EVELYN AND PICASSO, 1945

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Picasso, Window with Head of Cow, April 3, 1942

In December 1945 Evelyn Waugh went to the Picasso exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Picture the scene. Waugh's butler is just back from the army. One of his most important duties is to lay the morning paper and post by his master's pillow. Evelyn awakes in his 'Haynes four-poster' to realise that having played his part in stopping one madman from invading the country, another had done so by stealth!
"Ellwood, Senor Picasso must be repulsed!"

I don't know exactly what date Evelyn attended the exhibition. A diary entry for December the 21st covers the first three weeks of the month. He mentions that, 'a week ago', his commando unit gave a dinner to Bob Laycock at Buck's. That means Buck's Club on Clifford Street in Mayfair. The dinner involved caviare (brought by Randolph Churchill from Moscow), chicken soup, grilled soles, roast turkey, cold beef, plum pudding and mince pies 'all in very large quantities'. Anything to drink with that, sir? Waugh lists vodka, champagne, port, brandy and, of course, Havana cigars. All this at a time of fierce rationing, which was probably the point of such gloating consumption. To the winner the spoils.

For such a dinner, Waugh would have spent the night at the Hyde Park Hotel, within walking distance of his usual club, White's, and close to Buck's too. Oh yes, and within strolling distance of the V&A where the Picasso exhibition silently awaited Waugh's visit. The hotel is marked (blue circle) close to the centre of the map below. The two clubs (purple circles) are in the top right corner with the V&A (maroon circle) in the bottom left corner.

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What did Evelyn see when he got to the V&A? The show was of paintings by Matisse as well as by Picasso, but Waugh doesn't mention the Matisses. There were 25 Picassos, all but one of them on loan from the artist himself:

Picasso and Matisse 1

The photograph below would suggest that they were all on display in a single large room. I've been able to match some of the paintings on the list to this historic photograph, as you'll see.

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Only six of the Picassos are actually reproduced in the catalogue, and only in black and white. Below is one double-page from the publication,
Woman with Mandolin on the left, and Portrait of a Lady on the Right. Possibly Waugh availed himself of the catalogue, though it wasn't in his possession when he died.

IMG_9759

A search of the internet tells me that the picture on the left was the one below. Though posterity seems to have called it
Serenade rather than Woman with Mandolin.

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Picasso Serenade, 1942

Is it a male or a female being serenaded? Or indeed Donald Duck? Surely it's Evelyn, home from the war, reclining on his ex-army bed being serenaded by his fine lady wife. I only put it like that to emphasise how open the paintings are. They are not super-realistic, there is room for the viewer to inhabit them in his or her way.

The other painting shown in that double-page spread from the catalogue is as below, now called
Woman Dressing Her Hair

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Picasso Woman Dressing Her Hair, 1940

A painting seemingly unconcerned with conventional ideas of beauty. If it wasn't for the breasts, I'd be tempted to think of it as Captain Waugh Preparing for Inspection. By 1940, when the painting was painted, Evelyn had been given a commission in the Royal Marines. Waugh's daily training routine left him with "so stiff a spine that he found it painful even to pick up a pen".

Would things like this have come back to Evelyn as he looked around the show? Waugh had spent the war surrounded by fellow men, dressed as soldiers. Picasso, apparently, by women in a state of undress.

The biggest picture on display, the one under the sign that says 'PICASSO', was the only figure composition other than
Serenade, which is also a large painting. Most of the other pictures were essentially portraits of women or still lives. Initially, this is the view that Evelyn may have had of the central painting:

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However, Evelyn had had a good war. Plus he had written
Put Out More Flags in 1941 and Brideshead Revisited in 1944. So the truth is he had had a great war. And at some stage, surely, Evelyn would have elbowed his way to the front of the crowd. In which case, this is what he would have seen:

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Picasso Night-fishing at Antibes, August 1939

All the paintings in the show are dated from 1939 to 1945. This is the earliest and the only painting from 1939. Perhaps it's a statement of where Picasso was at - before the outbreak of war. Where was he then? In Antibes, enjoying the fruits of the world: fishing, eating and having sex under the Moon and the stars. Couldn't Evelyn have related to that? In August 1939, Evelyn's diary tells us that he was enjoying living at Piers Court, buying Gothic tracery for the garden and installing portraits of George the Third and his wife in the house. At the same time '
Laura bought a cruet stand and some plates for which we have no possible use'. Is it so hard to see all that in the above picture?

