L’art en guerre. France, 1938–1947: From Picasso to Dubuffet
March 16, 2013 – September 8, 2013
Woman Sitting in an Armchair (Femme assise dans un fauteuil), 1941
Oil on canvas
73 x 60 cm
Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Høvikodden, Norway
Photo: © Øystein Thorvaldsen
“No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war for attack and defense against the enemy.”
Pablo Picasso 
A new world opened up for the nineteen-year-old artist Pablo Picasso (b. 1881, Málaga, Spain; d. 1973, Mougins, France) when he arrived in Paris in 1900. In this city, the cultural center of the avant-garde, the young Spaniard eagerly absorbed the discoveries and ideas of both his contemporaries and predecessors. He settled in Paris soon after, quickly becoming part of a circle of writers, actors, musicians, and artists. Here Picasso began a lifelong process of experimentation and innovation.
During most of World War II (1939–45) while German forces occupied Paris, Picasso remained in the city. Because his artistic style did not conform to the Nazi ideal, he did not exhibit during this time. Instead he retreated to his studio and continued to paint and sculpt.  Threatened by the secret police of Nazi-occupied Europe, the Gestapo, and the French critics who were enrolled in pseudo-Nazi parties and had an overwhelming belief in an anti-communist ideology, known as collaborationists, Picasso was ostracized and his work was subject to the censorship of the art scene in Paris.
The human figure is a central theme in many of his works, including numerous portraits of his female companions, who were always a source of inspiration. In 1941 Picasso painted Woman Sitting in an Armchair (Femme assise dans un fauteuil), depicting his companion, Dora Maar (b. 1907, Tours, France; d. 1997, Paris), sitting in a chair in a Cubist style, using straight lines and angular shapes to compose her face and body. Most of her figure seems to be dominated by sharp lines except for her legs where some curves appear.
Maar was one of the most influential figures in Picasso’s life during the war, becoming his primary model. Maar was an accomplished photographer and shared his intellectual and political concerns. Picasso's early portraits of Maar reveal her beauty, while the wartime portraits penetrate deeper into the passionate discourse between these artists at a time of intense danger. He returned to the compositional idea of the seated woman again and again, wringing from it varied expressive effects and psychological nuances. For Picasso the theme developed into a kind of looking-glass that reflected his own internal reactions to people and events around him, whether it be happiness with a lover or anguish and fear about the war.  Her image, which he reinterpreted many times between 1937 and 1944, embodied all of the complicated and conflicting emotions of life in the midst of occupied Paris. Picasso later admitted that Maar had become for him the personification of the war. 
1. Chipp, Herschel B. Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
2. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Arts Curriculum, Picasso Black and White
3. Steven A. Nash, in Picasso and the War Years: 1937–1945 (exhibition catalogue). San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1998–99,. p. 32-33.
4. Sotheby's catalogue notes and provenance of Picasso's Femme assise dans fauteuil
Observe the painting. What do you notice? What colors can you see? Pose like the woman in this painting. Describe your sensations.
Look closely at her face. How might she feel? If she could speak, what might she tell you? What may have happened just before this scene? What might happen next?
Picasso painted Maar many times during World War II. He created different versions of Maar sitting in a chair. He said that Maar became the personification of the war. Do you think the image reflects his idea? If you were to paint a person that personifies war, how would you do it?
Have students research Maar, who was also an accomplished photographer. Then, have students write a one-page biography based on their research, observations, and discussions of the artwork. Ask them to find a photograph of Maar on the Internet and compare it with Picasso’s image. What features of Maar’s face or personality has Picasso taken into account? Ask them how this work compares to the photograph. What do these two portraits have in common? What makes them different?
Draw a Portrait
Picasso depicted Maar sitting in a chair in a Cubist style, using straight lines and angular shapes to compose her face and body. Ask your students to follow the lines with their fingers as if they were drawing Maar in the air. What types of lines appear in this painting? What shapes can you find in her body? Draw a face using only geometric shapes. Students can use a pencil and a ruler to create the angular figures. When you finish, compare yours with Picasso’s. How is your work similar or different to Picasso’s? What were the problems you had to deal with to create the face with only geometric shapes?
Write a Poem
Ask your students to write down five words they immediately think of when they look at Picasso’s Woman Sitting in an Armchair. Divide into groups of three and invite each student to share with the group the words they wrote down and to explain briefly why they chose those words. Each group should assemble their words together and create a poem as a group that is a response to, or reaction against, the work. Ask each group to share their poem with the class.
Avant-garde: Originally a military term for those at the front of a battle formation, and later used to describe artists or groups of artists who are operating outside of the mainstream cultural production and are striving to push the boundaries of acceptable art.
Communism: A theory and system of social and political organization in which property is owned by the community as a whole rather than by individuals.
Cubism: A style of painting developed between 1907 and 1914 as a collaboration between Georges Braque and Picasso, in which objects are represented as cubes and other geometric shapes.
Gestapo: Internal security police of Nazi Germany and German-occupied Europe.
Portrait: An artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression are predominant; the intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person.
Giménez, Carmen, ed. Picasso Black and White. Exh. cat. New York: Guggenheim Museum and DelMonico Books/Prestel, 2012.
Museo Picasso Barcelona
Museo Picasso Málaga
Picasso and Dora Maar, National Gallery of Victoria
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Arts Curriculum, Picasso Black and White
Steven A. Nash, in Picasso and the War Years: 1937–1945 (exhibition catalogue). San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1998–99.