Questo post è dedicato ad una mostra al Museu Picasso di Barcellona che mi ha particolarmente colpita; è un’esposizione temporanea sulla Guerra Civile Spagnola, che focalizza l’attenzione sul ruolo degli artisti nella lotta contro la presa di potere del fascismo franchista…Ecco la presentazione in inglese…Prima o poi la tradurrò… 😛
, the play by Alfred Jarry considered one of the key works in subsequent avant-garde developments, premiered in Paris in December 1896. With the creation of the Ubú character, Jarry highlighted merciless humour as a means to bring the spectator closer to reality around him and to help him get along in a terrible world. Picasso never actually met Jarry, but he was utterly fascinated with the writer.
In 1937, four decades later and in the middle of the Spanish Civil War, Picasso produced Dream and Lie of Franco
with Ubú reincarnated as the general. With these two prints from the same year in which he painted Guernica for the Republican pavilion at the International Exposition in Paris, Picasso became a full partner in the war-time artistic production, on the Republican side centred not only on the printing of posters, but also in the production of aleluyas
, pasquinades, illustrations and cartoons for the press.
The Dream and Lie of Franco
On January 8, 1937, Picasso began work on The Dream and Lie of Franco, a satire against the military uprising of the previous July. It was also at this time that the artist formalized his support for the legitimate government of the Spanish Republic and was the first evidence of the work to the official commission that came to visit. The pair of etchings was finally printed on Picasso’s own initiative, together with a text he himself had written, and the money raised from sales of the copies donated to the Republican cause. Each of the two plates that make up the work is divided into nine panels, and the sheets were originally intended to be cut up to produce a series of postcards, although this was never done. The formal structure of the sequence of images is close to that of a cartoon or comic strip; what we see here is a committed artist bringing together the most avant-garde concepts and grassroots popular culture in the service of a cause. Picasso then set the etchings aside until late May. In the days prior to this, the artist had started to work on Guernica, his great mural painting for the Spanish pavilion at the Paris International Exposition, which is a direct consequence of his work on The Dream and Lie of Franco. On May 25 he added some tonalities to the aquatint and finally, on June 7, completed the second plate, with new illustrations in which dramatically intense images of death replace the initial parody.
The first panel of The Dream and Lie of Franco presents the ‘official’ equestrian portrait of the dictator under a blazing sun, and has its iconographic sources in Picasso’s own earlier work, in Dora Maar’s photographs, in the clumsy figures of glove puppets and in Alfred Jarry’s absurd and grotesque Ubu. Picasso also levelled his sarcasm at the various institutions responsible for the uprising and at some of their emblems: the Army of Africa, associated with the crescent moon; the Church and a processional banner of the Virgin, and the monarchy and the crown. In the following panels we find, among other things, a clear critique of capitalism and its support for the rebels, a denunciation of the destruction of the nation’s art treasures and of the rebels’ appropriation of certain symbols, and the ridiculing of the archetype of a Spanish woman with a mantilla and an ornamental comb. Satire then gives way to drama to depict the tragic struggle of the Spanish people, represented here by the bull and the winged horse. Iconographic evocations of the bull as heroic opponent of the invader were already familiar from popular illustrations of the Peninsular War and the Spanish-American War. Others refer to some of the instruments of political propaganda of the time — posters and cartoons of the war — and to the work of other politically committed contemporary artists such as Josep Renau and John Heartfield. Picasso himself used some of these elements in subsequent works.
In the second etching of The Dream and Lie of Franco, the denunciation of support for the rebels is still a constant. The military puppet appears again with all of its iconographic attributes: crown, Episcopal tiara, crescent moon, processional banner…Confronted by a radiant bull and metamorphosed into a gored horse, its failure is made manifest. In panels 10 and 11, in contrast to the earlier images Picasso depicts figures stretched on the ground — a woman and a man with a horse — in a war-torn setting. The puppet general has disappeared from the scene and the images now centre on the consequences of the war, clearly evoking those of newspaper photographs of the war. The last four panels present several of the models that Picasso developed for Guernica, such as the crying woman and the mother with her dead child, which can also be found in numerous wartime posters. The panel that concludes this etching introduces a new model: the dying woman, with arms raised, shouting, her neck pierced by a spear. The direct heir of this pain is the woman on fire who appears on the right in Guernica. Goya and snapshots of the war come to the spectator’s mind.
Army of Art
During the Spanish Civil War, both sides engaged in intense propaganda activity on behalf of their respective causes. There was a spectacular outpouring of aligned creative work, particularly in the graphic arts — posters, cartoons, postcards and satirical illustrations, among others — and particularly on the Republican side, which reflected in a more or less aggressive form the violence of the conflict and the terms in which it posed itself, both political and cultural. Although these committed artists often opted for realism, many of the heterogeneous talents who placed their professional expertise in the service of the Republic employed an eclectic repertoire of formal resources drawn from post-Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism, Surrealism and other avant-garde movements in their bid to find new languages with a heightened visual and emotional impact. This permeability on the part of modern graphic art, personified by George Grosz and John Heartfield, with treatments of images inspired by film and photography, and the existence of large print shops and lithography presses in certain key cities (Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Bilbao), made it possible for cartoonists, painters, poster artists and designers such as Lluís Bagaria, Mauricio Amster, Josep Renau, Manuel Monleón, Mariano Rawicz, Helios Gómez and Luis Seoane -an “army of Art”, using the words of the Russian poet Mayakovsky- to produce works that radically transformed the language of propaganda and political satire Spain.