Vallauris town hall in 1961), the bullfights, exhibitions and visits by all kinds of famous people.
National Picasso Museum War & Peace
Between April and September 1952, Picasso started to produce paintings for the lay Chapel of Peace in Vallauris. He made a large series of preparatory drawings that clearly illustrate his enormous creative capacity; the intensity with which he worked on these two themes is irrefutable proof of his concern for the end of violence and the consolidation of world peace.
In his studio in Rue des Grands Agustins, Vallauris, Picasso shut himself away in order to devote himself entirely to creating these paintings, and he let no one, except his son Paulo, who helped him move the panels, look at his work. This happened during the period of time that Hélène Parmelin calls “the summer of War and Peace”.
He started his composition with War, which has a frenetic series of destructive scenes that stop dead before a peaceful, firm character, brandishing a shield on which a dove is inscribed. Peace, on the other hand, once again takes up the pace of the pagan scenes in Antibes and also recovers some of the characters from Picasso’s earlier works, such as Pegasus, who appears on the backdrop for Parade.
However, the joviality that emanates from these manifestations of peace is not as intense as that of Joy of Living: in the scene to the left of the Peace mural there is a group of people who, due to their more serious, thoughtful appearance, offset the merriment of the rest.
The two compositions are of monumental proportions (over 100m²) and were painted on hardboard panels that mirrored the curvature of the vaulting. After Guernica in 1937 and Slaughter in Korea in 1951, War and Peace was for Picasso the final manifestation of his commitment to peace, something that was particularly apparent during the congresses organised by the Communist Party for which he designed the Dove, which went on to be reproduced around the world.
The work was produced specially for the disused Chapel, where his “Man with a Sheep” sculpture already stood (this is now on the Place de l’Eglise, in front of the museum). There was undoubtedly a touch of malice in Picasso’s wish to place the sculpture here: his artist neighbours in the region - Chagall and Matisse - both decorated chapels in Vence.
The first of the two painted panels, “War”, on the left as you enter, is an allegorical composition. Originally, in the preparatory drawings, it was symbolised by a hearse. There now remains a tank across which a figure moves, bearing a bloody sword in one hand and in the other, a basket from which bacteria from the germ warfare - that was greatly feared even then - are escaping. A sack of skulls is slung over his shoulder. Silhouettes of men come up against a Peace fighter, whose shield is decorated with a dove. Behind the dove on the shield appears a transparency of the face of Françoise Gilot - who was living with Picasso at the time - like a subliminal image. The link between a female face and a dove is nothing new: it already appeared in the drawings Picasso did in 1950 for the thirtieth anniversary of the French Communist Party.
“Peace” is read from right to left, starting with the three figures underneath a tree. The comparison of the two panels reveals many anthithetical elements, both in the colours (black horse/white horse; black and grey background/green and blue background) and in the themes (horse trampling books/horse ploughing the fields; trampled books/a man writing). In her memoirs, Françoise Gilot then helped him by suggesting, “In peace time, everything is possible; a child could plough the sea”. And so we see a child ploughing the sea, drawn by a winged horse.
War and Peace is the last major political composition produced by Picasso. It was completed in 1952 and permanently installed in the Chapel in 1954, then donated by the artist in 1956 to the French State, which established the Chapel as a national museum.
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