National Gallery of Victoria


Pablo Picasso
Spanish 1881–1973, worked in France 1904–73
Weeping woman 1937
oil on canvas
55.0 x 46.0 cm
Purchased by donors of The Art Foundation of Victoria, with the assistance of the Jack and Genia Liberman Family, Founder Benefactor, 1986
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
© Pablo Picasso, 1937/Succession Pablo Picasso, Paris. Licensed by VISCOPY, Sydney, 2006


Pablo Picasso
Spanish 1881–1973, worked in France 1904–73
Sheet of studies: The weeping woman 1937
pen and Indian ink on paper
25.5 x 17.9 cm
Dation Pablo Picasso, Musée National Picasso, Paris, MP 1193
© Pablo Picasso/Succession Pablo Picasso, Paris. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney 2006


Pablo Picasso
Spanish 1881–1973, worked in France 1904–73
Weeping woman
Paris, 18 October 1937
oil on canvas
55.3 x 46.3 cm
Dation Pablo Picasso, Musée National Picasso, Paris, MP 165
© Pablo Picasso/Succession Pablo Picasso, Paris. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney 2006

A Journey Through the Exhibition
Weeping Woman Series

Picasso returned to the theme of the Weeping Woman, first seen in Guernica clutching the body of her dead child, in a series of drawings, etchings and paintings made in September and October of 1937. These unsettling, emotive works are often read simplistically as mere descriptions of Dora's fiery temperament and the volatile nature of her relationship with Picasso. They are, however, far more complex and explore the fascinating dynamic between the works, the artist and the model.

While the Weeping Women series embodies the essence of Picasso's beloved muse, Dora, it can also be read as a self–portrait revealing the inner torment of a man haunted by horrific images of the massacres taking place in the Spanish Civil War. In the artistic partnership between Dora and Picasso we again see the special empathy between the lovers, where Dora is not simply a model but an impassioned political accomplice (outraged by Fascism) deeply committed to conveying a powerful, universal message condemning war. Dora willingly submits her features to be brutally distorted and deconstructed by Picasso who contorts her beauty into a harsh ugliness to arouse raw human emotions of anguish, compassion and despair.

The harrowing images that summarise the intense suffering of victims of war through the depiction of a desperate weeping woman have also been interpreted as a modern translation of the ancient Christian motif of the grief–stricken Virgin Mary mourning her dead son, Jesus Christ.

While the Weeping Women vary enormously in colour and technique, the intensity of the expression in her eyes in each painting remains unchanged. The theme of the eye staring out of its socket preoccupied the Surrealists and both Dora and Picasso used it in their work as a symbol of awkward pain. Dora's photomontages contain haunting images of glass eyes, and Picasso's studies for the series show eyes literally popping out on stalks in a state of disbelief at the horrors they had witnessed. Weeping Woman, October 1937, was purchased by the NGV in 1986 and has become one of the icons in their collection.

In this particularly bold version Picasso has used an unsettling combination of acid greens and vibrant mauves exaggerated by thick black outlines. The startled eyes, rimmed with black eyelashes like Dora's, are popping out of giant boat–like sockets tilted to empty out a torrent of tears. The triangular nose and sharp, pointed handkerchief express raw grief, while the confined space in which the woman finds herself seems to suggest the stifling claustrophobia of war and an inability to escape. Weeping Woman, October 1937, held in the collection of the Musée Picasso, was painted on the same day as the NGV's, but is similar in colour only. The woman in this painting appears almost transparent and floats on a sea of mauve. Picasso has created a grainy texture on her anguished face by scratching lines of paint with the back of his brush. In marked contrast to the NGV's Weeping Woman strands of hair fall limply and her feeble hand seems almost incapable of lifting her handkerchief.

Roland Penrose, a British painter and friend of Picasso's, bought a version in 1937 for 250 pounds. Tate Modern in England now owns it. Again, completely different in character, Picasso has replaced acidic colours with brilliant red, blue, yellow and green. The use of these colours that are not normally associated with sorrow and grief creates a disquieting tension.

The Supplicant, Paris, 18 December 1937, marked the end of the cycle of Weeping Women. It was painted with gouache on a wood panel and appears to be inspired by classical–religious painting in the expressionist Gothic style. The image of a woman with her head thrown back, a pointed tongue and screaming mouth echoes a newspaper photograph showing a woman in tears clutching a handkerchief and standing over the body of a man with a bloodstained shirt. It was found in Picasso's archives and was taken by a Catalan reporter at Lerida, Spain on 2 November 1937.

The mutual respect between the lovers and the interweaving of their ideas is again demonstrated through Dora's appropriation of some of Picasso's Weeping Women in her own paintings. In these she reworked images of herself – in a spirit of collaboration rather than an act of direct copying.

Questions for Further Discussion:

  1. Select one of the Weeping Women series. How does it make you feel inside when you first look at it? What can you tell about how Picasso was feeling at the time?
  2. What message is the artist conveying in this work and why do you think this?
  3. Analyse how the artist has used each of the art elements to convey this message?
  4. Why has the artist brutally deconstructed and disfigured the face of his model, Dora Maar? How does it contribute to his message?
  5. Dora Maar was the model for Weeping Woman, 18 October 1937 owned by the NGV. Compare a photograph of Dora Maar with the painting and discuss the similarities and differences.
  6. Why was Picasso's style of painting human suffering so radical compared with the way it had been portrayed by artists in the past?

  7. Compare Weeping Woman, 18 October, 1937 owned by the NGV with Weeping Woman 18 October 1937, owned by the Musée Picasso. Describe the colours he has used for both portraits and explain why he chose them. How has Picasso used different techniques to convey the same message?
  8. Why did Picasso create a series of Weeping Women? Compare the impact of a series of paintings on a theme, to a singular painting on the same theme.

 Other References (Journey Through the Exhibition)



NGV: Art like never before