Weeping Woman (1937) by Pablo Picasso
Meaning and Interpretation of Cubist Portrait of Dora Maar

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Weeping Woman
By Pablo Picasso.
Regarded as one of the
greatest portrait paintings
of the 20th century.

Weeping Woman (1937)


Explanation of Other Paintings by Picasso


Name: Weeping Woman (1937)
Artist: Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Portrait Art
Movement/Style: Cubist painting
Location: Tate Collection, London

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

For analysis of works
by Cubist painters
like Picasso, see:
How to Appreciate Paintings.

Analysis of Weeping Woman

Pablo Picasso, probably the greatest of all 20th century painters, is best known for two things: his co-invention - together with Georges Braque (1882-1963) - of Cubism and Collage; and his anti-war stance, as expressed in various works of art. Both of these things come together in "Weeping Woman", which is one of the most famous portraits by Picasso, executed in the style of analytical Cubism but with greater realism than usual. It remains an iconic example of Spanish painting, and represents a continuation of the artist's anti-war theme instigated by his mural Guernica (1937, Reina Sofia, Madrid), which was his response to the terror-bombing of civilians during the Spanish Civil War. After completing the mural painting, Picasso spent many months creating a series of additional images of weeping women, based on one of the figures which appeared in Guernica. The "Weeping Woman" in the Tate is the last and most elaborate of this series. Some others include: "Weeping Woman" (1937, oil on canvas, National Gallery, Victoria); "Weeping Woman" (1937, oil on canvas, Musee Picasso, Paris); "Weeping Woman" (1937, Graphite and crayon on paper, Tate Collection); "Weeping Woman" studies (1937, pen and Indian ink on paper, Musee Picasso, Paris); and the Supplicant (1937, gouache on wood panel, Musee Picasso, Paris).

The model for the entire "Weeping Woman" series was the stunningly attractive professional photographer Dora Maar (1907-97) (born Henriette Theodora Markovic), who was one of the leading surrealist artists of the 1930s. After meeting Picasso in Paris, in 1936, she became his mistress, muse, and intellectual companion. A strong personality, she was instrumental in expanding Picasso's political awareness, and he painted her dozens of times over the course of their relationship (1938-44). See, for instance, Dora Maar Seated (1938, Ink, gouache and oil paint, Tate Collection); and Dora Maar au Chat (1941, oil on canvas, Private Collection), which sold at Sotheby's, New York, in 2006 for a record $95.2 million. See: the 10 Most Expensive Paintings. Maar actually painted a few minor details of Guernica, but was best-known for her documentary photography documenting the successive stages of Guernica as Picasso painted it in 1937, in his workshop on the Rue des Grands Augustins.

"Weeping Woman" depicts an anguished, sobbing female, who holds a handkerchief up to her face to catch her copious tears. This universal image of suffering is painted in the flattened style of Picasso's early analytical Cubism, characterized by the use of angular and overlapping fragments of the subject's face, as if it were painted from different viewpoints simultaneously. In order to emphasize the two-dimensional nature of the work, Picasso makes no attempt to create 'depth' in the painting, by the use of linear perspective or any type of modelling/shading like chiaroscuro.

NOTE: Compare the series of neoclassical paintings by Picasso, painted between about 1906 and 1930, of which the best examples include: Two Nudes (1906, Museum of Modern Art, New York); Seated Woman (Picasso) (1920, Paris); Large Bather (1921, Musee de l'Orangerie, Paris); and Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race) (1922, Musee Picasso, Paris).




The most obvious meaning of the "Weeping Woman", when interpreted against the background of the ongoing civil war in Spain, is fairly straightforward. Formally dressed, as though at a funeral or other place of mourning, she represents the harrowing grief experienced by mothers, sisters and others, following the death of a loved one, especially during wartime. As in Guernica, the focus is on the pain and suffering endured by innocent civilians.

Note: A key element which appears in each of the "Weeping Woman" series, is the intense expression of the woman's eyes. Invariably wide-open and staring, they symbolize the intensity of her grief.

There is an additional and more subtle interpretation: namely, that the work is a self-portrait, revealing the artist's inner torment at the idea of his native country being torn apart by civil war. Picasso was extremely upset by the conflict and vowed never to return to Spain while Franco remained in power. As it was, Franco outlived him by two years.

The "Weeping Woman" may also have a religious meaning. She may, for instance, symbolize the pieta - the anguish of the Virgin Mary, as she mourns the horrifying death of her son, Jesus Christ. The hand of the trampled corpse under the horse in Guernica, contained signs of Christ's stigmata, indicating martyrdom, so there may also be a religious dimension to this painting.

Note: The colour scheme used in the painting remains something of a mystery. Picasso frequently used a monochrome or even a grisaille palette when evoking pain and suffering. By contrast, the palette used in "Weeping Woman" incorporates all the major colours, including: red, yellow, blue, as well as orange, green and brown. Was Picasso trying to imbue the woman with strong feelings, or with a vivid sense of life? Was he trying to contrast the portrait with the blacks and greys of the earlier Guernica? There is no consensus on this issue.

Explanation of Other Paintings by Picasso

La Vie (Life) (1903)
An important work from Picasso's Blue Period - his tribute to Casagemas.

Boy with a Pipe (Garcon à la Pipe) (1905)
Exquisite Rose Period portrait of "Little Louis".

Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906) Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Early painting of the Parisian art patron.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) MOMA, New York.
Picasso's first step towards Cubism.

Woman in White (1923) Metropolitan Museum, New York.
A masterpiece of contemporary classicism.


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