In Pablo Picasso’s trilogy of anti-war paintings, alongside Guernica (1937) and The Charnel House (1944–45), the third and most ambiguous is Massacre in Korea (1951). Although the title of the work refers to the outbreak of the Korean War, which had begun the previous year, none of the symbolism within the work itself would indicate that this particular “massacre” is actually taking place in Korea. The aggressors’ armor, for example, covers a broad spectrum of eras, from medieval to the mechanoid, while the verdant, hilly background and solitary ruin suggest a European landscape rather than anything seen on the Korean Peninsula. In addition to its enigma of period and place, Massacre in Korea is also the most disturbing of Picasso’s anti-war trilogy; primarily due to the fact that the victims, all of them women and children, are depicted naked. This feminization of victimhood, along with the indeterminacy of the landscape, has compelled many to read Massacre in Korea as a cipher for all the liberation struggles that were occurring in the French colonies during this same time. These former French territories were perceived as feminine because of their lack of industrialization; the size, skin color, and dress of their inhabitants; as well as the gendered terms of the French language itself. Massacre in Korea thus represents Picasso’s paean to the anti-colonial struggles taking place throughout the world, with the highly militarized French army waging a “war of unequal opponents” against defenseless locals.
Pablo Picasso, considered one of the most important artists of his time, worked in many different styles, from figuration and Neoclassicism to Surrealism and abstraction. Together with his fellow artist Georges Braque (1882–1963), Picasso is credited with developing Cubism. Picasso first studied art with his father, then enrolled in the Llotja School in Barcelona in 1895, and later studied briefly at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando (Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando), Madrid. After his return to Barcelona in 1899 he often traveled to Paris, settling there in 1904. In Paris his style and choice of subject changed: he abandoned his so-called Blue Period (1901–04) and drew inspiration from the circus during his Rose Period (1905). From 1907 to 1909, inspired by the works of Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) and African masks, Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), which presaged his next two stylistic periods, Analytic Cubism (c. 1908–11) and Synthetic Cubism (c. 1912–14). In 1916 Picasso began to collaborate on ballet and theater productions. In 1936, deeply affected by the Spanish Civil War, he painted his powerful Guernica (1937). During his long career Picasso mastered a broad spectrum of mediums, including painting, drawing, sculpture, collage, lithography, and engraving.