Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Singer-031315-PostcardAnother possible reason for Picasso’s use of a Jewish subject may be his positive view of Jewish family values in contradistinction with those of his own family. The painting depicts an aged and emaciated beggar hugging a small boy who sadly munches on a crust of bread, and the contrast between the two characters is further underscored through their garb: the man is skimpily clad and his shoeless feet appear near-skeletal, while the boy’s entire body, including his unseen feet, are securely wrapped in a cloak.

The sense of the painting is that the old man has sacrificed himself to save the boy, as whatever meager provisions exist have been provided to the child. Through the ages, this sacrifice for children was, and remains today, the hallmark of Jewish family life, and Picasso’s observations of Jewish life in the slums of Barcelona may have emotionally moved him.

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Third, there is some speculation that Picasso’s maternal grandmother was Jewish which, of course, would make him Jewish. In his epic biography on Picasso, John Richardson writes about the artist’s grandfather:

 

Next to nothing is known about this bizarre gentleman…beyond the fact that he married a plump young woman from the province of Málaga, Inés López Robles, rumored to be a Maranna (of Jewish descent).

Picasso manifested a keen sensitivity to the Holocaust and to the Jewish people. On August 25, 1948, he boarded a plane for the first time and flew to Poland, where he was deeply moved by the wasteland that had been the Warsaw Ghetto. Upon hearing some dubious remarks about the “Jewish Question” from a Polish city official, who blithely advised that “Poland was not only made up of Jews,” he heatedly responded: “Whenever anyone has asked me, I have always said I’m Jewish. And my painting is Jewish painting, isn’t it.”

(In this latter remark he was almost certainly being sarcastic, meaning to refer to the fact that his art was closely identified with the “degenerate art” condemned by the Nazis, who actually claimed he was Jewish.)

Moreover, Picasso cried when he visited Auschwitz – as he had done a few years earlier, when he kissed the Auschwitz number burned into the flesh of his friend, the poet Jacques Prevert, upon meeting him for the first time after the end of the war.

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Saul Jay Singer serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar and is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters. He welcomes comments at saul.singer@verizon.net.