David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

A Piece of Picasso


Pablo Picasso, it is generally appreciated outside museum circles, was an old fraud in matters of art, and a monster in all other spheres. Painting was to him primarily successful commerce. He behaved despicably to other people, especially women unfortunate enough to be his lovers. In politics, he was always on the make, backing whatever he thought was the winner. Guernica, his famous picture done during the Spanish civil war, was an exercise in being fashionably on the anti-Nazi side. But when the Germans occupied Paris in 1940, Picasso stayed, and his studio became a resort where German officers were welcome, especially when they bought his pictures. One such was Ernst Jünger, the cold-hearted but brilliant writer then on the German staff, and Picasso one day said to him that the two of them could bring about peace in twenty four hours. Picasso was an outright collaborator, and after the war the Communist Party blackmailed him on that account. The Party threatened to expose him unless he made amends by marching at the head of the mass demonstration in Paris on May 1, 1945. Marching next to him was the singer Maurice Chevalier who similarly needed an alibi for his collaboration with the Germans. “One goes to the Communist Party as one goes to a spring of water,” was how Picasso lied his way out of it at the time.

In 1950 Picasso came to England to attend a World Peace Congress in Sheffield. These Peace Congresses were organised by the Cominform, the Party’s international arm, as part of the program of misinformation and propaganda at the start of the Cold War. In fact this Sheffield Congress was cancelled at the last moment. Picasso stayed in London with Professor J.D. Bernal, got a little drunk and doodled a fresco on the wall. It consists of two heads, with wings but no bodies, hardly more than outline sketches in reddish colour.

Bernal was a scientist, and non-specialists have to take on trust that his work on X-ray crystallography is valuable. He was also the most persistent apologist for Stalin, the Soviet Union and Communism, all performed so blindly and faithfully that it is hard to credit that he possessed either basic intelligence or human feelings. Andrew Brown has lately published a biography of Bernal which is intended to praise, but of course cannot help showing what a debased human being he was. Needless to say, he travelled in luxury in the Soviet Union, he accepted a Stalin Prize, he listened to lies and passed them on as truth. It was the same in Mao’s China where he claimed that the shattered economy was really “extraordinary.” Mass executions did not trouble him.

Bernal’s apartment was demolished, and the Picasso mural chiselled off the wall and presented to the Institute of Contemporary Arts, one of the numerous publicly funded bodies busy presenting art as popular fashion. Now the Wellcome Trust has bought it for half a million dollars, to add to its museum. This trust is one of the richest in the country, devoted primarily to medicine. The Picasso mural will be shown in a new gallery about to open with the purpose of exploring the connection between science and art. The artistic director of the museum burbles about how the mural will “inspire generations in the future.” Actually this is how the lies of two hateful men come to be memorialized, and a false reading of history is passed off on to unsuspecting people.


Subscribe to National Review