Sad that Picasso's Child With a Dove is to leave the UK, but what is even sadder is that this pivotal painting in Picasso's development and such an iconic painting has been bought by a private collector, which means it could disappear from public view to spend many years languishing in a bank vault.
Child With a Dove was one of the first paintings to fire my imagination and interest in art when, as child of about nine, we had a poster of it at my primary school in about 1955. We had to try to copy it. I believe it was an attempt as art education. My painting was singled out for special praise because the head mistress thought I have done the hands very nicely, which I felt a bit of a fraud about because I found that to be the hardest part to copy.
But what I saw in the painting was something which has stayed with me. I saw a child lovingly holding peace close to his/her breast (the child is actually, and I think deliberately androgynous) and treasuring it above all else, as symbolised by the forgotten toy ball on the ground. I saw it as anti-war and a tribute to the innocence of childhood.
The slaughter of World War II was then still fresh in many people's minds, including my father's who survived Dunkirk. The poor physical and mental wrecks of World War I still hobbled about on crippled feet from the trenches of Normandy, some with crippled lungs from gas and crippled minds from the horrors they endured as young men when those who could endure it no longer had summary execution for cowardice to look forward to. I remember too well when the new names from World War II were added to the war memorials which sprang up only a generation earlier in every town, village and hamlet. Child With a Dove told us we needed to hold onto our childish idealism if our generation was not to repeat the mistakes of earlier ones. Nothing is more precious than peace. Peace needs to be held gently but firmly, kept close and loved above all else. If we care more for peace than we care for toys we can make a better world.
I think Child With a Dove also influenced my political development.
Picasso was just 19 years old when he painted Child With a Dove in Paris in 1901. It represents a transition from his Impressionist style to his 'blue period' when he was probably in a sombre and reflective, even depressed mood following the suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas. His blue period is characterised with experimental paintings in a Post-Impressionist but still highly figurative style depicting 'the human condition'. Child With a Dove may represent Picasso's own farewell to the naive innocence of an Andalusia childhood. The child is distinctly Andalusian in appearance. Many Andalucian people can trace a North African Berber ancestry from a time when 'al-Andalus' was the Arabic name for Spain and Andalusia was a collection of Islamic Emirates.
Pablo Picasso never seems to have forgotten that childhood love of peace and was an inveterate peace-monger, depicting as he did the horrors of war with Guernica, and later on returning to the dove motif when he designed the poster for the 1949 Paris Peace Congresss. He named his fourth child, born the day before the 1949 Peace Congress, Paloma (Dove).
Addressing the 1950 Peace Congress in Sheffield, England Picasso said, "I stand for life against death; for peace against war". Almost fifty years earlier he had said that with Child With a Dove. I hope future generation get to see it too.
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