In 1951 Joris Ivens met Pablo Picasso during a visit to his atelier in Vaucluses. Marion Michelle made a series of photos of them, together with poet Jacques Prévert, which are on display at the exhibition about 'Picasso: Shared and Divided' in Museum Ludwig, Cologne (25 September 2021-30 January 2022). After the Second World War Picasso was 'a hero of the left' and used in this way. His dove, symbol for world peace, became a tool for propaganda in the Eastern Bloc. What do we as­so­ci­ate with Pab­lo Pi­cas­so today? And what as­so­ci­a­tions with him did the divided Ger­man peo­ple have in mind dur­ing the post-war years, when he was at the height of his fame?

Marion Michelle, Pablo Picasso talking with Joris Ivens and Jacques Prévert in Vaucluses, 1951. Copyright: European Foundation Joris Ivens.   

Ivens and Picasso

Joris Ivens met Pablo Picasso in 1951 in Vallauris, together with poet Jacques Prévert. Later on Picasso was asked to design the cover of a book about Ivens’ The Song of the River (1954). How was Pablo Picasso’s work received in a divided postwar Germany? In Museum Ludwig in Cologne a fascinating exhibition presents the answer. A special cabinet shows permantly excerpts from Ivens’ The Song of the Rivers and documents, photos and books present how Picasso made the design, a flower with leaves in the shape of six workers’ hands.   

Günter Jordan wrote a chapter ‘Picasso, Ivens, and the GDR’ in the catalogue, in which he unfolds how the design for the film book was created. The Song of the Rivers, to which already artists like Bertolt Brecht, Dmtri Shostakovich and Paul Robeson contributed needed a book with a jacket and an eye catching design . For Ivens only one artist was worthy considering: Picasso. Vladimir Pozner, the script writer, was to arrange this. Pozner had been more or less Picasso’s neighbour in Paris, and set off to Cannes. He explained to Picasso what the film was about and its leitmotiv: workers’ hands, which day after day change the face of the earth and the fate of humanity. When Pozner met Picasso he already had made four sketches of hands shaped in a flower. Half an hour later he presented another three drawings. One drawing after another other its shape becomes more clear and the tension between flower and hands fades away, both aspects attract equal attention. At 12.30 he again made new sketches until 17.40 he was ready with a complete series of 21 proposals of which the last one was the best. In the meanwhile he had added colour to it and asked the date: 20 September 1955. Picasso remarked that only afterwards he noticed that the flower consisted of six leaves. Quite a coincidence: Ivens’ film was about six great rivers and the strength of the workers movement.


Two documents at the exhibition illustrate the creative process:   

Letter from Vladimir Pozner to Picasso, June 25, 1955

Dear Comrade,

I know that if you only read all the letters you receive you would not have time to work. I know that everyone who writes to you is asking for something. And I don’t know what else to do but to write to you and ask you for something. It’s an old story. You remember the film I made with Joris Ivens, “The Song of the Rivers,” which you couldn’t see because you had the flu. You were unwisely kind enough to promise to make a poster for this film. In the meantime,  “The Song” has had an adventurous life throughout the world, banned in France, butchered in England, shown in Haiphong on the very evening of the Liberation, and in Peking for the anniversary of the Communist Party of China, illegally introduced into colonial countries, where it was screened in small, discreet meetings, and dubbed in 16 languages from Spanish and Arabic to Japanese.
To help it become better known, an album will soon be published, with the participation of those who collaborated on the film, Ivens, Shostakovich, Brecht, Robeson and me, about 300 photos and the commentary text. So, here it is: We are asking you all to agree to make a drawing, a sketch,
whatever you want, for this album, to be placed on the cover. The cover will be made of unbleached canvas. As few or as many colors as you like. No title, as your sketch will be used for different language editions (there will be at least three: French, English, German). Approximate size: 22 × 25 cms. I’m sending you some pictures of the film I have at hand: to give you a poor idea. You know what it is about: the life, misery, and struggles of workers all over the world at mid-century. And the rivers that flow through the film are the Mississippi, the Ganges, the Nile, the Yangtze, the Volga, and the Amazon. It’s a very great work: you would honor us by being associated with it. Please let me know what you decide.
Fraternally yours,
Vlad Pozner

