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Picasso’s Wartime Man Cave

One of the biggest disappointments of our recent trip to Paris was the inability to visit Picasso’s apartment studio where he lived and worked for almost twenty years including the entire four years of the German occupation. There are numerous photos of Picasso in the apartment and I was hoping to be able to present them to you along with contemporary images. Oh well—hopefully the building owners and the French government can work something out to allow visitors to the attic apartment (more on this later).


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Despite an exodus of artists and gallery owners prior to the Germans entering Paris on 14 June 1940 and numerous offers to sponsor him in America, Pablo Picasso decided to remain in Paris. To this day, the real reason for why he stayed is unknown and can only be speculated.

There were three primary reasons why Picasso might have considered leaving France and conversely, reasons to be worried about his safety while remaining in Paris. First, the Nazis had declared his work to be “degenerate” art and eventually destroyed many of his paintings. Second, Picasso supported the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War and as such, was an opponent of fascism and Hitler. Third, Picasso was suspected of being a Communist or at least having Communist sympathies. The one thing he did have in his favor was an international reputation that may have protected him. Learn more here.

Picasso was kept under constant surveillance during the occupation. German officers would visit him in his attic apartment−studio, and “hideout” at 7, rue des Grands Augustins (aka Grenier des Grands Augustins) in the Left Bank’s sixth district. Sometimes the Gestapo visits were to interrogate him. Other visits were by German officers wanting to meet and talk with the world-famous painter.

7, rue des Grands Augustins. Photo by Mbzt (6 January 2012). PD-Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.
7, rue des Grands Augustins. Photo by Mbzt (6 January 2012). PD-Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

Let’s Meet Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso 1962. Photo by Argentina (January 1962). PD-Expired. Wikimedia Commons.
Pablo Picasso 1962. Photo by Argentina (January 1962). PD-Expired. Wikimedia Commons.

By the time of the German invasion of France, Pablo Picasso (1881−1973) was 59 years old, living in Paris, and already an internationally successful artist with a sizeable fortune. He was a Spanish citizen but living in exile due to his stand against fascism and the Franco regime (he would later apply, unsuccessfully, for French citizenship).

Picasso is known for his distinctive styles of painting. We are familiar with his artistic periods known as “Blue” (1901−1904), “Rose” (1904−1906), “African” (1907−1909), “Cubism” (1909−1912) as well as adventures with neoclassicism and surrealism. However, during the Occupation years, his work is relatively unknown. Most of it was kept by the family. The pieces known to the public are still life’s and portraits. For the most part, the art is dark and foreboding (as I’m sure he considered the times to be). As such, Picasso’s work from these four years doesn’t have the same appeal as earlier (or later) works.

Picasso visited Paris for the first time in 1900 at the age of nineteen. He met one of his best friends, Max Jacob, who taught Picasso to speak French (Jacob, a poet and journalist—and a Jew—would die at the Drancy detention center shortly before his scheduled deportation to Auschwitz). Between 1901 and 1904, Picasso traveled frequently between Paris and Spain. He settled permanently in Paris by 1904 and the next year, Picasso was “discovered” by Gertrude Stein and his work was collected by Gertrude and her two brothers, Leo and Michael.

Gertrude Stein sitting on a sofa in her Paris studio. Notice her portrait painted by Picasso in the upper right corner. Photo by World Wide Photos (May 1930). PD-100+. Wikimedia Commons.
Gertrude Stein sitting on a sofa in her Paris studio. Notice her portrait painted by Picasso in the upper right corner. Photo by World Wide Photos (May 1930). PD-100+. Wikimedia Commons.

Shortly after his marriage to Olga Khokhlova in 1918, Picasso began an exclusive business relationship with the French-Jewish art dealer Paul Rosenberg (Rosenberg paid for Pablo and Olga’s apartment at 25, rue La Boétie—next door to his art gallery). It developed into a very deep bond between the two men and would last until Rosenberg fled Paris for the United States in the face of the pending Nazi invasion.

By 1927, Picasso had met and begun an affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter. This long-standing affair resulted in a daughter named Maya and a separation from his wife. Picasso and Olga never divorced and were legally married until Olga’s death in 1955. During the Occupation, Picasso’s mistress was his famous model, Dora Maar. After the liberation of Paris and up to his second marriage in 1961, Picasso would have numerous affairs with women many years younger than him. Four years after Picasso died, Marie-Thérèsa hanged herself having never accomplished her goal of marrying Picasso.

