Pablo Picasso is recognised as one of the most important figures in 20th century western art. He created more than 20,000 artworks in a variety of media including painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing and ceramics.
Picasso showed an early talent for art, and made lifelike portraits as a teenager. However, after settling in Paris in his early twenties he adopted more modern approaches to making art. Between 1908 and 1911 he and fellow artist Georges Braque ‘invented’ a style called Cubism which took a radical, new approach to the representation of space and form.
In 1937, Picasso completed his iconic mural Guernica, a chilling depiction of the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish civil war, which resulted in the slaughter of many defenceless civilians.
Picasso painted Weeping Woman in October 1937 only a few months after he completed the mural. It is one of a series of images of weeping women that have been linked to the figure of a grieving mother in Guernica who clasps her dead child to her chest.
Weeping Woman is an iconic image of unspeakable grief and pain, representing universal suffering. The fragmented features and the use of acid green and purple heighten the painting’s emotional intensity.
The model for the Weeping Woman was Picasso’s partner Dora Maar, a passionate, strong and intelligent woman. The painting is also often seen as reflecting their complex and often stormy relationship.
T. Gott in T. Gott, L. Benson & contributors, 20th Century Painting and Sculpture in the International Collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003.
Refer to our handy Glossary of Literary Terms for definitions and examples
Read our Art Start The Art of Language Introduction
Look through the Art Start Image Bank
Where not otherwise stated these activities can be undertaken by students in pairs, small groups or individually, depending on the teachers’ individual curriculum requirements.
Instructions for students
‘Tears leak from the shades of green like rain drops down a leaf.
A heat of jealousy is sparked amongst dark company.
You search for an absent door through the roar of an empty room.
The choking fear of loneliness leaves your deepest thoughts to devour your soul.
There’s nowhere else to bury your distress but deep in a handkerchief.’
This poem is by a Middle Years student
Classroom Discussion and Activities
The process of elaborating involves students building on their descriptions to build up a rich and diverse bank of words.
Nominate one student to describe a chosen item to the rest of the class. The next student adds detail to the description offered by the first. A third and fourth student further elaborates.
Choose another element in the painting and repeat the process.
Complete the following activities based onWeeping Woman, 1937.
Stream of Consciousness writing can be a good technique for reticent writers to unblock anxiety and provide a basis for more formal writing projects.
Pablo Picasso was a poet as well as a painter. He wrote the following poem during the Spanish Civil War, when he painted Weeping Woman and Guernica, which express his horror at the bombings and atrocities taking place in Spain. He has used a literary technique called free or stream of consciousness writing in the poem. This technique presents the thoughts and feelings of the writer as they flow, without use of punctuation.
‘Cries of children cries of women cries of birds cries of flowers cries of wood and of stones cries of bricks cries of furniture of beds of chairs of curtains of casseroles of cats and paper cries of smells that claw themselves of smoke that gnaws the neck of cries that boil in cauldron and the rain of birds that floods the sea that eats into bone and breaks the teeth biting the cotton that the sun wipes on its plate that bourse and bank hide in the footprint left embedded in the rock.’
Poem by Pablo Picasso accompanying the Dream and Lie of Franco. Quoted in Pre-faces to Picasso: the Burial of the Count of Orgaz, & Other Poem, by Jerome Rothenberg & Pierre Joris.
Available at: http://www.cipherjournal.com/html/picasso.html
Now ‘unfocus’ your mind from specific thoughts, and try to write as Picasso has done, in response to Weeping Woman, 1937. The results can be surprising.
Students discuss the messages, meanings and mood of Weeping Woman, 1937.
This project requires as background information:
Poetry is like art – it allows us to see something in a different way. Its impact can be powerful and immediate.
A poem is a painting that is not seen;
A painting is a poem that is not heard
Phoebe Hesketh, A poem is a Painting, Page 7, Picture Poems, Benton, M and P, Hodder and Stoughton, 1997
Working with a format can be a non-threatening way of starting to write poetry for students who haven’t written in this genre before.
This activity is inspired by Weeping Woman poem, Visual Paths to Literacy at Tate, Making their Marks, An anthology of children’s writing, 2002.
Write a poem from the perspective of the woman in the painting. Use this format – make sure that every line begins with:
‘I am the woman who……………’
Each line should contain new information that builds a detailed picture of her experience. For example:
‘I am the woman who darted for cover
as the bullets came screaming down.
I am the woman who was mortified as I
watched my child being hit by shards of shrapnel.
I am the woman who has a distorted face
because of my never-ending confusion.
I am the woman who has no name as there is no need for one anymore.
I am the woman who is rotting inside my desolate body.’
This poem is by a Middle Years student
Write a free verse poem inspired by Weeping Woman, 1937 and the ideas and descriptions you created in the Language Starters activities.
I am alone as I cry my hot tears,
The air I breathe is thick with agony,
The walls are closing in, as are my fears,
And it is only my tears that run free,
Maybe soon I can escape from this place,
Though I may pretend its left me in peace,
The scars will remain hidden in my face,
I live knowing my pain will never cease,
Wounds may heal in the stretch of endless time,
But they are in need of a loving touch,
Though I reach out with compassionate rhyme,
Tenderness is ripped from my aching clutch,
So I am empty and crying alone,
In pain, not willing to face the unknown.
Middle Years student
Use the alliterative titles created for the Seriously Alliterative activity in the Language Starters activities as lines for a poem. Consider combining your own titles with those of other students or make one class poem. For example:
Weeping woman wails as war is waged,
Sadness streams from sagging sockets
Freakish face fraught with fear.
Combine similes and metaphors that describe Weeping Woman, 1937 with those already developed above in the Language Starters activity, Weeping Woman descriptive quiz, as lines for a poem. For example:
Her face is war
She is a jagged landscape pierced by pools of emotion
Crystal rivers of bitter tears corrode her face,
She is a fierce storm streaked with lightening….
Imagine you are a celebrity who has been invited to take part in a series of articles entitled ‘My favourite artwork’.
Using Weeping Woman 1937 as your chosen artwork, write a short piece explaining where you saw the artwork, what aspects you appreciate, why it particularly resonates with you. Point out aspects of the artwork that you would like your readers to notice. For example:
‘Let your eyes wander over the sharp surface and you are led by the jagged lines to the picture’s centre, her mouth and chin, where flesh seems to have been peeled away to reveal hard, white bone……When you are inside this picture, you are inside pain; it hits you like a punch in the stomach.’
Extract from Weeping Woman, Pablo Picasso (1937) by Jonathan Jones, May 13, 2000, The Guardian
The earliest poems were not written down, due to low levels of literacy. Instead, they were performed aloud. Volume, speed of reading, body language (including sometimes dramatic gestures), and pauses were all used in performances to keep the audience enthralled.
Consider these aspects of performance before engaging in the activity below.
Wordle – generating word clouds