I've been able to identify the paintings on either side of
Night-Fishing in Antibes in the historic photographs. They are portraits of women (half the show consisted of such). One of the pictures is called Grey Woman and so is the other. One was painted and dated on the 4th of March, 1945, and the other a day later. They seem to be exercises in light and shade.

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Picasso Grey Woman, March 4 and March 5, 1945

The source of light seems to be from the left (but not consistently) in the left picture, and from the right (but not consistently!) in the right picture. Also, PIcasso is trying out something with a full-frontal face and a jaw seen in profile, simultaneously. I don't see how Waugh could have looked upon the black-jawed, right-hand image in particular and not seen Laura's long and anxious, post-war face.

ggreene - Version 2

At the beginning of March 1945, when the two grey women were painted, Waugh was on his way to war-torn Yugoslavia. He landed in Bari on Sunday 4 March where he heard bad news from Jugoslavia. Forty-five priests had been murdered there. Furthermore, gross discrimination was being shown by the Partisans in food distribution, and British collaboration was assumed for an attack on Trieste.

It very much looks like the bad news from Jugoslavia (or elsewhere in Europe) had got through to the Picasso household as well. Or at least that's one way of explaining the sitter's angst on those March days of 1945. Or was this the painter's own dark mood projected onto the sitter?

There are several still lives in the show, it's the next most important motif after the female portrait, and the picture that is hung two to the right of
Night Fishing in Antibes is the one reproduced below.

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Picasso Still Life with Cooking Pot, 6 August 1943

Picasso was 58 when the war started, so he wasn't involved in a fighting capacity. He remained in Paris, retreating to his studio to paint. The candle in the above painting may represent the same sense of hope in civilised values that the 'beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design' that Charles Ryder brings to mind in the final page of
Brideshead represents.

What was Evelyn up to on the day that Picasso painted this still life in 1943? In July, Evelyn had been deeply embroiled in trying to communicate to his superior officers what had happened to cause him to leave Special Service Brigade. That's the commando unit he'd been in following his transfer out of the Royal Marines. A diary entry made on Tuesday, August 10, suggests that on Friday August 6 (the day that Picasso painted his jug, candle and cooking pot), Waugh travelled from London to Bognor for the weekend to stay with Diana and Duff Cooper.
'Diana with grimy hands fretting about coupons and pig-swill. Only one row with Duff but continuous friction with Diana.'

The diary entry is vivid and speaks of conditions in the War. But doesn't the painting as well? People hunkering down in their different ways, in Paris and Bognor, while the madness swirled on all round Europe.

I'm not really suggesting that Waugh would have had his own diary to hand as he went round the show. I'm just trying to demonstrate that there are connections to be made between PIcasso's life and paintings and Waugh's biography, art and domestic life. Connections that Evelyn Waugh would have been in a position to make had his mind been open to them.

Three of the pictures on display were of infants. As Waugh tells us in a letter to Diana Cooper written on January 3, 1946, he was at this time the father of four young children, with one 'leaping in the womb'.

'I have my two elder children here. I abhor their company because I can only regard children as defective adults, hate their physical ineptitude, find their jokes flat and monotonous. Both are considered great wits by their contemporaries.'

In a funny sort of way, I see a connection between the above striking, ostensibly simple but unconventional and electric sentences, and the painting below:

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Picasso Pigeons and Boy, 9 August 1943

The 'boy' could either be Picasso with paintbrush or Evelyn with fountain pen. Everything is fresh and vivid to their eye, their inner eye. August 9 is just three days after August 6, when Picasso painted the jug, candle and pan, and when Waugh was trying not to get on the nerves of Diana and Duff Cooper. I suspect that Picasso was again trying to express a desire for peace and his hope for the future. But who knows?

Evelyn: "Diana and Duff Cooper, what a pair of pigeons! Cooing and billing when there's a war going on!"

Waugh's letter of Jan 3, 1946, to Diana Cooper continues:
'The elder girl has a precocious taste for theology which promises well for a career as Abbess.'

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Picasso Small Child with Flower, May, 1945

In his diary (Wednesday, December 26, 1945) Waugh says further of his first born, the seven-year-old Teresa. 'Neurotically voluble with the vocabulary of the lower-middle class - 'serviette', 'spare room'. Only on points of theology does she become rational.'

