Picasso: Creator and Destroyer

Picasso's art enacted the violent passions and twisted energies of the twentieth century. So did his life.

WHENEVER PICASSO himself got into trouble during the Occupation, whether because he was eating in a black-market restaurant when it was raided or because he had his sculptures cast in bronze when doing so was illegal, or -- more serious—because he was caught smuggling currency out of the country, someone was able to hush things up for him. If André-Louis Dubois, in the Ministry of the Interior, was not able to help, he would address himself to Otto Abetz, the German ambassador. And if he, too, was powerless, Dubois would go as high as Arno Broker, Hitler's favorite sculptor, who would appeal directly to Himmler's assistant, the SS general Heinrich Müller. "If you lay a hand on Picasso," Breker warned him at the time of the currency incident, "the world's press will cause such an uproar you'll be left dizzy." He added that if Müller did not sign the documents to put an end to any action against Picasso, he would appeal directly to the Führer. Müller, who knew that on the Führer's orders statues from the squares of Paris had been melted down to provide bronze to cast the works of Arno Broker, knew better than to withhold his signature. In his memoirs Breker recorded what Hitler said: "In politics all the artists are innocents, like Parsifal."

THE LIBERATION of Paris, proclaimed on August 25, heralded a turning point in Picasso's life. He was no longer just world famous, no longer merely a legend. He became a symbol of the victory over oppression, of survival, and of the glory of old Europe. He was even asked to provide a drawing for the first page of an album of homage offered to General Charles de Gaulle by the poets and painters of the Resistance. He was a celebrity they could co-opt to add more glamour to their triumph. Having always had a strong preference for symbols over reality, he accepted. There were thousands of anonymous heroes in the Resistance, but Picasso, although certainly no hero, was a monument, as well known as the Eiffel Tower and almost as accessible. He posed for photographs with his favorite pigeon perched on his head or on his shoulder; he welcomed hundreds of American GIs who lined up to visit his studio; he said, "Thank you very much," in a charming Franco-Spanish accent, to offerings of chocolate, coffee, fruit, and tins of food; he answered patiently and graciously over and over again all questions about the length of time it took him to paint a picture, how many he did a year, how many he sold and for how much.

An early visitor to the rue des Grands-Augustins was Ernest Hemingway. Picasso was out, and the concierge, used to everybody's leaving presents, asked if he had a gift to leave for Monsieur. Hemingway went back to his car and returned with a case of hand grenades, on which he wrote, "To Picasso from Hemingway."

AT PICASSO'S studio a month after the liberation, Eluard, full of conspiratorial excitement, whispered in the ear of Roland Penrose, the English Surrealist painter and collector, "I have great news for you: in a week it will be announced publicly that Picasso has joined the Communist Party."

Picasso's entry into the Communist Party turned into a circus, and one of the more entertaining sideshows was the spectacle of Party functionaries going into contortions to demonstrate why his art, which was anathema to all the official canons of Socialist Realism, was nevertheless great art. They gushed and they cooed, and Picasso responded in kind. "All human expression," he once said, "has its stupid side." In his explanations about why he had joined the Communist Party, he proved it: "Joining the Communist Party is the logical conclusion of my whole life, my whole work.... Is it not the Communist Party that works hardest at understanding and molding the world, at helping the people of today and of tomorrow become clear-minded, freer, happier?"

BY NOW Dora knew of the existence of Françoise, but she could not believe that she would ever be supplanted by "the schoolgirl," as she dismissively called her from the precarious heights of her intellectual eminence. "In bed, but not at the table," she told Picasso, which immediately led him to invite Françoise to join him and Dora at dinner.

Picasso's relationship with Françoise had fallen into a pattern: whenever Françoise withdrew or stayed away, he ran after her to seduce her back. But the moment he detected any signs of real tenderness and closeness in their relationship, he pushed her away: "I don't know why I told you to come. It would be more fun to go to a brothel." Or, "There's nothing so similar to one poodle dog as another poodle dog, and that goes for women, too." Once, as they were watching the dust in the sunlight that streamed into the room, he told her, "Nobody has any real importance for me. As far as I'm concerned, other people are like those little grains of dust floating in the sunlight. It takes only a push of the broom and out they go."

While Picasso and Françoise were carrying on their relationship in a state of armed neutrality, Dora was, quite simply, falling apart. One night Picasso went to her apartment and found that she was out. When she finally returned, with her hair disheveled and her clothes torn, she explained that she had been attacked by a man who had stolen her Maltese lapdog. Ten days later she was brought home by a policeman who had found her in the same disheveled and dazed state near the Pont Neuf. This time the story was that she had been attacked by someone who had stolen her bicycle. When her bicycle was found undamaged near the Pont Neuf, Picasso became convinced that these stories were nothing more than a dramatic attempt to rekindle his interest in her. Detemmined not to fall for the ruse, he went on as though nothing was happening -- until it became unavoidably clear that something was.

One morning, in breach of Picasso's rule that she was not to come to the rue des Grands-Augustins unless specifically invited, Dora arrived unbidden and unannounced. She found Picasso talking with Eluard. There were no preambles. "You both should get down on your knees before me, you ungodly pair," she cried. "I have the revelation of the inner voice. I see things as they really are, past, present and future. If you go on living as you have been, you'll bring down a terrible catastrophe on your heads." And to underline her words she grabbed both men by the arms and tried to bring them down on their knees. Sabartés was immediately dispatched to call Jacques Lacan, the psychiatrist whom Picasso consulted for every kind of medical problem, including the common cold. He came to the studio, and when he left, he took Dora with him. He kept her in his clinic for three weeks, treating her with electric shock and starting her in analysis, which would continue long after she left the clinic.

Picasso narrated Dora's woes to Françoise and extracted the moral for her: "The present always has precedence over the past. That's a victory for you." It was a very different moral from the one that Françoise saw in Dora's story. She expressed her fears and told him that for her the story was bristling with painful warnings. "Let's drop that whole matter," he said in response. "Life is like that. It's set up to automatically eliminate those who can't adapt."

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