Scene 1: Ingredients
Joseph Stalin and Pablo Picasso did not have very much in common – perhaps. Except that they were both communists.
Also, they were both very short men.
In fact, if they had been here, I would have looked down on both of them, even without heels.
But neither of them are here; they are both dead.
What I have is a copy of the drawing; the original is lost, they say.
Maybe it disappeared because of all the troubles it caused – or maybe somebody threw it away by accident, just like that; we may never know…
Scene 2: A Surprise
The drawing [a portrait of Stalin by Picasso] was first published in the French communist weekly Les Lettres françaises on the 12th of March, 1955. It was surrounded by articles honoring the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who had died the week before:
WHAT WE OWE TO STALIN
STALIN: MARXISM AND SCIENCE
STALIN AND FRANCE
A few days after the publication, in a small town in the south of France, Pablo Picasso found himself surrounded by journalists on his way to work.
They asked him: Had he read the newspaper L’Humanité that morning?
Didn’t he know that the Communist Party had condemned him and Aragon, the editor, for publishing the drawing?
- It’s on the front page, Mr. Picasso!
- What would you say if they expelled you from the Party?
- Did you mean to mock Stalin with your drawing?
Pablo Picasso, who was 72 years old at the time, told them he hadn’t read L’Humanité that morning and added: “I suppose the Party has the right to condemn me, but there must be a misunderstanding, because I meant no harm.”
When Picasso finally reached his studio, he may have taken the time to read L’Humanité, or at least the front page, where the Secretariat of the French Communist Party wrote that they categorically disapproved of the publication of Comrade Picasso’s portrait of the Great Stalin.
“Without doubting the sentiments of the great artist Picasso, whose attachment to the cause of the working class is well known to all, the Secretariat of the French Communist Party regrets that comrade Aragon, who in other areas fights courageously for the development of realist art, permitted the publication.”
What went through Pablo Picasso’s mind as he read this is hard to say, of course, but he was quoted in Le Monde the following day, saying:
“…I don’t understand. Normally one doesn’t criticize people who send their condolences… One doesn’t pick on them for the kind of tears they cry in front of the coffin. It is normal to thank them, even if the funeral wreath is not particularly beautiful, or the flowers are fading.”
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