Although it only lasted for 13 days, the Cuban Missile Crisis has entered the public imagination as one of the most terrifying moments of the 20th century. And for good reason: it is now known that the world came closer to nuclear destruction than at any other point in human history. The outbreak of war was narrowly averted by the decision of Soviet submarine officer, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, to reject the order of his commanding officer to launch a torpedo at the United States.
The gut-wrenching tension that gripped the world between 14 and 28 October 1962 led an elderly Pablo Picasso to paint his last work devoted to the horrors of war. This series had begun with Guernica in 1937 and also included Massacre in Korea from 1951.
Based on two paintings on the same theme by classical French artists, Nicolas Poussin and Jacques-Louis David, Rape of the Sabine Women once again depicted the pain of the innocent victims of military confrontation. Only years later did the connection between Picasso’s 6 foot by 4 foot canvas and the crisis in Cuba come to light in an article in Apollo Magazine.
Image: Pablo Picasso, Rape of the Sabine Women, 1963. Oil on canvas. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston