Because of his international reputation, Picasso was largely left alone during the Nazi Occupation of Paris despite being the most famous artist working in a so-called ‘degenerate’ style. The German occupiers tried to win over French intellectuals with offers of extra food and coal, but Picasso refused the bribes, defiantly declaring: ‘A Spaniard is never cold.’
Much of Picasso’s work of the period symbolically chronicles the war and the deprivations of the Occupation. Rare cityscapes capture the oppressive mood of Paris in dark, grey tones. The Liberation of Paris in June 1944 and the feeling it brought of a new beginning were reflected in emerging colour, such as in The Cockerel of the Liberation 1944, in strong complementary red, green, violet and yellows.
The Charnel House 1945 is Picasso’s most overtly political painting since Guernica of 1937. It was based on a short documentary film about a Spanish Republican family who were killed in their kitchen. Picasso, who had lost many friends and associates during the war, was mourning his family, the Spanish people. The painting and also Monument to the Spaniards who Died for France 1945–7 are memorials to Spanish Republicans killed in France during the Occupation.
Picasso’s use of grisaille in The Charnel House emulates the look of newsreel film and newspaper photographs, thereby presenting contemporary ‘history’ as ‘news’. This use of black and white is characteristic of many of Picasso’s History’ paintings and in this respect it is a clear continuation of the themes and style of Guernica 1937.