Picasso’s ‘Mermaid’ returns to apartment wall 66 years after being washed off

Instead of the sword carried by the mermaid on the Warsaw coat of arms, Picasso drew a hammer, a reference to the post-war pacifist movements of the time, which he supported. Warszawy historia ukryta - Miasto moje, a w nim.../Facebook

Picasso’s drawing of a mermaid carrying a hammer will return to Warsaw, with plans to recreate the mural that disappeared in 1953.

Pablo Picasso travelled to Poland in 1948. In Warsaw, he was shown round by architects Helena and Szymon Syrkus.

On 3 September, they led him to a housing estate that was being built by Koło, in the city’s Wola neighbourhood. Inside one of the unfinished apartments, the artist drew a mermaid – the symbol of Warsaw – stretching from the ceiling to the floor using a piece of charcoal.

Picasso at the Royal Palace in Wilanów, September 4th, 1948, the day after he drew his mermaid.PAP

Despite its Warsaw symbolism, the drawing’s style resembles other portraits by Picasso.

Instead of the sword carried by the mermaid on the Warsaw coat of arms, the artist gave her a hammer, a reference to the post-war pacifist movements of the time, which he supported.

However, not all the building’s residents appreciated Picasso’s mural.

In 1952, tired of being besieged by visitors wanting to see Picasso’s mermaid, the apartment owner Franciszka Sawicka-Prószyńska asked the housing authorities if they could paint over it, saying: “The flat is already very dirty and needs renovation, and the Mermaid is not very visible because it was drawn using charcoal, smudges and was not fixed.”Warszawy historia ukryta - Miasto moje, a w nim.../Facebook

Franciszka Sawicka-Prószyńska and her husband had moved into the apartment a few months later and soon found themselves besieged by visitors wanting to get a glimpse of the work of art.

According to some reports, the apartment was also to be visited by then president Bolesław Bierut.

Tired of constant visits, in 1952  the woman asked the housing authorities if they could paint over it, saying: “The flat is already very dirty and needs renovation, and the Mermaid is not very visible because it was drawn using charcoal, smudges and was not fixed.”

After much discussion, in 1953 a painter went to the apartment and ‘washed off’ the mermaid.Warszawy historia ukryta - Miasto moje, a w nim.../Facebook

After she had received permission, a painter came and washed the drawing off the wall.

Now the Wola Cultural Centre has announced plans to recreate the mural, on the initiative of the apartment’s current owner.

Two artists are already working on it, repeating the original bold, black lines on the white wall of the apartment.

Now the current apartment’s owner together with the Wola Cultural Centre are restoring the drawing with the help of two artists who are following an outline punched through holes in paper.Wolskie Centrum Kultury/Facebook

Given that the apartment is being used, they are not using Picasso’s original medium, charcoal, which smudges easily.

Recreating the mermaid’s shape has been a challenge, too.

In the small space, there is no room to project a copy of the original drawing onto the wall and trace over it.

Picasso had been in Warsaw to attend a conference organised by the then government.PAP

Instead, the artists are following an outline punched through holes in paper.

Once their work is finished, Wola will regain its unique piece of artistic heritage.

To read the full story of Picasso’s Warsaw visit click here