Introduction

Picasso: Peace and Freedom reveals Picasso as a politically and socially engaged artist, actively involved in politics and the Peace Movement during the Cold War. In October 1944 Picasso joined the French Communist Party and remained a member until his death in 1973. His work during this period chronicled human conflict and war but also expressed a deep desire for peace, international understanding and equality.

The exhibition looks at Picasso as a ‘History Painter’, injecting this traditional form of narrative painting with new significance and meaning. It tracks how he followed the success of Guernica 1937 as a political protest painting with a series of ambitious works reflecting events during the Cold War: The Charnel House 1944–5; the War and Peace murals; The Women of Algiers 1954–55; Las Meninas 1957; and The Rape of the Sabines series, painted at the height of Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The exhibition also explores the historical themes embedded in other important groups of works of the post-war years such as his extended series of still lifes featuring human and animal skulls.

At the core of the exhibition is Picasso’s ‘Dove of Peace’ which became the international emblem of the Peace Movement and a symbol of hope in the Cold War period. Many of Picasso’s works of this period function explicitly as ‘propaganda’ for the Communist cause and the Peace Movement. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the exhibition provides a timely look at Picasso’s work in the Cold War era and how the artist transcended the ideological and aesthetic oppositions of East and West.