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During the ceremony at the Malaga Picasso Museum in April. SUR
A symbol of peace from a Malaga-born genius

A symbol of peace from a Malaga-born genius

Pablo Picasso's dove was chosen to represent peace at the First International Peace Conference held in Paris in 1949; the bird is a common theme in the artist's work

Alekk M. Saanders

Monday, 5 June 2023, 19:56

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After producing Guernica, one of the world's most moving anti-war paintings, Pablo Picasso became a symbol of anti-fascism. The artist attended several World Peace Congresses, stressing at the 1950 Peace Congress in Sheffield, “I stand for life against death; I stand for peace against war.” A year before, his white dove had been adopted as a symbol for peace.

'One of the most beautiful lithographs'

The work was a traditional, realistic picture of a dove. A black and white lithograph produced in the studio of printmaker Fernand Mourlot in January 1949. Later, it was displayed in the Galerie Louise Leiris in Paris.

Picasso and his Dove of Peace.
Picasso and his Dove of Peace. SUR.

Mourlot described the work as “one of the most beautiful lithographs ever achieved; the soft tones attained in the feathers... are absolutely remarkable. This plate ... conveys the maximum that can be obtained with lithographic ink used as wash."

French poet Louis Aragon had no doubts in choosing Picasso's lithograph La Colombe (dove in French) for the poster commemorating the Paris Peace Conference. Later, the painter developed the image into a simple, graphic line drawing which became one of the most recognisable symbols of peace.

Pablo Picasso was surprised that a dove became a symbol of peace, as he saw it as "an extremely cruel bird"

Dove as a symbol

Pablo Picasso was surprised that a dove became a symbol of peace, as he saw it as “an extremely cruel bird". However, there are various possible reasons for the choice.

Firstly, doves and pigeons are found across the world; the only places they do not inhabit are the Sahara Desert, the Arctic and Antarctica. Secondly, doves are associated with the Christian story of Noah's Ark. And thirdly, pigeons have been credited with saving hundreds of thousands of lives during wartime by carrying messages across enemy lines. In fact, the PDSA Dickin Medal was awarded to 32 pigeons for war contributions during World War II.

Pigeons were used as messengers during wartime. The PDSA Dickin Medal was awarded to 32 pigeons for contributions during the second world war

Common theme

Doves are common symbols in Picasso's work, with a personal significance to him. His love of doves and pigeons was influenced by his father José Ruiz Blasco, who was a bird enthusiast and a realist painter known for his pigeon works. Henceforth, Picasso grew with an interest in birds and learned to paint using them as a model.

Later, the painter developed the image into a simple, graphic line drawing which became one of the most recognisable symbols of peace

His first 'well-known' dove appeared in Child with a Dove in 1901. It was also depicted in works during Picasso’s Cubist period such as Dove with Green Peas (1911) and Woman with Doves (1930). After Matisse died, a distraught Picasso painted The Studio (Pigeons) in the style of the French painter as a tribute to their mutual love of pigeons and doves.

Doves in Picasso's paintings. Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Málaga, 2023
Imagen principal - Doves in Picasso's paintings.
Imagen secundaria 1 - Doves in Picasso's paintings.
Imagen secundaria 2 - Doves in Picasso's paintings.

Critics used to mock Picasso's pigeons and doves, but the birds continued to be a common theme throughout his career. Picasso even named his daughter Paloma, which is the Spanish word for pigeon and dove. The painter could not hide his political associations, especially given that the dove also started to be used as a symbol for the Communist Party and other liberal groups. The white bird was often used in parades in communist countries, and in 1962 the Soviet Union awarded Picasso the Lenin peace prize, which he accepted.

Picasso even named his daughter Paloma, the Spanish word for pigeon and dove

In April, the Malaga Picasso Museum commemorated the 50th anniversary of the artist's death by releasing a dove, a symbolic action to acknowledge his commitment to peace and his opposition to war. The ceremony took place in the courtyard of the Palacio de Buenavista, which houses the museum. From there, the bird took flight shortly after dawn. The museum chose to focus on this aspect of the artist's life because "war and conflict sadly continues to be a world issue with the consequent loss of human lives and forced migrations".

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