Also in that same diary entry:
'My children weary me. I can only see them as defective adults: feckless, destructive, frivolous, sensual, humourless.'

Something like the way Picasso saw the children around him, then? You can no more take Waugh's sentences literally than you can Picasso's brushstrokes. In both cases a vigorous engagement with the world is the main thing.

In the January '46 letter to Diana, Waugh says:
'The boy is mindless and obsessed with social success. I will put him into the Blues later; meanwhile he goes to boarding school at the end of the month with the keenest expectation of delight.'

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Picasso Small child with Langostine, June 21, 1941

Around the same time, Waugh says of his second born, the six-year-old Auberon:
'I have tried him drunk and I have tried him sober.'

Hilarious! I mean Waugh's words. I mean Picasso's vision. But what does Evelyn do when he gets home to Piers Court? He writes a letter to
The Times that is extremely critical of the V&A show.

The letter, published on the 18th of December, 1945, starts by agreeing that an art critic has got it right in suggesting that 'mankind is disillusioned with itself' but suggests that instead of trying to match the feats of their ancestors, such as Velasquez and Titian, artists are turning meanly towards 'something new'. It goes on:


'Senor Picasso’s painting cannot be intelligently discussed in the terms used of the civilised masters. Our confusion is due to his admirers’ constant use of an irrelevant aesthetic vocabulary. He can only be treated as crooners are treated by their devotees. In the United States the adolescents, speaking of music, do not ask: “What do you think of So-and-so?” They say: “Does So-and-so send you?” Modern art, whether it is Nazi oratory, band leadership, or painting, aims at a mesmeric trick and achieves either total success or total failure. The large number of otherwise cultured and intelligent people who fail victims to Senor Picasso are not posers. They are genuinely ‘sent.’


A mean trick comparing Hitler to Picasso! Though at least Waugh goes on to clarify that he finds the ecstasy of Picasso's admirers preposterous but harmless. He might even envy them their experience. But he's not going to make the mistake of confusing it with the 'sober and elevating happiness to be derived from studying the great masters'.

Robin Campbell, a friend of Evelyn's, wrote to him at Piers Court, saying.
'It is most unhistorical of you to feel all art came to an end some time ago and will never revive. Take heart there are a few million years yet. This is a period which does not inspire 'sober and elevating happiness' - nor was the era in which Goya worked. P.S. Was your letter a hoax?'

Waugh replied to this at length. He makes the point that Picasso and his kind are attempting something new, in the sense of something different in kind:

'Titian might have thought Frith intolerably common but he would have recognised that he was practicing the same art as himself. He could not think this of Picasso.'

The Frith mentioned is the Victorian narrative painter William Powell Frith, and in a postscript to the letter, Waugh mentions that he came across a very good copy of Frith's The Railway Station in a gallery on Mount Street in Piccadilly, and nearly bought it. Judge for yourself whether Titian would have thought Frith's painting intolerably common.

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W.P. Frith, The Railway Station, 1862

Waugh infinitely preferred it to anything Picasso had come up with. According to Evelyn, Picasso failed on two essentials. First, in communication:

'He is hit-or-miss. Nothing is more ludicrous than the posturing of a Svengali who fails to put his Trillby under.' (This is a reference to a book by George Du Maurier which features Svengali, a man who seduces, dominates, and exploits Trilby, a young Irish girl.) 'The only criticisms valid for him are: ‘Ooh, doesn’t he make you feel funny inside’ or ‘the fellow’s a charlatan’. You do not hear people say: ‘I think the hand is coarsely painted, but what an exquisite angel’s head in the left hand corner. And what a lovely landscape through the window.’

Below is a picture from 1943. It's a view of Picasso's studio looking out onto Rue de Grands Augustins. It may well be the picture called
The Window, 3rd July 1943, that was included in the V&A show. It certainly does encourage me to ask questions and give qualitative assessments. What an insistent presence that radiator has. But what is going on with that pipe that dominates the left hand side of the picture? It seems to be both crooked and spying on me, the viewer. Was Picasso not even safe from the Nazi regime while lying low in his own studio on the Left Bank of Paris?

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Picasso The Artist's Studio, 1943

Waugh goes on to say that, secondly, Picasso fails on content:

'Here I must judge at second hand because he fails entire to put me under, but his addicts tell me his message is one of Chaos and Despair. That is not the message of art. If it were any issue of the Daily Mirror would be a supreme aesthetic achievement. You cannot excuse him by saying it is the message of the age and at the same time deny that the age is decadent. Goya, incidentally, was an exact contemporary of Goethe.'

