• Date: 
  • Technique: 
    Impastos made of white lead, oil and pastel powders on paper mounted on canvas
  • Dimensions: 
    116 x 80,7 cm
  • Category: 
  • Entry date: 
  • Register number: 
  • Long-term loan Collection Fondation Gandur pour l'Art, Geneva, Switzerland, 2015
  • Image credit: 
    © Fondation Gandur pour l'Art, Geneva, Switzerland. Photographer: Sandra Pointet

Sarah, an emblematic name in Jewish history that gives the work its title, is a key piece in Jean Fautrier’s oeuvre, which is forthright in its embodiment of the wounds and human tragedy caused by World War II. Fautrier was part of the French Resistance during the German occupation of France and, after being arrested, took refuge in a psychiatric hospital in the suburbs of Paris. It was there that he produced the series Les Otages (Hostages), to which Sarah belongs, made up of works, predominantly small in scale, in which the heads of hostages tend to fill the pictorial space. Les Otages responded to the issue of how to represent the terrors of Nazism at that time, in 1943, when the atrocities were still taking place. Within these “poems of resistance”, as defined by the art historian Giulio Carlo Argan, Sarah is distinctive because of both its size and the discernible and physical presence of a body which, combined with subtle colours, the flesh colours and blood-red, reveals the dual appearance of a dismembered corpse and a seated goddess. Some of the works in Les Otages series were more explicit, showing not only the heads – larger in scale and standing out through their realism – but also the whole body of the hostage. When they were shown in the Galerie René Drouin in 1945, they stood out from the rest of the series due to their central position between heads lined up together, which, organised in rows, implied the position of prisoners facing death before a firing squad. On that occasion – the first public unveiling – the prominent relationship between Les Otages and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937), was already apparent. With a comparison of this nature substantiated even further with the first presentation of Sarah in the Museo Reina Sofía. The Spanish Civil War, with Guernica as its icon, is considered the rehearsal of the Second World War. Similarly, Picasso’s large-scale oil painting from 1937 emphasises the difficulty in “regarding the pain of others”, in the words of Susan Sontag, which is precisely the position Fautrier took regarding Sarah. As Francis Ponge in “Notes sur Les Otages” (1945) stated: “The scream of martyred Spain was expressed artistically in Picasso’s oil painting Guernica. Eight years on we have Les Otages: horror and beauty mixed in equal parts.”

Rosario Peiró Carrasco