Picasso's Guernica and the Political Events of the Spanish Civil War In the 1930s
Picasso's Guernica, Dali and the Spanish Civil War
The main political event of the 1930’s after the triumphs of Stalin and Hitler was the Spanish Civil War. Picasso painted the portable mural ‘Guernica’, 1937, oil on canvas, 349 x 777cm for the Spanish Republic pavilion. This painting commemorated the bombing of the Basque capital of Guernica by the German Condor Legion which was the first aerial attack by a civilian population on 26thApril 1937, during the Spanish Civil War.
Picasso was aware that art practises were evolving and leaning towards social realism which is basically realistic representations of subjects by giving them political or social implications. Due t the Russian Revolution and the rise of Nazism, avant Garde art was now seen as too elitist. Art now had to be accessible to the proletariat, rather than stifling avant garde artists like Picasso, many saw the Realist movement as good way of depicting social injustices to the masses.
‘Guernica’ shows the influence of the universal realist movement in that it can be seen to depict a scene of carnage. To the left of the picture we can see a wailing woman holding her dead child with the bull above her showing Cubist techniques in its multi faceted depiction. This suggests that Picasso wanted to fuse his modernist original techniques with realism. In the centre of the painting is a depicted man with a broken sword in his right hand, that, and the newsprint depiction shown on the horse that is trampling him to death, could suggest that the written word is mightier than the sword in conveying the truth of an atrocity such as the bombing if Guernica. This inference is further heightened by the lights on top and to the side of the horse. It is relevant that the mural is depicted in black and white because that, combined with the written words on the horse, suggests that Picasso wanted the public to show that this is a factual account, such as what you would read in newspapers, of what happened in Guernica.
Dali was unlike Picasso a Surrealist artist. Surrealism was a broad intellectual movement that began in Paris in the early 1920’s it included painters, poets and photographers. Surrealism was most prevalent in the arts between the Second World War and Spanish Civil War. It embraced the psychoanalytical (reality of the inner mind manifested in dreams) investigations of Sigmund Freud and the political ideology of Karl Marx. The term Surrealism although coined by the French writer Guillame Apollinaire was adopted by the very influential writer Andre Breton. We can see the influence of dream analysis in Salvador Dali’s painting ‘Soft Construction with Boiled Beans – Premonition of Civil War’ 1936, oil on canvas, 100 x 99cm. The painting was completed six months before the Spanish Civil War broke out, which shows the influence of Freud, suggesting its hidden contents can be compared to the containment of Freudian desires and dreams. Many of Dali’s paintings depict Spanish landscapes another sign of his patriotism towards his motherland. The intense shading on the gigantic body’s top right hand limb shows Dali’s adherence to Giorgio de Chiroco’s painting techniques of exaggerated perspective and schematic modelling. Chiroco had influenced many Surrealist artists and clearly Dali was no exception. The beans in the foreground are reminiscent of maggots eating the limb on the ground, which is suggestive of death. The dismembered huge body can be compared to the tearing apart of the old traditional Catholic Spain. The Giant female face (mother Spain?) grimaces in painful struggle (note the sinews in the neck straining with exertion) as a work worn calloused hand holds onto her breast. Taken in this context, the cabinet underneath the body could be representative of the new more liberated ideals for Spain after the Civil War.