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.
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.
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”.
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.
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).
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, to the left, first row, were frequent guests at Trotsky’s house.
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.
Picasso by Dora Maar. c.1940. Still no idea of the connection with Trotsky, right?
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.
Diego and Frida. I don’t know when, probably mid 30’s. A young Frida, not garbed in her customary traditional dress.
Diego Rivera’s house and workshop, Mexico city. Was Trotsky a guest there?
Portrait of Lady Hastings, by Frida Kahlo, San Francisco, 1931. Dolores Olmedo Museum. A very different style to the one we are used to.
Picasso, by Dora Maar. 1936. Who’s the connection between Picasso and Trotsky? Not Dora Maar. She never went to Mexico.
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:
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.
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.
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:
“Today, a year after, for the ‘girl’ (the apple) of my eyes, 13 of July 1955, Diego”. (Dolores Olmedo Museum, Mexico city)