“I have not painted the war,” said Pablo Picasso in 1944, “because I am not the kind of painter who goes out like a photographer for something to depict.” In the months that followed, however, he began work on The Charnel House, a monumental evocation of the horror of World War II. It is one of numerous searing, history-engaging works that artists of various nationalities in diverse circumstances created during the cataclysmic period that stretched from the rise of Nazism and other totalitarian regimes, in the 1930s, to the end of the war, in 1945. Some, like José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, had always mixed art and politics. Others, like Picasso, felt newly compelled to use their art to confront the events unfolding across the world stage. In many cases, these artists found a modernist language of fractured forms well suited to conveying a reality contorted by violence and destruction.
Organized by Starr Figura, Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints, with Lydia Mullin, Curatorial Assistant, and Charlotte Barat and Jennifer Harris, former Curatorial Assistants, Department of Painting and Sculpture.