Picasso-Trotsky, the unlikely connection

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Leon Trotsky, aka Lev Davidovitch Bronstein (above) and Pablo Ruiz Picasso (below) never met. One was born in Russia and assassinated in Mexico in 1940. The other, born in Spain, spent most of his adult life in France, where he died in 1973. They never met, yet there is an uncanny connection.

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Picasso by Dora Maar. c.1940.

Trotsky was born in Russia in 1879. He is better known as the founder of the Soviet Red Army. His role in the civil war that followed the 1917 Revolution has been well documented. “He was an ideologist and practitioner of the Red Terror” (Vladimir Chernaiev.) After Lenin’s death in 1924, inner struggles inside the Politburo led to the victory of Stalin and the exile of Trotsky.

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Trotsky museum, Mexico city. The museum is privately funded by Trotsky’s descendants, his grandson and his great-granddaughters. It is installed in the last house where Trotsky lived from 1939 (he arrived in Mexico in 1936), till 1940, when he was assassinated under orders of Stalin.

In 1937, the small city of Guernica in Spain was bombed by Franco’s troops. Picasso painted what many regard as his “chef-d’oeuvre”: “Guernica”.

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Guernica in progress, by Dora Maar, 1937. Picasso never hid his sympathies for the left, and joined the French Communist Party in 1944, at the end of WWII.

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Meanwhile, Trotsky in Mexico, an official guest of the Mexican government, wrote. And wrote. A lot. Met world left leaders and artists. His house and office have been maintained pretty much as it was. (More later on a specific Trotsky Museum post).

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Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, to the left, first row, were frequent guests at Trotsky’s house.

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Dora Maar, by Marianne Clouzot, 1927. Dora Maar (1907-1997) met Picasso in 1936 at Les deux magots, in Saint-Germain-des-prés. Paul Eluard introduced them. Maar soon became Picasso’s mistress until 1943. After the break-up, Dora Maar was interned in a psychiatric hospital, subjected to shock therapy, until Eluard – and Picasso – took her out and introduced her to Lacan. Dora Maar was the photographer of all the Paris intellectuals and artists of the 30’s and 40’s.

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Picasso by Dora Maar. c.1940. Still no idea of the connection with Trotsky, right?

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Trotsky in Mexico, at the centre. To his right, in a white suit: André Breton, the “founder” of surrealism. Far left, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo… One word about her. Because of her paintings, one forms an idea of Frida Kahlo, permanently bed-ridden. Well, no. She seemed to get around. With pain perhaps, but moving around… It was not until the last years of her life that the pain would become unbearable.

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Diego and Frida. I don’t know when, probably mid 30’s. A young Frida,  not garbed in her customary traditional dress.

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Diego Rivera’s house and workshop, Mexico city. Was Trotsky a guest there?

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Portrait of Lady Hastings, by Frida Kahlo, San Francisco, 1931. Dolores Olmedo Museum. A very different style to the one we are used to.

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Picasso, by Dora Maar. 1936. Who’s the connection between Picasso and Trotsky? Not Dora Maar. She never went to Mexico.

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André Breton, by Dora Maar. Breton (1896-1966), was the leader of the Surrealist movement, though he did not coin the word “Surréalisme”, Apollinaire did. Breton wrote the “First manifest of Surrealism” in 1924. He was the leading figure of the movement for many years. He is the first connection between Picasso and Trotsky, knowing the first well, and having met Trotsky during his trip to Mexico. But the great surprise is this:

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Frida Kahlo by Dora Maar, Paris. 1939.

When I saw this photograph at the Dora Maar expo in Paris last year, I thought: “What? What? I don’t recall that Frida ever came to Paris!” But she did. André Breton invited her to expose in his gallery in Paris in 1939. But Breton had forgotten to tell Frida he didn’t have the gallery any more. A minor detail, right? Frida ended up exposing but a few paintings elsewhere and left Paris disgusted; with Breton, with Paris and the French intellectuals… Dora Maar took what is possibly the only Paris photo of Frida Kahlo. Did Frida meet Picasso? I don’t know. Probably, at a typical Paris dinner. If they did meet, they would have spoken Spanish.

Ultimately, Frida Kahlo, and Dora Maar are the direct link between Trotsky and Picasso.

In August 1940, Trotsky is assassinated in his house Mexico city.

Picasso spent the war in semi-hiding. As a Spanish national, he always feared he could be deported to Franco’s Spain. He died in Mougins in 1973.

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Picasso by Dora Maar. c.1940?

After the war, Dora Maar, moved to a house Picasso bought her in the South of France. She painted there, a semi-recluse, until her death in 1996. Outliving all.