Again, this is an odd argument. Is not Waugh's own A Handful of Dust the product of chaos and despair? And is that not high art? Of course, a copy of the Daily Mirror is not art. It's not the product of an enlightened intelligence who has something novel to say, based on his or her experience in the world, be the end product as bright as Decline and Fall or as bleak as A Handful of Dust.

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Picasso The Sailor, 28 October,1943

Waugh goes on to say that he believes that Western culture to be in rapid decay and that Picasso is a glaring symptom of that. He further states that the West is dying of Sloth not Wrath as was popularly assumed:

'It requires constant effort to keep within the world order and our contemporaries are too lazy to make the effort.'

Hmm... The reason that Picasso puts a specific date on his paintings is that he was doing one more or less every day. A lot of work. Endless work. There might appear to be more work in a painting by Frith, but each of those took him months to paint. Picasso's vast output of drawings and paintings constitute a diary, and as Evelyn Waugh surely knew, the keeping of a diary requires discipline.

What's really going on, as far as Evelyn Waugh is concerned, is revealed obliquely in Waugh's letters of the same time to Nancy Mitford. On January 5, 1946 he wrote:

'Picasso is head of the counter-hons. I went to his disgusting exhibition to make sure.'

The long letter has a short postscript:

'Death to Picasso the Head of the Counter Hons.'

The Hons and Counter-Hons is a reference to something in Nancy Mitford's
The Pursuit of Love, which Evelyn had recently been reading, and which drew on the private language of the Mitford sisters in their childhood. Anyone not a friend of the Hons was a Counter-Hon.

The politics of this is made clear by similar sentences written by Waugh to A.D. Peters, his literary agent, on 16 January, 1946:

1. Welcome home
2. Ghastly about cigars
3. Death to Picasso
4. I have to pay £400 to the socialists. Have I got it?


Labour were in power in the UK, and the government was charging high rates of income tax in order to pay for a Welfare State. Waugh was not a supporter of the Common Man, far from it. Waugh knew PIcasso to be a socialist and that put him beyond the pale in his eyes. Moreover, in Yugoslavia, where Waugh got himself posted, the Communists were brutal to the Catholics, so that didn't help. But just as importantly, Waugh saw himself, not of the people, but of an Oxford-educated elite.

In 1944, PIcasso had joined the Communist party. When being interviewed in 1943, he had become so exasperated that he wrote down for the person who was interviewing him the following:

"What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who only has eyes if he's a painter, ears if he's a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he's a poet...? Quite the contrary, he is at the same time a political being constantly alert to the horrifying, passionate or pleasing events in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. How is it possible to be uninterested in other men? And by virtue of what cold nonchalance can you detach yourself from the life that they supply so copiously? No, painting is not made to decorate apartments. It's an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy."

The enemy... Hon and Counter-Hon...

Nancy Mitford, though born into a super-rich family, was a fair-minded human being, and she wrote back to Evelyn on January the 7th:

'Did you see Raymond’s remarks about (HON) Picasso? It seemed right to me. I went scattering gems at the V&A and thought them more wonderful than those I saw in Paris, more wonderful than I had been led to suppose they were - but the Matisse very shabby I must admit. I wish you weren’t on the other side and don’t really understand it quite.'

'Raymond' is a reference to Raymond Mortimer, an art and literary critic. Nancy added to her Picasso remarks ten days later:


'Picasso is a Hon. I’ve now got 3 lovely books about him in the shop so I gloat all day.'


By the end of January, 1946, Waugh had written again to Nancy, responding to remarks in her letters:

'Death to Picasso. I had ¼ of wild beast Mortimer’s article sent me by a press agency. What these wild beasts can’t realise is that Picasso is old and has been at his dirty work for decades, so it is no use their saying ‘You cannot appreciate this glorious genius because he is New and you are too crusted to receive new impressions’. The pure clear witness against him grows with the years. You are all either dupes or traitors. You are a traitor. Love from Evelyn.'

According to Evelyn, Nancy is a traitor. A traitor to her class and/or her religion. That is what Waugh is saying. He is seeing things first of all in political terms - friend or foe - and that is blinding him to Picasso's undeniable qualities as a creative individual.

