Massacre in Korea – Picasso (Part 5: THE END)

So you know Massacre in Korea’s backstory, technical analysis, comparison with Guernica and the critical reception – but have we all come to the same conclusion?

Mine is below but you can feel free to cast aspersions or offer your own interpretation in the comments section…

Massacre in Korea (1951) Pablo Picasso

Massacre in Korea (1951) Pablo Picasso


Massacre in Korea is a painting which has been criticised ever since its production. It was created by a devoutly communist artist in response to a threat to a communist nation as reported in the communist press. In spite of these things it failed to deliver the socialist realist indictment of capitalist America that the Party would have hoped for.

This failure was mainly due to Picasso’s unwillingness to completely abandon his own style, his lack of personal engagement with the subject and the universality of his message. This resulted in an image which borrowed heavily from other works but never captured their strength or emotion; instead Massacre in Korea is static and bland. It also allows for anti-communist interpretations as exemplified by its use in the Polish protest in Warsaw, 1956.

The painting also did not succeed in becoming a more universal condemnation of war the way that Guernica did. I believe that this was because of the compromise Picasso made with regard to his style. Instead of being able to produce artwork which conformed to a set of rules the artist had evolved to suit himself and his subject he attempted to conform to the rules placed upon him by an external authority. As a result the unity brought about by using a set of cohesive personal rules was broken and Picasso was forced to borrow rather than internalise motifs and compositions created by others.

So why, given all of the above, did I devote ten thousand words to this dreadful thing?

Massacre in Korea is fascinating because, to me, it represents the strength of Picasso’s loyalty to the Communist Party. It reveals a desire in the artist to engage with the current political situation whether for approval or personal interest – maybe both. It is also significant because of Picasso’s response to the criticisms of the work and the way in which he tried to learn from these for his next project, the War and Peace murals at Vallauris.

Unfortunately the factors which underpin my interest in Massacre in Korea also highlight the problem posed by this painting. The interest is not in Massacre in Korea as a successful work of art but rather in the other (secondary) issues and considerations surrounding it. Strip those away and, as an artwork, there is simply not enough depth to maintain our interest or to invite or repay repeated viewings.

*For anyone who is interested in finding out more, you can read my full dissertation Why was Picasso’s Massacre in Korea not successful as a communist painting and why has it not been afforded the same critical recognition as his earlier political painting, Guernica (1937)? in its more academic form (complete with bibliography).