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CULTURE & HERITAGE - Culture & History


An exhibition in the Musée d’art Moderne de la ville de Paris (Oct.12 2012 – February 17 2013)
A Summary written by G. Jacaret
L’aubade (the dawn serenade) by Picasso.

Culture 119

For the first time, an exhibition shows what has hitherto remained in the shadows of history: the art created in France (1939-1945) in defiance of the official instructions of a new order which was in reality the return of total violence inflicted on the innocent.

These artists had to adapt their tools to expose the situation.

1938: The Galerie des Beaux Arts opens the first important international retrospective of Surrealism in Paris, organized by André Breton, Marcel Duchamp and his 63 friends from 16 countries. The artists are more politicized than their average contemporaries. They are aware that, since the end of the Great War of 1914-1918, everything can turn overnight into violence. Most of them will go into exile in France or abroad. Some have already been sent to internment camps. No-one really ceases to create art in résistance.

600.000 men, women and children are interned in the many French camps (200). They were Spanish Republican exiles, anti-Nazi Germans, citizens fleeing anti-Semite and political persecutions, French Communists or Jews. Certain camps became ante-chambers of death for 75.000 Jews deported mostly to Auschwitz.

The artists who remained in France were hiding in the so-called “free zone”. But often they had to move from one hideout to the next.

Far away from the Parisian art market, Matisse, Bonnard and Rouault remain in the South, far from the Nazis. Picasso is excluded from the art scene. He is denied French citizenship by the State. He lives in his studio in Paris where he painted Guernica in 1937.

The Musée National d’Art Moderne opens in the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, in 1942.

The presentation covers over 50 years of national art purged of Picasso, Surrealists and abstractionists. The established masters of independent art of consensus which is strictly French: Braque, Bonnard, Delaunay, Derain, Van Dongen…all reflect the cultural activity of an occupied Paris, subjected to censorship.


Considerable efforts are made to give meaning to life which now seems so senseless. Art is one of the activities that give life an elementary human dimension again.

The most surprising objects are made with the means at hand, and bear witness to daily life without, however, neglecting a poetic dimension that opposes confinement to an internal quest for freedom.

The pieces shown here are, in some cases, the last traces left on earth by those who would soon be deported from France to the death camps.


Whereas the Jewish art dealers had to go into exile or hide, a few galleries such as Jeanne Bucher’s, show great courage. She introduced Kandinsky in 1936 and Nicolas de Staël in 1944. During the occupation, she helped exiled children and camp detainees, harbored activities of the résistance and protected threatened artists.


In terms of images and representations, what matters above all, with time, is the discovery of the hell of the camps through photographs and also by the presence of returnees from that other world.

In the art world, the Liberation becomes a reality at the first Autumn Salon which pays tribute to modern art and most of all to Picasso as a hero. Abstraction is no longer considered a “degenerate art”.

At the beginning of this exhibition, you can read Marshal Pétain’s motto:

“Work. Family. Motherland.”