André Fougeron

Martyred Spain

1937

On display at Tate Modern

Original title
Espagne martyre
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 982 x 1539 x 22 mm
frame: 1025 x 1590 x 49 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 2001
Reference
T07703

Summary

Martyred Spain was one of the paintings with which André Fougeron made his public debut when it was included in the 1937 Salon des surindépendants in Paris. Its explicit title marked him out as an artist committed to the political left. This alignment was especially significant because ideological polarisation in Europe had come to a head in the Spanish Civil War, which had broken out in the previous year as a rebellion by the right-wing military against the Popular Front government of left-wing parties. Fougeron's image is of a horse and a woman who, in their collapsed state, serve to embody Spain. He would use the identification of the wounded horse with Spain in related works (see Tate T07707 - T07709). The green horse in the painting takes the form of a landscape into which is plunged the faceless and prone body of the yellow woman, partially clad in purple. Her grasping hand and the horse's buckled limbs and decayed head suggest that a grim struggle has taken place. The prominent black and white hoof covers and alludes visually to the woman's sex so that, together with her exposed breasts, the martyrdom of the title is implicitly equated with rape. Visible changes to the hoof show that Fougeron took care to revise and resolve this relationship. His inscriptions on the reverse confirm that the painting went through several stages, as 'janvier 1937' (January 1937), 'vers 15 mars' (around 15 March), 'avril' (April) and 'mai' (May) are superseded by 'juin' (June).

This sequence of dates aligns the progress of the painting with that of Guernica (Museo de Reina Sofía, Madrid), the mural through which Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) commemorated the massacre of the civilian population of that Basque city under the Fascists' aerial bombardment. Picasso's monochrome painting was unveiled in the Spanish Republican pavilion at the Exposition internationale in Paris in early June 1937. As Fougeron later acknowledged the importance of Picasso's work (Paris-Paris, 1981, p.50), it is likely that he visited the pavilion soon after it opened and reworked Martyred Spain in response to the mural. The distortions of the horse and several women in Guernica, are reflected in Martyred Spain, though Fougeron allows his forms to be more rounded and uses acidic colours. He later recalled that the war in Spain enforced on him a moment of personal choice between 'painting or enrolment in the International Brigade' to fight for the Spanish Republic (Paris-Paris, 1981, p.51). This was the case for other artists, and Fougeron's image also bears comparison with the contemporary works associated with the war by Surrealists such as Joan Miró (1893-1983) and André Masson (1896-1987).

Fougeron was a student of political science and had no formal artistic training, so his persistence with painting marked a significant turning point. Martyred Spain is a rare early painting from the moment at which Fougeron was just beginning to find a way to express himself politically as an artist. In 1936-7, he was one of the emerging younger generation committed to Socialist Realism, recently declared the official style of the International Communist Party. The validity of realism had been the subject of structured debates - the so-called 'Querelle du réalisme' (dispute about realism) - and exhibitions under the auspices of the French Communist Party's Maison de la culture. Alongside Boris Taslitzky (born 1911) and Edouard Pignon (1905-93), Fougeron established a politically engaged realism that was at once contemporary in its artistic references and anti-Fascist in its message.

Further reading:
André Fougeron, 'André Fougeron se souvient …', in Paris-Paris, exhibition catalogue, Musée national d'art moderne, Centre George Pompidou, Paris 1981, pp.50-1, reproduced p.51
Raymond Perrot, Esthétique de Fougeron, Paris 1996, pp.81, 98, 140, 149
Années 30 en Europe: Le Temps menaçant 1929-1939, exhibition catalogue, Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, 1997, p.375, reproduced p.399

Matthew Gale
August 2001

Display caption

The Spanish Civil War marked a crucial political turning-point in the 1930s. General Franco’s rebellion against the elected left-wing government was seen as part of the wider threat posed by Fascism across Europe. Fougeron was among many Frenchmen who considered volunteering to fight in support of the Spanish government, but decided instead to devote his art to the cause. In Martyred Spain, the decaying body of a horse and a raped woman symbolise the innocent victims of a country devastated by conflict.

Gallery label, November 2015

Technique and condition

The painting comprises a primed linen support stretched over a somewhat inadequate wooden stretcher. The paint layer consists of several layers of artists' oil paint which have been unevenly applied with a brush. There is widespread re-working throughout as can be demonstrated by examination of the painting in raking light. Particularly noticeable is the alteration of the figure's left foot. This has been lowered in the final composition. Changes in composition are also visible as pentimenti.

There have been many episodes of damage to the painting, some recent and some less so. The earlier damages have been retouched and these appear to be sandwiched between and on top of a discoloured varnish. These are clearly distinguished in the ultra violet photograph. The brush-marks in the varnish are also distinguishable. The painting appears to have suffered numerous scratches and abrasions. These have then been over-painted and the retouchings have subsequently discoloured. The retouching is also visible as it has a very different surface-saturation to the original paint. The edges of the painting have also been damaged many times. Some abrasions have been retouched, some are more recent and require filling and retouching. The surface of the painting is very dusty.

Rachel Barker
June 2001

Audio

Martyred Spain by Andre Fougeron (Work)

What is this work about? Curator Matthew Gale

Explore