Art at War surveys creativity under Nazi occupation, from Picasso to Dubuffet
TERRY FAIRMAN reports
In Picasso’s view “to create is to resist” and on that basis he was most energetic in his pursuit of the artists’ “war on the war”, though just how 1500 mainly still lifes and portraits of his mistresses contributed to the war effort is not easy to quantify. Artists, too, were rarely particularly politicised. Anouilh avoided political comment whilst most adopted “le système D” and focussed on getting-by. After all, as Simone de Beauvoir put it, “il fallait bien vivre”, one had to survive.
Many were far from being innocents. Sartre sought out Nazi approval for his plays. His defence that “a subtle poison corroded even our best intentions” is not persuasive. Derain, Vlaminck and van Dongen accepted invitations to visit Weimar on a propaganda tour; Cocteau attended German embassy parties and Matisse and Braque, “the artful dodgers” (Spotts) navigated an ambiguous path through the period, as did a youthful Francois Mitterand who, though not an artist, represented that dominant part of the French professional and intellectual class whose approach to the Nazi occupation made collaboration acceptable, even the norm.
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Image: Pablo Picasso, Nature morte à la tête de mort, poireaux pot devant la fenêtre, 1945 © Succession Picasso 2012