Max Aub (Paris, 1903 – Mexico City, 1972) was a writer and politician born in Paris to German parents who moved to Valencia with his family in 1914. As a writer his work spanned every genre: theatre, poetry, short stories, novels, essays and literary criticism. He was a member of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) from 1928 onwards, and in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, he was posted to Paris as a cultural attaché for the Spanish Embassy, where he participated in the arrangements for Picasso’s commission for the Spanish Pavilion at the International Exhibition. In 1937 he returned to Spain, before heading to France after the war, in 1939. After periods spent in different concentration camps and refugee camps in France and Algeria, he was exiled to Mexico in 1942.
Max Aub was a polyhedral author. His texts conjugated and unified a distinctive brand of humour and a dramatic vision by dint of his close proximity to the events narrated. Aub embodied the history and commitment of the Spanish exile after the Civil War, much like many other intellectuals who were forced to flee the country over the threat of reprisals, and who melded artistic or literary practice with political practice.
In Spain, and later in Mexico, Aub was actively involved in politics and culture, with both the government of the Second Republic and during the war and in his subsequent exile. Prior to the onset of war, in Valencia he founded the university theatre group El Búho, with a spirit akin to La Barraca, the company founded by Federico García Lorca. Moreover, he was a friend and associate, intellectually and politically, of Josep Renau’s, and collaborated on magazines such as Nueva cultura (Valencia, 1937-1939) and Hora de España - the latter directed by Antonio Machado - and was also part of the Alianza de Intelectuales en Defensa de la Cultura (Alliance of Intellectuals for the Defence of Culture, 1936–1939). In July of 1937, upon leaving his post as a cultural attaché for the Spanish Embassy, he was named secretary of the Consejo Central del Teatro (Central Theatre Council), chaired by Josep Renau. In 1939 he was also involved in the screenplay for André Malraux’s film Espoir. Sierra de Teruel (Days of Hope).
Aub’s most cited literary works were written whilst in exile in Mexico, and include the six-volume novel on the Spanish Civil War El laberinto mágico (The Magic Labyrinth, 1943–1968). Also of note is Jusep Torres Campalans, a biography of a false Cubist painter in which he narrates, with customary wit, the artistic milieu in Paris before the First World War - he even went so far as to organise an exhibition of fictitious works by the character. The book was dedicated to Pablo Picasso, whom he considered the greatest artist of the 20th century.
Upon joining the team of the Spanish ambassador in Paris, Luis Araquistaín, in December of 1936, Aub participated in the arrangements for the set-up of the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition in 1937, and the commissions for works by artists such as Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and Alberto Sánchez. Thus, in his correspondence with Josep Renau in 1965, Max Aub recalled his involvement with the commission of Guernica and how he had given Picasso 150,000 francs for material expenses “under the condition that the painting continued to be his”. He declared to the pavilion workers and before Guernica that Picasso had represented the tragedy of Guernica in his work and, with goodwill, everyone would note the rage, desperation and horrific protest encapsulated on canvas.