Guernica and the Spanish Civil War

Pablo Picasso was never considered a political artist. However, one of his greatest paintings dealt with the Spanish Civil War and the fight between the Republicans (supported by the Soviet Union) and General Francisco Franco (supported by Hitler and Mussolini).

Completed in 1937 (in the attic studio at Grenier des Grands Augustins), the painting called GUERNICA depicted Picasso’s interpretation of the bombing by the Nazis and Italians of a small Spanish town called Guernica. It is considered one of Picasso’s finest paintings. The painting resided at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) until 1981 when it was delivered back to Spain after Franco’s death as per Picasso’s request. Learn more here.

Tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica, by Jacqueline de la Baume Dürrbach, at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. Photo by ceridwen (31 October 2009). PD-Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.
Tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica, by Jacqueline de la Baume Dürrbach, at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. Photo by ceridwen (31 October 2009). PD-Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.

Watch the BBC video on GUERNICA.

Picasso had a photo of the painting pinned to one of his walls in the attic studio. One day a Gestapo officer came to interrogate Picasso, saw the photo, and asked Picasso if he had done that. Picasso replied, “No, you did.”

Perhaps Picasso decided to remain in Paris as an act of defiance against the Germans? I guess it might be similar to how some Parisians decided an act of non-violent resistance was to turn their heads away from the Germans when passing on the street.

War and Politics

The painter deliberately kept a very low profile during the Occupation years. He knew his work was deemed by the Nazis to be “degenerate” and decided not to exhibit or offer any works for sale. Most of his social activities took place a short distance down the street at Le Catalan bistro (25, rue des Grands Augustins: no longer in existence). He rarely ventured beyond his little world.

There is some speculation that Picasso worked with the French Resistance (after the Liberation, he was hailed as a “Resistance artist”) but nothing exists to substantiate any type of cooperation. In fact, after the war, one of his friends and a Resistance member, Christian Zervos, stated that Picasso never got involved with the Resistance. Zervos stated, “Picasso simply kept his dignity during the Occupation the way millions of people did here.” However, Picasso had to have had some contact with the Resistance since he continued to sculpt in bronze. Recall my blog on the destruction of bronze statues. The Resistance may have supplied Picasso with the bronze.

Picasso was a pacifist. His life centered around his work, his friends, and his mistresses. While it would be naïve to think Picasso was apolitical, politics never really outwardly influenced him or his work—the notable exceptions being Guernica (1937), The Charnel House (1945), and a painting criticizing America’s involvement in Vietnam.

Soon after France was liberated (1944), Picasso joined the French Communist Party and remained a party member until his death. However, after the Soviets heavily criticized his 1953 portrait of Stalin, Picasso’s interest and involvement in the party waned. Even Picasso admitted, “… if I were a shoemaker, Royalist or Communist or anything else, I would not necessarily hammer my shoes in a special way to show my politics.”

Picasso’s Apartment-Studio Today

Commemorative plaque outside former Hôtel de Savoie. Photo by Sandy Ross (September 2017).
Commemorative plaque outside former Hôtel de Savoie. Photo by Sandy Ross (September 2017).

For decades, a discrete plaque has commemorated the site of Picasso’s former apartment and studio at the former 17th-century Hôtel de Savoie. The building has been owned by the Chambre des Huissiers de Justice (Chamber of Legal Bailiffs) since 1925. It leased the space to a private cultural organization, the Comité national pour l’éducation artistique (CNEA) for the purpose of holding exhibitions and workshops. Unfortunately, the rent-free lease expired in 2013 and the owner evicted the CNEA. The plan was to renovate and turn the building into a luxury hotel.

After the CNEA petitioned the city and French government, the top two floors were designated a historical monument in May 2014 (i.e., a national landmark). The building owner would now be subjected to a costly and time-consuming redevelopment. Picasso’s daughter, Maya Widmaier-Picasso, became involved in the negotiations with the owner and by 2015, an agreement had been reached.

Courtyard of the former Hôtel de Savoie. Photo by Sandy Ross (September 2017).
Courtyard of the former Hôtel de Savoie. Photo by Sandy Ross (September 2017).

