Picasso's War and Peace - Treasures of Provence
Writers & Artists

Picasso’s War and Peace

Picasso's War and Peace, Museum

Between April and September 1952, Pablo Picasso began producing paintings for the lay Chapel of Peace in Vallauris. Starting with a series of large preparatory drawings and sketches, some 250 in all, he then went on to creating War and Peace – irrefutable proof of his concern for the end of violence and the consolidation of world peace.

Picasso’s War and Peace is the last major political composition produced by the great artist and is of monumental proportions (over 100m²). Completed in 1952 it was created specifically for the abandoned 14th century chapel in Vallauris and permanently installed there in 1954. The chapel is all that remained of an abbey dating back to the Middle Ages and that previously existed on that spot. It was later rebuilt as a château in the 16th century and remains one of the few examples of Renaissance architecture in Provence.

‘Oh, how I would love to decorate a chapel’ Pablo Picasso exclaimed in 1951 at a dinner celebrating his seventieth birthday.

In 1956 Picasso donated War and Peace work to the French State which established the chapel as a National Museum in 1959.

Painted on plywood panels cut to the exact dimensions of the vaulted chapel, Picasso began by painting War in his studio (a former perfume distillery for jasmine and orange blossom) in Vallauris. Hélène Parmelin called this period “the summer of War and Peace”. Devoting all his time to his creation, Picasso locked himself away allowing only his son Paulo (who helped him move the panels) into his studio. Once the panels were completed they were then brought over to the chapel and mounted there.

War has a frenetic series of destructive scenes that stop dead before a peaceful, firm character, brandishing a shield on which a dove is inscribed. Peace, on the other hand, takes up the pace of the pagan scenes in his studio at the Château Grimaldi in Antibes and also uses some of the characters from Picasso’s earlier works, such as Pegasus, who appeared on the backdrop for Parade.

However, the joviality that emanates from these manifestations of Peace is not as intense as that of “Joie de Vivre”: in the scene to the left of the Peace mural there is a group of people who, due to their more serious, thoughtful appearance, offset the merriment of the rest.

After ‘Guernica’ , a huge canvas in black, white and grey, painted in 1937 in response to the bombing of the little Spanish village on a market day during that country’s civil war in the 1930s, and ‘Massacre in Korea’ in 1951 which dealt with images of the Korean War in the 1950s, War and Peace was Picasso’s final manifestation of his commitment to Peace. This was something particularly apparent during the congresses organised by the Communist Party for which he designed the dove, and went on to be reproduced around the world.

His artist neighbours in the region, Chagall and Matisse, had both decorated chapels in Vence. Picasso had gifted his “Man with a Sheep” to Vallauris and placed the life-size bronze sculpture inside the chapel, confiding to his friend, the writer Claude Roy, how he’d “dreamt  of decorating the little chapel.”

Picasso’s War and Peace Museum

The first of the two painted panels, “War”, on the left as you enter, is an allegorical composition. Originally, in the preparatory drawings, it was symbolised by a hearse. There now remains a tank across which a figure moves, bearing a bloody sword in one hand and in the other, a basket from which bacteria from the germ warfare – that was greatly feared even then – are escaping. A sack of skulls is slung over his shoulder.

Silhouettes of men come up against a Peace fighter, whose shield is decorated with a dove. Behind the dove on the shield appears a transparency of the face of Françoise Gilot – who was living with Picasso at the time – like a subliminal image. The link between a female face and a dove is nothing new: it already appeared in the drawings Picasso did in 1950 for the thirtieth anniversary of the French Communist Party.

Picasso's War and Peace, Museum Courtyard

“Peace” is read from right to left, starting with the three figures underneath a tree. The comparison of the two panels reveals many antithetical elements, both in the colours (black horse/white horse; black and grey background/green and blue background) and in the themes (horse trampling books/horse ploughing the fields; trampled books/a man writing). In her memoirs Françoise Gilot mentions telling him “In peace time, everything is possible; a child could plough the sea”. And so we see a child ploughing the sea, drawn by a winged horse.

Picasso’s Discovery of Vallauris
Picasso came to live in Vallauris in 1948 and stayed until 1955. While there he created a great many sculptures and paintings and developed a fascination with ceramics and lino-cuts. In 1946, on a visit to the annual potters exhibition, he met Suzanne and George Ramié. They owned a ceramics factory called the Madoura. Picasso, keen to try something new, made his first foray into ceramics and threw himself into it finding it gave him new creative horizons. The malleability of the clay, the magic of the firing process which created exploding columns of enamel and the brilliance of the glazes all drew him to the craft.

His approach was somewhat unorthodox. As a sculptor, Picasso fashioned fauna and nymphs in the glaze, melting the clay like one melts bronze, and tirelessly decorated plates and dishes with his favourite subjects (bullfights, women, owls, goats, etc.). He also used the unlikeliest of bases (fragments of casserole dishes, kiln bits and broken bricks), invented white paste, (ceramic that has not been glazed and decorated with pieces in relief). Picasso never considered ceramics as a lessor art form.

Over a period of twenty years he produced about four thousand original pieces. According to his wishes several copies were produced and Madoura had the exclusive rights to their production. Having said this, Picasso wanted these copies to be used on a daily basis as he once remarked to André Malraux “I have made some plates we can eat off”.

Another technique that particularly fascinated him was the linocut, something he practised with the printer Hidalgo Arnera. His first works were used to make posters to advertise the bull fights and ceramic exhibitions in the town. He quickly turned it into a form of expression by placing emphasis on colour.

Picasso and Vallauris Today
As freeman of the town, Picasso greatly contributed to the renaissance of the Vallauris pottery industry in the 1950s, this mythical golden age and time when everyone was a potter. Many inhabitants still evoke his presence and that of his contemporaries (Françoise Gilot and her children Claude and Paloma, then Jacqueline Roque, his last partner whom he married amid the greatest secrecy at Vallauris town hall in 1961), the bullfights, exhibitions and visits by all kinds of famous people.

Picasso's War and Peace, Man With Sheep

Man with a Sheep
This bronze statue, created in 1943, was donated to Vallauris in 1949. The sculpture, of which two other copies were made (one in Philadelphia in the USA and the other in the Picasso Museum in Paris), is one of the rare statues the artist created for a public place. Picasso wanted children to be able to climb all over this work, a wish that is fully realised today.

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Musée National Pablio Picasso, La Guerre et La Paix, Place de la Libération, 06220 Vallauris

Tel: +33 (0)4 93 64 71 83


Admission: €5

Tuesday – in Winter only

Opening Hours
July & August
Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat & Sun: 10am to 12:15pm & 2:15pm to 6:15pm

10am – 12:15pm and 2pm – 5pm

Other Times of the Year
Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat & Sunday: 10am – 12:15pm and 2pm – 5pm

Also Closed
25 Dec, 1 Jan, 1 May, 1 & 11 Nov

Getting There:

By Car: Take the A8 motorway to Antibes exit, then take the RD135 to Vallauris. Head towards the centre of town and follow the signs to the museum. You’ll find parking just up from the museum at Espace Loisirs Francis Huger (by the round-about). Very short walk from there to museum.

By Bus: From Gare Routier d’Antibes take Envibus #5 to Vallauris and get off at the “Villa Chrétian” stop and walk back (5 mins).  Journey time around 30 minutes depending on the time of year.

By Train: From Nice (Timetable here) get off at Golfe-Juan station, then walk up Avenue de la Gare, cross the road and head towards the post office on Avenue de la Poste (10 mins walk) then take Envibus #8 to Vallauris and get off at the “Villa Chrétian” stop.