10 April 2011

Picasso and the Germans

Picasso: Creator and Destroyer
Source: The Atlantic
Fleeing the German advance on Paris in May 1940, Picasso flees the French capital together with hundreds of thousands of panicked residents. The idea is to go south, as far as south as possible. Picasso settles for the sleepy coastal town of Royan in the southwest of France and, there, rents an apartment overlooking the town's harbor where he resumes his work.

No luck... The German army occupies Royan on its way down to Bordeaux, and the Franco-Spanish border.

What to do. What to do? Paint, draw, enjoy the sun, as much as one can of course under the circumstances.

Not to make light of a dire situation, but one wonders what was going through the Catalan master's mind. After all, he is Pablo Picasso, one of the iconic artists of his time, outranked perhaps in those days by Henri Matisse, and the first school of Paris.

Should he head for Spain and duck under Franco's iron fist? Should he stay put in Royan?

Nothing of the sort. Paris beckons, Paris beguiles. And so it is that Pablo packs up his easels, pens, paints, paper, canvas and inks, and heads back to Paris once the new masters from across the Rhine feel well settled in.

Off to the rue des Grands-Augustins where he has his studio.

Arianna Stassinopoulis Huffington
Source: Wikipedia
Arianna Stasinopoulos Huffington---yes, THE Arianna Huffington, who recently merged with AOL--had penned in 1988 a fun, biting biography of Picasso entitled "Picasso: Creator and Destroyer". In it, she describes how Picasso was summoned to a bank by what we can only presume were the agents of the Devisenschutzkommando or DSK whose job it was to open up all vaults and safes and boxes in financial institutions under German occupation where they searched for securities, precious metals, and other valuables belonging to the enemies of the Reich. Most of the time, those items were confiscated and re-directed to the Reich's coffers.

Here's how Arianna Huffington couches the incident which occurred at some point in the fall of 1940. No footnotes of course, which makes us wonder how apocryphal the story might be:

A German officer holds up one of his paintings. The officer "turned to him in amazement: 'It's you who have painted that? And why do you paint like this?' Picasso replied that he didn't know. He had painted the picture because it had amused him. Suddenly the Nazi officer was struck by an enlightening realization. 'Ah!' he cried. 'It's a fantasy!' The officers left his works alone and departed from the bank's vaults." (Arianna Stassinopoulos, 'Picasso: Creator and Destroyer', 1988, p. 255)

Needless to say, Picasso returns to his apartment, more interested in making sure that his various mistresses remain within earshot of his residence.

My question is: why did he stay in Paris during the ENTIRE period of the German occupation?