Advertising pamphlet for Lied der Ströme with an excerpt from

Pozner’s text “Wie Picasso arbeitet” (The Way Picasso Works)

. . . Picasso calls me at eleven. He is in the small sitting room on the left, in front of the very table on which he has spread out five sheets, numbered I to V. The four hands are drawn on them as a flower, joined together at the wrists so as to represent their four symmetrical petals. The drawings are in black, but colors have been tried out on a couple of the studies. . . .
It is eleven thirty. I hear his voice: “Come here!” He now has three new drawings there. The one with  the number VIII shows a flower made of half a dozen hands growing in a circle on a green stem; the pistil red, brown, and yellow.
“Now you get it,” he says. “You can see that this is a flower, and that those are hands. And if you can’t get that, you never will. Right. Off with you, I must carry on.”
. . . At twelve twenty he calls me again. He has reached number XIV. The hands are becoming increasingly beautiful, and thus the flower as well. The colors symbolizing the races have been dropped: now the whole thing is in green and red and yellow and blue.
. . . When he calls me back again it is fifteen forty: so all in all he’s been drawing for about six hours. He has used different paper: the sheets are larger, thicker, and the drawings themselves more   finished. Picasso picks them up one by one and props them up on a chair. He looks at them, not without curiosity.
. . . I’m waiting for the drawing at which Picasso’s guardian angel said,
“Enough!” as he finished it.
It bears the number XXI; of the twenty-one drawings he has attempted today, it is the sparsest. Picasso studies it attentively, as if trying to make out what could have prompted the guardian angel to intervene. Because even angels make mistakes, and it is so easy and tempting to spend one’s life drawing flowers and hands. “I hadn’t even noticed,” he says, “that there are six hands in this flower, like the six streams in the film. Now I’ll sign it for you.”
He dips a quill into the Chinese ink, writes “Picasso,” asks, “What’s the date?”
“The 20th of September 1955”
He writes under his name: “20.9.55

Like many fellow French intellectuals, Picasso joined the Communist Party in 1944. Yet unlike most of them, he never resigned from it until his death in 1973. He put his signature to party appeals, designed posters, donated generously, toasted Stalin on his birthday or portrayed him as a young man (which sparked indignation), and above all he drew countless doves, the Communist symbol of peace. Although he did not like traveling, he went abroad to take part in the meetings of the peace movement. Yet he never came to Germany. The Communist Party was banned in the Federal Republic in 1956. While Picasso’s engagement was regarded there as a fad, he for his own part stressed that politics and art belong together because the artist lives not in art but the world.


Far more than we do: This is the main idea of the ex­hi­bi­tion, which re­veals a for­got­ten breadth, ten­sion, and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of th­ese ap­pro­pri­a­tions. It deals not on­ly with the artist, but with his au­di­ence, which in­ter­pret­ed Pi­cas­so’s art in very dif­fer­ent ways in the cap­i­tal­ist West and in the so­cial­ist East. The Ger­man Pi­cas­so was di­vid­ed, but this di­vi­sion al­so sti­m­u­lat­ed the re­cep­tion: Be­cause ev­ery­one ques­tioned his art, it had some­thing to say for ev­ery­one.

The ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tures po­lit­i­cal works, such as the paint­ing Mas­sacre in Ko­rea (1951) from the Musée Pi­cas­so in Paris. Th­ese are shown along­side some 150 ex­hibits that re­flect the im­pact of Pi­cas­so’s work: ex­hi­bi­tion views, posters, ca­t­a­logues, press re­ports, let­ters, files, films, and tele­vi­sion re­ports, as well as a the­ater cur­tain from the Ber­lin­er Ensem­ble on which Ber­tolt Brecht had “the peace dove mil­i­tant of my brother Pi­cas­so” paint­ed.