With 70-odd years of hindsight, there is no insistent need to see things in such political terms. I see Waugh and Picasso as having much more in common than not. And I will try and show what I mean with the help of more images from the V&A show and more extracts from Waugh's diaries and letters from around this time.

Waugh's Piers Court diary: October 2, 1945:

'We have practically no meat - two meals a week - and live on eggs and macaroni, cheese (made by Laura) bread and wine; very occasionally we get a rather nasty fish. But we have some wine left. When that is gone our plight will be grave.'

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Picasso, Woman with Fish-Hat, 19 August, 1942

To Penelope Betjeman. January 16, 1946:

'I lead a life of extreme ease, Laura one of martyrdom, milking, making beds, mucking out her horses. The only servant in the house is my pre-war valet. Laura makes his bed and cooks his meals.'

'DEATH TO PICASSO THE KING OF THE COUNTERHONS.'


To Lady Mary Lygon: February 4, 1946:

'I have a partridge and a woodcock for dinner tonight. Laura is to have half the partridge. Which is very generous of me but she does not often have anything to eat and she works very hard and is soon to have another baby and if you cut it cleverly you can leave half the breast on one's own half of the partridge. I shall also let her have 1/4 bottle of claret so it will be a lovely evening for her and I will have 3/4 so it will be lovely for me but there are not many such evenings in my home.'

'I hope you do not go and see the disgusting paintings by Picasso.'

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Picasso, Woman in a Green Suit, February, 1940

In February 1940, when the above picture was painted by Picasso, Waugh wrote to Laura from his army camp:

'The Brigadier's madam is kept very much in her place and ordered about with great shouts: 'Woman, go up to my cabin and get my boots'. More peculiar, she is subject to booby traps. He told us with great relish how the night before she had to get up several times in the night to look after her daughter who was ill and how, each time she returned, he had fixed up some new horror to injure her - a string across the door, a jug of water on top of it, etc. However, she seemed to thrive on this treatment and was very healthy and bright with countless children.'

I know that Waugh is joking in all these letters. But jokes reveal underlying relations. It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that women had to put up with a lot in this era. Men fighting with themselves: army versus army, artist versus artist. And did the imaginative and empathetic artists, at least, treat the women with respect? It seems not.

So far in this piece I've managed to use over half of the 25 paintings that Waugh would have seen in the PIcasso show at the V&A at the end of 1945. Let me finish with an extract from
Brideshead Revisited, and with two pictures I've already reproduced above.

As I implied earlier, the image below puts me in mind of Teresa, Evelyn and Laura's seemingly prim daughter, who was destined for a career in the church as far as her facetious father was concerned. As seemed Cordelia Flyte in
Brideshead. At one point, Cordelia earnestly consults Charles Ryder about something:

"Charles," said Cordelia, "Modern Art is all bosh, isn’t it?"

“Great bosh."

“Oh, I’m so glad. I had an argument with one of our nuns and she said we shouldn’t try and criticise what we didn’t understand. Now I shall tell her I have had it straight from a real artist, and snubs to her."


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Picasso Small Child with Flower, June 21, 1941, May 1945.

Pablo Picasso and Evelyn Waugh. Real artists. Leaking ego and vision and tribal loyalties and gender stereotypes and lust for life every time they picked up paintbrush or fountain pen, respectively.

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Picasso Small child with Langostine, June 21, 1941

For me this painting has all the
joie de vivre of Decline and Fall. Both are achievements of a 20th Century sensibility. Though perhaps van Gogh and Dickens were forerunners. However, that is beyond the remit of this essay.

If, in a manner of speaking, Waugh and Picasso were talented twins, separated at birth, Picasso was the one who got his cock out more often. And in 1944, after the liberation of Paris, while Evelyn was remembering with nostalgia his relationship with Alastair Graham via the writing of
Brideshead Revisited, Picasso began a liaison with an art student, Francoise Gilot, 40 years younger than himself, having grown tired of his mistress, Dora Maar. In her 1964 book Life with Picasso, Gilot details Picasso's abusive treatment and the numerous infidelities which led her to leave him, taking their two children with her.

'WAY TO GO, PABLO!' or 'DEATH TO PICASSO!' How do you sign off your letters?

Laura never did give Evelyn the 'Heave-Ho, Pablo'. Perhaps because there was just about enough affection coming her way to make her life at Piers Court bearable. If not enough to put a smile on her face.