Maya’s foundation would manage the ground floor as space dedicated to “the life and work of the artist, and for research projects.” The owner would establish “a versatile venue hotel that relates to the work of Pablo Picasso.” So, in the end, it “will house a commercial hotel, artist residencies, cultural hub, and historic monument.”

I guess allowing the general public in to see the attic and studio got lost in the shuffle. Too bad.

Recommended Reading

Irvine, Zoe (Laura). Painting the War: Picasso’s Genre Works During the German Occupation of Paris. History of Art Senior Thesis (2005).

Riding, Alan. And the Show Went On. New York: Vintage Books, 2011.

Nicholas, Lynn H. The Rape of Europa. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Goggin, Mary Margaret. Picasso and His Art During the German Occupation 1939−1944. Stanford University PhD. 1985, University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Paris Revolutionnaire:  This is an exhaustive list of sites in and around Paris that were significant to Picasso’s career and personal life. It is in French so make sure you have your French-English dictionary handy. Click here.

What’s New With Sandy and Stew?

The next two blogs (25 November and 9 December) are a result of our visit several weeks ago to Nuremburg, Germany. We visited the Zeppelin Field where the major Nazi rallies were conducted between 1927 and 1939. Then we were taken to the courtroom where the post-war Nuremburg trials were conducted. It’s hit or miss as to whether Room 600 will be open to visitors (it is still used as a working court room). We were lucky.

What I realized after our visit that day was that these two particular sites represented the bookends to National Socialism (i.e., the Nazi party): the beginning and the end. I hope you enjoy reading the next two blogs.

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Double Agent or Bad Neighbor

The Germans marched into the open city of Paris during the early morning hours on 14 June 1940. By the end of the day, almost all of the ranking Nazi officers, their troops, and administrative departments were entrenched in Paris buildings appropriated from the governments of France and other countries, French citizen’s private residences, and properties owned by French Jews. It was almost as if the Nazis knew in advance where each of them would set up shop and live during the Occupation of Paris. It was clearly a model of German efficiency. That is, except for a member of the French Resistance who ultimately chose an apartment next to the living quarters of one of the top Nazi spies in Paris. Was this a coincidence, an accident, or something planned?

Our Paris Trip

Sandy and I are back from Paris and exhausted (but in far better physical shape than when we arrived). The final numbers are in and we walked an average of 10.4 miles per day and Sandy snapped 1,868 photos. We followed all nine walks of the two volumes of our new book, Where Did They Put the Gestapo Headquarters? I don’t want to spill the beans but the Gestapo had offices all over the city. Our friend, Raphaëlle, introduced us to many interesting people, some of whom have dedicated their lives to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and Nazi crimes.

I first ran across the name of Henri Déricourt during my research into the British run spy organization called Special Operations Executive (SOE). Several of my prior blogs were about the women agents working for F Section (i.e., France) of the SOE and individual SOE agents (e.g., Nancy Wake). At the time, I didn’t really dig into Déricourt’s involvement with the SOE. However, I recently ran across a short story (“The Spy Who Chose the Wrong House”) about how he came to live next door to the Nazi officer whose job it was to capture foreign agents and French Resistance members (e.g., Déricourt). The author ends the story by mentioning what a “weird happenstance” it was that this occurred—or was it? Read more about the SOE.

Let’s Meet Henri Déricourt

Henri Déricourt. Photo by anonymous (date unknown).
Henri Déricourt. Photo by anonymous (date unknown).

Henri Déricourt (1909−1962) was a French citizen who as an adult became a trick aviator working for the French Air Force as a test pilot and later a commercial pilot. However, it would be his exploits in 1943 and 1944 as a member of the French Resistance that earned him his infamous reputation.

SOE Recruitment

Déricourt managed to get to England in the summer of 1942 where he was investigated by MI5 or the Security Service division of Britain’s intelligence service (akin to the CIA). The MI5 agents in charge of his case were skeptical of Déricourt and his trustworthiness. Yet, he was subsequently turned over to MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service—you know, James Bond) which despite its concerns, recruited Déricourt as one of their agents. By early 1943, Déricourt was passed on once again but this time to Maurice Buckmaster (1902−1992), head of F Section for SOE who enthusiastically recruited Déricourt as an undercover agent. Read More Double Agent or Bad Neighbor