‘Cubism and War’ show opens at Barcelona Picasso Museum

Barcelona's Picasso Museum unveiled an exhibition on "Cubism and War" on Thursday depicting how one of the most influential artistic styles of the 20th century survived the First World War.

'Cubism and War' show opens at Barcelona Picasso Museum
Pablo Picasso Harlequin and Woman with a Necklace. Photo: MP

Born around 1907 with Picasso's ground-breaking painting “Les Demoiselles d'Avignon”, Cubism could have run out of steam during the conflict as the Spanish artist and others who had settled in Paris suffered shortages and destruction.

“The movement had hardly begun and it could have been cut off by the war but they kept it alive, they didn't let it get frozen and die,” curator Christopher Green told AFP.

“And it's rather extraordinary with this catastrophe, this massacre happening so close.”

With around 80 works from museums such as New York's MoMA, Paris's Georges Pompidou Centre or London's Tate Modern, the exhibition gives an overview of Cubist production between 1913 and 1919.

On show are artists such as Spain's Picasso and Juan Gris, Mexico's Diego Rivera or the French Henri Matisse, Georges Braque and Fernand Leger.   

Braque and Leger were called up and experienced the war first hand, but the others also suffered the effects in Paris, not far from the frontline, with food and heating shortages.

But despite this, the exhibition radiates optimism with colourful and dynamic paintings — the 1914-1918 war barely present.   

“For them, making art was about construction, about building and the war was about destruction and about death,” said Green.   

“They realised that photography and film were actually depicting the war better than any painter could.”

As such, the exhibition starts with photos of the war in a dimly-lit room.   

But this soon gives way to works of art that centre on experimenting with space, textures and breaking objects and figures down in portraits and still lifes.

The First World War, which killed more than 16 million people, reappears at the end with Gris's “Still Life on Plaque” which resembles a memorial to the victims, and three works by Braque, who was seriously wounded in combat.   

“He never painted the war, he never touched it in his artwork, but somehow the war remained inside him,” said Green.

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Spain to exhume bodies of civil war victims at Valley of the Fallen

The Spanish government on Tuesday approved a special fund to exhume graves at the Valley of the Fallen, where thousands of victims of the Spanish Civil War and dictator Francisco Franco are buried.

Spain to exhume bodies of civil war victims at Valley of the Fallen
Women hold up pictures of their fathers and relatives, who were condemned to death during Franco’s dictatorship. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP

The Socialist government said it had set aside €665,000 ($780,000) to exhume some 33,000 victims whose remains lie behind a vast basilica near Madrid.

Franco was buried in the basilica when he died in 1975 but his remains were removed in 2019 and transferred to a discreet family plot on the outskirts of the capital.

Government spokesperson Maria Jesus Montera told reporters that more than 60 families and international institutions had called for the exhumation of the victims to give relatives who suffered during the civil war and Franco’s dictatorship “moral reparation”.

Campaigners estimate more than 100,000 victims from the war and its aftermath remain buried in unmarked graves across Spain —- a figure, according to Amnesty International, only exceeded by Cambodia.

Human remains discovered during exhumation works carried out by the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory of Valladolid, in a mass grave where the bodies of hundreds of people were dumped during the Spanish civil war. Photo by CESAR MANSO/AFP

Built between 1940 and 1958 partly by the forced labour of political prisoners, the imposing basilica and the mausoleum of the Valley of the Fallen was initially intended for those who had fought for Franco.

But in 1959 the remains of many Republican opponents were moved there from cemeteries and mass graves across the country without their families being informed.

The crypts and ossuaries where some of the victims are buried are inaccessible as they were walled off at the time.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has made the rehabilitation of the victims of the Franco era one of his priorities since coming to power in 2018.

As well as the Valley of the Fallen, his government is also focusing on identifying remains founds in mass graves across Spain.