This week’s work is Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Woman, painted in 1937.
Picasso is one of the most well-known artists in the world, not least because of the enormous influence he had on 20th century art. He was born in Spain, but spent the greater part of his working life in France, first in Paris and later in the south of France. This work was made in the period directly after he finished his vast mural Guernica. The Spanish Civil War began in July 1936, when General Franco revolted against the Republican government which had replaced the Spanish monarchy in 1931. Picasso was a Republican, and kept in touch with news from Spain by newspaper reports and letters from his mother in Barcelona. Commissioned by the government to create a mural for the World’s Fair in Paris, he created a work in response to one of the worst atrocities of the Spanish Civil War. The Basque town of Guernica was devastated in 1937 by the German air force, sent by Hitler on behalf of Franco. Picasso’s Guernica shows a scene of massacre and suffering in which women and children were the principal victims.
One of the main figures in Guernica is a weeping, screaming woman holding her dead child, and Picasso made numerous studies of the woman’s head during the painting of the mural. After its completion, however, he continued to return to the theme, almost obsessively. This Weeping Woman is the last and most elaborate of the series. The power of the painting is heightened by the fact that the face is that of a living person. It is a recognisable portrait of 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. The weeping woman seems to be closely related to Picasso’s perception of Dora Maar’s actual character - he later said:
“an artist isn’t as free as he sometimes appears. It’s the same way with the portraits I’ve done of Dora Maar. I couldn’t make a portrait of her laughing. For me she’s the weeping woman. For years I’ve painted her in torture forms, not through sadism, and not with pleasure either; just obeying a vision that forced itself on me. It was a deep reality, not the superficial one”
Weeping Woman is on display at Tate Liverpool, in the DLA Piper series: This is Sculpture. Also on display is Rineke Dijkstra’s The Weeping Woman,Tate Liverpool 2009. Initially inspired by the ways in which school groups discuss art works on display at Tate Liverpool, Dijkstra worked with four schools as they looked at and discussed art works from the Tate Collection, including Picasso’s Weeping Woman.