Pi­cas­so served as a fig­ure­head and sym­bol for both sys­tems and in both Ger­man states. He was a mem­ber of the French Com­mu­nist Par­ty and sup­port­ed strug­gles for lib­er­a­tion as well as peace con­fer­ences. But he lived in the West and al­lowed bour­geois crit­ics to con­ven­tio­n­al­ize him as an apo­lit­i­cal ge­nius, “the mys­tery of Pi­cas­so.” Which works were shown un­der so­cial­ism, and which un­der cap­i­tal­ism? How was his work con­veyed? Did the West see on­ly the art, and the East his politics? And how did the artist view things him­self? Pi­cas­so, Shared and Di­vid­ed ex­amines the im­age that peo­ple took from Pi­cas­so’s pic­tures in the two Ger­manys. One fo­cus is Peter and Irene Lud­wig’s Pi­cas­so col­lec­tion, which re­mains one of the largest to this day. When the Lud­wigs made parts of it avai­l­able to the GDR, they in­creased the num­ber of works on view there by sev­er­al times.

Two new works were com­mis­sioned for the ex­hi­bi­tion. The ex­hi­bi­tion ar­chi­tec­ture de­signed by the artist Er­an Schaerf links the ex­hibits with­out hi­erarchi­cal­ly struc­tur­ing art­works and their so­cial use. Woo­d­en in­s­tal­la­tions, di­ag­o­n­al par­ti­tions, and the bare mu­se­um walls con­vey the im­pres­sion of a de­lib­er­ate in­com­plete­ness. In­di­vi­d­u­al ex­hibits re­main embedd­ed in their con­text, and the way in which we ap­pro­pri­ate them re­mains evi­dent. Peter Nestler’s film Pi­cas­so in Val­lau­ris was shot in Jan­uary 2020 to bring Pi­cas­so’s mu­ral War and Peace in­to the ex­hi­bi­tion. The film fo­cus­es on Pi­cas­so’s pro­duc­tion as well as his re­la­tion­ships and po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions, and it looks at the peo­ple who live in Val­lau­ris to­day against this back­ground.

A ca­t­a­logue will be pub­lished in Ger­man and En­glish, edit­ed by Ju­lia Frie­drich, with texts by Yil­maz Dziewior, Ju­lia Frie­drich, Ber­nard Eisen­s­chitz, Ste­fan Rip­plinger, Hu­bert Brie­den, Ge­org Seeßlen, Gün­ter Jor­dan, Iliane Thie­mann, There­sa Nis­ters, Boris Po­fal­la, Thorsten Sch­nei­der, Ém­i­lie Bou­vard, and Sarah Jo­nas. Cologne 2021, 248 pages. 266 col­or il­lus­tra­tions, 22 x 28 cm, Ver­lag der Buch­hand­lung Walther und Franz König. 29.80 EUR (re­tail price), 25 EUR (mu­se­um price).

Cu­rat­ed by Ju­lia Frie­drich

The web­site pi­cas­ of­fers a dig­i­tal ac­com­pan­i­ment to the ex­hi­bi­tion. It will pre­sent all the top­ics from the ex­hi­bi­tion with a se­lec­tion of con­tent. Peter Nestler's film Pi­cas­so in Val­lau­ris, which was pro­duced es­pe­cial­ly for the ex­hi­bi­tion, can be viewed here in its en­tire­ty.


Down­load the pro­­gram to the ex­hi­bi­­tion here (PDF).

The ex­hi­bi­tion re­ceived sub­s­tan­tial fund­ing from the Peter and Irene Lud­wig Foun­da­tion, the Kun­st­s­tif­tung NRW, the Min­istry of Cul­ture and Sci­ence of the State of North Rhine-West­phalia, and the Kul­turs­tif­tung der Län­der. Ad­di­tio­n­al gener­ous sup­port came from the Fre­unde des Wall­raf-Richartz-Mu­se­um und des Mu­se­um Lud­wig e.V., the REWE Group, and the Bern­er Group.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is or­ganized by Mu­se­um Lud­wig with the ex­cep­tio­n­al sup­port of the Musée na­tio­n­al Pi­cas­so-Paris.


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