- To See Image Please Visit: http://web.guggenheim.org/exhibitions/picasso/artworks/charnel_house
- “The Charnel House,” Pablo Picasso, 1944-1945
The Charnel House is a 1945 painting by Pablo Picasso. The work, which is unfinished, is rendered using a black and white palette and serves as Picasso’s response to the atrocities of WWII. The work is compositionally similar to Guernica and features similarly grim subject matter depicting a family that has been murdered. Their contorted bodies are piled beneath a dining table. The father lies at the bottom of the pile. His face is abstracted and fractured although one eye appears to stare out at the viewer. His hands, which are bound jut up towards the center of the work. On top and to the left of this figure lies the mother. Her sexuality is emphasized, even in death, as her breasts, rendered in a figure eight-like manner, are central to the work. Her head tilts back and the expression on her face is suggestive of a grotesque ecstasy. Beneath the mother, to the left of her bosom her infant child is visible. The child’s eyes are also closed and his cupped hands appear to be blocking something, perhaps the blood that flows from his mother. The banal depiction of the set table in the upper left hand reinforces the ways in which the war had infiltrated all aspects of life including the homes of innocent civilians.
Picasso painted the work just as reports and images of the Holocaust were circulating in newspapers and film reels. In turn, the grisaille palette of the work as well as the subject matter are evocative of the images Picasso was seeing at the time. In addition The Charnel House was painted just one year after Picasso joined the French Communist party and the overtly political nature of the work is reminiscent of Guernica. However, although The Charnel House bears much in common with Guernica, its unsettled and almost ambiguous nature distinguishes it from the latter. Although he worked on The Charnel House for over six months, the work remains unfinished. This is due in part to the horrific subject matter depicted which seemingly defies pictorial and artistic interpretation. This notion is reinforced by the use of a black-and-white palette, which, as the current Guggenheim exhibit “Picasso in Black and White” illustrates, was a means by which Picasso dealt with particularly complex or difficult subject matter. In the context of this course, this image is indicative of the ways in which artist struggle to depict immense atrocities that simply cannot be rendered in a work of art.