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several stages, as 'janvier 1937' (January 1937), 'vers 15 mars' (around 15 March), 'avril' (April) and 'mai' (May) are superseded by 'juin' (June).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.
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