Picasso worked on his War and Peace murals for the deconsecrated chapel in the Communist-governed village of Vallauris, Southern France in 1951 and 1952. Titled after Leo Tolstoy’s Napoleonic epic, they were his largest political works since the end of the Second World War.
There are over two hundred drawings and studies for War and Peace, a selection of which is shown here. He painted the two large murals on panels to be fixed directly onto the walls. He later added another painting to the small end wall, composed of figures from the four world races united in peace, painted in black, white, yellow and red.
Peace is a pastoral derived from Picasso’s painting Joie de Vivre (The Joy of Life) of 1946. Mothers and children play around the central figure of Pegasus pulling a plough, personifying the fertile world of peace. War depicts a horse-drawn chariot against a frieze of carnage and a monumental figure with a blood-stained sword. The god of war in the chariot carries a vessel from which giant bacteria and a sack of skulls emerge. The figure of peace in the War panel carries a shield bearing Picasso’s symbol of peace, the dove.
Picasso’s War mural was widely thought to refer to allegations that the United States used germ warfare during the Korean War. These allegations were strenuously denied by America, Britain and France throughout the 1950s and 60s as a Communist lie. The chapel was eventually opened in 1958 but was closed soon after, illustrating a continuing tension between Picasso and the Gaullist Government.