Illustrated companion

In July 1936 the Spanish Civil War began, with the revolt of General Franco against the Republican government which had replaced the Spanish monarchy in 1931. In January 1937 Picasso, a supporter of the Republic, was asked to paint a mural for the Spanish Government pavilion at the Paris World's Fair that year. The artist agreed, but did nothing. On 26 April 1937 German bombers, sent by Hitler on behalf of Franco, attacked and devastated the Basque town of Guernica. Two days later Picasso began his mural, a canvas twenty feet wide picturing, in the expressive and symbolic language that he had been exploring since 'The Three Dancers' [Tate Gallery T00729] of 1925, a scene of massacre and suffering in which women and children were the principal victims. For one of the main groups in 'Guernica', a weeping, screaming woman holding her dead child, Picasso made numerous studies of the woman's head during the painting of the picture but, after its completion on 4 June 1937 he continued, almost obsessively it would seem, to return to the theme. In June and July he made ten 'weeping women' and in October three more, in various graphic media. And he made four oil paintings, one in June, one in September, and two in October within a week of each other. The Tate Gallery 'Weeping Woman', dated by Picasso 26 October 1937, is the second of these, and the last and the most complex and elaborate of the series. It puts the final full-stop to one of the most celebrated episodes of Picasso's artistic life. In it the emotion of grief is expressed with great concentration and intensity through both form and colour. The focus of the composition is the jagged area of hard blue and white forms around the mouth and teeth, clenched savagely on a handkerchief. Above, the eyes and forehead are also fragmented and dislocated, and the woman appears almost literally 'broken up' with grief. The harshness of the forms is echoed by the harshness of the colours, the face, neck and hand painted in acid, incongruous, yellow and mauve and green, colours perhaps of putrefaction and decay. The yellow and mauve however, are complementary colours, as are the blue and orange-red of the woman's hat. The background, furthermore, is painted in strong yellows, contrasting with the blues of the hat and the blues and mauves of the hair, and Picasso enormously heightens the impact of the painting by the almost paradoxical brilliance and vibrancy of its colour scheme. The power and immediacy of this painting also undoubtedly stems from the fact that the face is that of a living person, Picasso's mistress at the time, the photographer Dora Maar, who had been closely involved with the making of 'Guernica', taking a remarkable series of photographs of it through the stages of its creation.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.171