L’Art en guerre, France 1938–1947: From Picasso to Dubuffet

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Pablo Picasso, Woman Sitting in an Armchair (Femme assise dans un fauteuil), 1941

L’Art en guerre, France 1938–1947: From Picasso to Dubuffet illuminates what has previously remained in the shadows of history: art created in defiance of the political atmosphere in France around World War II.

The political and military situation provoked a reaction from artists. In its own way, the cathartic act of creating art provided an opportunity for artists to wage war against the war. With a shortage of resources, they had to adapt their tools to expose their respective situations through the confines of shapes and chance materials. Even in the most hostile environments, such as internment camps, the artists continued to create.

Organized into twelve thematic sections, L’Art en guerre begins with “History,” delving into the dominating powers of the Nazi and Vichy governments during World War II. “The Official Taste” displays works created with the intent of glorifying the French spirit of measure and balance, and is best exemplified by the opening in 1942 of the Musée national d’art moderne, Paris. The 1938 International Surrealist Exhibition at the Galerie des Beaux­Arts in Paris, which foreshadowed the dark times that were to follow, is highlighted in the thematic section “The Surrealists.” Presenting art created from improvised materials or limited resources, “The Camps” features works by artists who were imprisoned in the concentration camps, while “Exile, Refugees, and Concealment” displays how artists continued working in clandestine hideouts or underground. The selection “Masters of Reference and the Young Painters in the French Tradition” focuses on influential figures in art history, such as Matisse or Bonnard, and young artists who claimed their French heritage while trying to escape from the Nazi totalitarian state. “Picasso in his Studio” deals with resistance, as does “Galerie Jeanne Bucher,” dedicated to one of the few art dealers who continued to support artists in danger, many who were considered degenerate. “Camps and Prisons” features the last traces left by those who would soon be deported to extermination camps, and “The Liberation” focuses on the realization of the atrocious events. “Decompressions” illustrates the various ways that artists lived after years of imprisonment and abuse, while “The Anartists” presents work by interns from psychiatric hospitals and other places, away from the sinister, nightmarish circumstances.

Pablo Picasso, Woman Sitting in an Armchair (Femme assise dans un fauteuil), 1941. Oil on canvas, 73 × 60 cm. Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Høvikodden, Norway. © Henie Onstad Art Centre, Norvège/Photo Øystein Thorvaldsen © Succession Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid 2013

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