Guernica - Picasso's most important painting
- Pablo Picasso - Master of Cubism
One of the most important, influential and popular artists during the 20th century is Pablo Picasso, also known as Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santisima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. He was one.
Guernica and the Spanish Civil War
Pablo Picasso, a Spanish artist, was a brilliant genius who painted during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century and is credited with creating and painting in the Cubism period of modern art.
But, the most important painting he ever painted was the one entitled, Guernica. Why was this painting so important? Because it became a strong statement against war - specifically the Spanish Civil War (1934-1939) and then, against war in general. When viewing this painting, Picasso is telling us the absurdity of war and the atrocities of war - the killiing of innocent victims during wartime. Have we learned the lesson yet? I think not.
Guernica is a Spanish town in northern Spain on the Atlantic Ocean coast located in the Basque region, founded in 1366. This is a region of fiercely independent Spainards, and during the Spanish Civil War it became the stronghold of the resistance of the Republican side of the war. (the monarchy).
The Nationalists (Franco and the Fascists) were the opposing side in the war. I am not trying to be simplistic, but the Spanish Civil War was a very complicated war. Basically, The Nationalists wanted to preserve the Golden Age of Spain based on law and order, the Catholic Church and traditional family values.
What is wrong with that, you say? Well, The Nationalists wanted a dictatorship to ensure that this happened. The Republicans were the monarchy (the status quo) and they also was quite fracturious - this side also included the Communists, Socialists and Anarchists. There were surprising allies in this war. This side represented a free Spain. I know, a monarchy is not freedom, but it represented more freedom than the Spaniards would have under a Franco dictatorship. Also, Hitler and the Germans were helping out Franco so they could experiment and test their bliztkrieg as Hitler was getting prepared for the take-over of Europe.
As the war progressed by 1937, Guernica had become the northern bastion of the Republicn resistance movement and epicenter of the Basque culture, which was very independent. Therefore, Guernica became a definite target to Franco and the Nationalists. Guernica's location was a major crossroads. It was 10 km from the front lines of battle. Any retreats by the Republicans or advances by the Nationalists had to go through Guernica.
Guernica was just a quiet northern village and the nearest military target was a factory on the outskirts of town that manufactured war products. The irony of the whole bombing of Guernica by the Nationalists was that the factory came through the bombing unscathed.
The real purpose of the bombing was one of intimidation and destruction. At the time of the bombing, most of the men were fighting in the Republican forces and were away from the villiage. So, it was mostly women and children that were killed when the bombs rained down on Guernica for four straight hours. It was the German Luftwaft, aiding the Nationalist forces, that bombed Guernica. The Nationlists wanted to demoralize the Republicans through bombing this town and which was also the center of Basque cultural traditions.
The same year, 1937, The World's Fair was being held in Paris, France. This is where Picasso was living at the time. The Paris International Exhibition Pavilion was being financed by the Spanish Republican government and they commissioned Picasso to paint a large mural for the Spanish display in the exhibition. Picasso chose to depict the bombing of Guernica for the exhibition. Spain was his homeland and he was very much against Franco and the Nationalists, so the painting was created as an answer or statement in response to the bombing.
Guernica was painted in grey, white and black. It is approximately eleven feet tall and twenty-six feet wide. It was painted on a mural size canvas and painted in oil. After the exhibition, it went on a world tour and then to be hung in the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain's national museum. In 1992, it was transferred to the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid as they had a greater wall and place to exhibit the massive mural painting. It is impressive. The purpose of the painting was to bring the world's attention to the bombing of the town by Franco's forces.
The painting is painted in Picasso's Cubist style in sharp-shaped geometrical figures. In this style, Picasso would take apart his subjects and analyze and paint each part of the subjects. The painting depicts all who are affected and who suffer from war: people, animals, and buildings wrenched by violence and chaos. Everything in life is affected disasterously by war.
The two dominate elements in the painting are the bull and the horse. Both of these animals are important characters in Spanish culture and history. The bull, of course represents the bullfight and the majestic confict between man and bull. The horse, even at the time of the Civil War, was still the chief form of transportation for about ninty percent of the Spanish people. The bull and the horse are in terror and agony in this painting and killed right along with the people. The bombing not only was the death of innocent victims, but also the death of the Basque culture.
The use of only the colors, grey, black and white sets a somber mood and expresses pain and chaos. It is more effective than the red of blood. The shape and postures of the bodies, both human and animal express their terror and protest to this subjugation by Franco and the Nationalists. The burning and crumbling buildings and walls respresent the destruction of Guernica and the destructive power of civil war. The broken sword near the bottom of the painting represents the defeat of the people at the hands of Franco. The light bulb is painted to represent the sun. Everything in the painting is all twisted up, out of shape and form, and in chaos - just as war affects those it bombards.
Picasso always felt this painting was more than just a political statement. He felt and commented that art can contribute to and help to instill the self-assertion that liberates every human being. The artistic expression, no matter in what form, can protect the individual against overwhelming forces of political crime, war and death. Art can be a strong response to the political forces and authoritative governments that try to belittle and destroy the individual.
When I traveled in Spain with my Spanish students, of course, we never missed Guernica. My students had heard all about it in the classroom and had drawn their own conclusions about the work. When we walked into the room where it is exhibited all by itself, the experience is a stunning one. I have always felt it is the best expression of the anti-war sentiment in the world. The Viet Nam Memorial in Washington DC, is the second.
When visiting Spain, do not miss this important work of Picasso's. Today it It is hanging in the Museo Reina Sofia (Queen Sofia Museum) one of the newest art museums in Madrid. It is certainly worth the ticket and the wait.
Copyright 2012 Suzannah Wolf Walker all rights reserved
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