Picasso with a brush in the studio at Grands-Augustins, Photo taken by Dora Maar, 1937.
Instead of recapitulating dogmatically the art historical writings surrounding Pablo Picasso’s life (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973) and his contribution to the art world( e.g. cubism, surrealism), this blog series seeks to focus on an iconic and still, a relatively unknown work of art for much of the world. Guernica (1937), by Pablo Picasso is an oil on canvas work measuring 349 cm × 776 cm and currently located in the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain. This painting was commissioned by the Spanish Government for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. Picasso as well as Joan Miro were asked to paint great murals for Spain’s pavilion, and in the midst of the offensive bombardment of Franco’s Nationalist Party the pavilion was deemed, “A home for democracy.”¹
The Spanish Civil War is in many ways a precursor to World War II. Some 500,000 people were killed as a result of assassinations, battles, and concentration camps. In the end, Franco and his fascist regime were victorious and by 1939 most world governments recognized him as the head of the Spanish government. Picasso was no lover of Franco and we can see his reaction to the Franco lead coup d’etat appearing as early as January 8, 1937 in a series of sketches titled, Songes et Mesonges de Franco or “Dreams and Lies of Franco.”
Songes et Mensonges de Franco, Pablo Picasso, Plate Etchings, 8 Jan. 1937.
Songes et Mensonges is a sardonic, comic style narrative that bears striking resemblance to Picasso’s Guernica and can be viewed as prototypical of “what’s to come.” The agony, contorted faces and bodies, and the metamorphosis from human to animal to abstract is a theme he seems to be exploring.(Note: The last four plates were added after Guernica was finished)
Guernica, Spain (Gernika as spelled by Basques):
April 26, 1937, three squadrons of German bombers approached the borders of Guernica approximately a half an hour before sundown. The “V” shaped arrangements of planes hovered over carrying a overwhelming amount of bombs and incendiaries; more than enough to level Guernica, the oldest Basques city in Spain. It is estimated that 300 to 1000 people died due to the carpet bombing raids. Those that fled the city were mowed down by machine gun fire. Guernica was not a strategic attack for Franco and his allies, it was a warning siren amplified through destruction and extermination.
The horrific events spelled out the massive amount of carnage the ensuing war would bring. Air raid bombings on defenseless civilians, hell bent on showing the might of the oppressor. The senseless violence on animals and property only added insult to injury, and through the madness, Pablo Picasso found his muse. This time not in the form of lustful women, but in the outrage and reaction to the unabashed hatred on his fellow countrymen. Five days later, Picasso would find inspiration in the most unholy of events and sketching in what must have been a fervor of emotional outpouring. Forty plus sketches were completed in Picasso’s study for Guernica, and by the 9th of May 1937, the first outline was drawn out in large format.
|1.||W.J.H.B. Sandberg, “Picasso’s ‘Guernica’,” Daedalus, Vol. 89, No. 1, The Visual Arts Today (Winter, 1960): 245-252, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20026564|
|2.||Richard Rhodes, “Guernica: Horror and Inpiration,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 69(6), Sage Publications (2013): 19-25.|