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Frida and Diego, Dolores Olmedo Museum. Frida Kahlo’s health started deteriorating at the end of the 40’s. She died in 1954, at the age of 47. Diego Rivera painted this last portrait a year after her death:

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“Today, a year after, for the ‘girl’ (the apple) of my eyes, 13 of July 1955, Diego”. (Dolores Olmedo Museum, Mexico city)

 

 

 

 

81 thoughts on “Picasso-Trotsky, the unlikely connection

    • Dankje wel. I’d been wanting to do this post ever since I saw Frida’s picture by Dora Maar at her expo. Not sure whether it will be of interest to many, so thanks for the visit and comment…
      Tot ziens.

  1. Picasso was considered a coward and given white feather when he walked down the street, because he wouldn’t fight in the war. Frida and Trotsky might have hand an affair when he and his wife were staying with them. This is a wonderful post. I love it. The pictures are amazing and I love the text. It’s just great and thank you so much for posting it. ❤ Frida rocks. I did get to see an exhibit of her work and the pictures in books don't do her justice. She was an amazing woman.

    • Lots of rumours about Frida and Trotsky. She also had an affair with Breton’s wife, Jacqueline Lamba. She was quite a character… 🙂
      Glad you liked the post. I wasn’t sure whether to write it or not… 🙂

  2. Aha, a great story. I wondered if it was via Frida Kahlo knowing that Trotsky was killed in Mexico and knew the Riveras, as Marxist supporters. I read a biography of Kahlo (quite some years ago) but did not recall she visited Paris.

    • Haha! So you guessed well. Obviously in Mexico, Frida is well known, but I had no idea she’d gone to a disappointing Paris… Until I saw Dora Maar’s picture on the screen. They were projecting many of her photos, I was clicking away, and saw Frida and thought? What?
      Be good Libre.

  3. Croisement de presonnalités incroyables … si je mets le pâle Breton de côté. L’ambiance est sombre. Diego Rivera est monstrueux. Dora Maar tourne très mal. Même Frida Khalo, personnalité solaire, a un côté terriblement sombre. Tellement sombre que Gisèle Freund, venue la photographier s’en enfuit. Il y a eu une rétrospective à Paris, il y a quelques années. De là me revient le souvenir lointain et incertain que c’est le gouvernement mexicain qui avait proposé à Frida Khalo d’exposer à Paris dans le cadre d’une exposition mexicaine. En effet, elle logeait chez Breton. Et la galerie qui devait l’exposer censure une bonne partie de ses oeuvres. Frida Khalo en viendra à détester le surréalisme et les surréalistes et la France. Ce n’était pas une femme à s’arrêter au mileu des sentiments !
    Merci, Brieuc, et une toute belle journée à toi.

    • Eh bé… Très bien informé Gilles. C’est effectivement le gvt Mexicain qui avait proposé à Frida d’exposer, mais je crois que le plan était aussi d’exposer dans une galerie – priveé – celle que le pâle Breton (Génial) n’avait plus. Du coup Frida n’a pas pu exposer correctement et surtout je crois n’a quasiment rien vendu.
      Et effectivement elle avait un côté terriblement sombre. C’est un peu la culture d’ci, solaire et sombre à la fois…
      Merci Gilles. Commentaires très appréciés…

      • Yes, I hear that on the little news I read. And of course politicians get at each other’s throats instead of building solutions together. I hope you have masks… An E-friend in Hong Kong tells me there are no masks left anywhere. He’s ordering them from Switzerland. It should come down soon. A few weeks maybe? Meantime avoid crowded places… (We went through a similar thing in Mexico with the swine flu about ten years ago…
        Best wishes.

      • You live in Milan, right? Or am I confused? Look, we had the swine flu in Mexico a few years back. Just take a few precautions. Minimize crowds if you can.
        The key thing is hand washing. Wash your hands as frequently as you can. Just water and soap. My Doctor daughter’s recommendation. She’s an infectologist. If you can’t find masks, use a scarf to cover your mouth and nose. I’m sure you have many. (My rec) and wash it frequently.
        Just play it one day at a time.
        Here in Mexico, there are no masks left. In Paris either I hear. Just be cautious and you should be fine…
        Senti auguri… (That’s best wishes, right?) 🙂 ❤

  4. What an interesting topic! As much as we don’t believe it, it really does look like they got around a lot more than we thought back then. I love the images you selected!! Darn it if you don’t make us think! 🙂

  5. Dora Maar’s photos are hauntingly beautiful. She had more artistic heart and soul than Picasso in my opinion. Great post here, Brian. Very interesting.

    • Thank you Julie. Agree with you about the heart and soul. I really was impressed by her expo last summer in Paris. I will probably do a “special” Dora Maar.
      Glad you liked the Picasso-Trotsky connection. A different post.
      Bon week-end Julie.

  6. I am glad you decided to write this, Brian. Such convoluted lives and mysteries waiting to be disentangled by historians. I look forward to reading more like this!

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