Title of Artwork: “Guernica”
Artwork by Pablo Picasso
Year Created 1937
Summary of Guernica
When Pablo Picasso painted Guernica in June 1937, it was big enough to cover an entire wall. It was done at his home on Rue des Grands Augustins in Paris. When people look at the painting, they think it’s one of the most powerful anti-war paintings ever made. It has a grey, black, and white colour palette and is very moving. The large mural is 3.49 metres (11 ft 5 in) tall and 7.76 metres (25 ft 6 in) wide. It shows the pain of people who have been hurt by violence and chaos. A gored horse, a bull, and flames are some of the main things in the picture.
All Hidden Symbols & Meanings In Picasso’s Guernica
All About Guernica
During World War II, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy bombed Guernica, a village in the Basque Country in northern Spain. The painting was made in response. People saw Guernica in Paris and other places after it was finished. It was at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (Paris International Exposition) at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. The travelling show was used to raise money for people in Spain who were hurt in the war. The painting became famous and well-liked, and it helped bring attention to the Spanish Civil War around the world.
In January 1937, the Spanish Republican government asked Picasso to make a big mural for the Spanish display at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. During this time, Picasso was living in Paris, where he had been named Honorary Director of the Prado Museum while he lived outside of the country. He had last been to Spain in 1934 and never came back. His first sketches for the project, which he worked on from January to late April, show his favourite subject, the artist’s studio.
Poet Juan Larrea went to Picasso right away after hearing about the bombing of Guernica on April 26. He told him to make the bombing his subject. On May 1, after reading George Steer’s account of the bombing in both the Times and the New York Times on April 28, he decided to give up on his original project and start sketching preliminary drawings for Guernica.
Guernica is a town in the province of Biscay in the Basque Country, and it is in the country of Spain. Before and during the Spanish Civil War, it was thought to be a stronghold for Republicans and Basque culture, which made it a target.
The Republican forces were made up of different groups (Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, and so on) with different goals, but they were all against the Nationalists. Some people called themselves Nationalists. They were led by the general, Francisco Franco, who wanted a return to pre-Republican Spain that was based on law, order, and Catholic values.
German warplanes bombed Guernica for about two hours on Monday, April 26, 1937. They were led by Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen. Germany, led by Hitler at the time, had given the Nationalists money and other help. Later, a lot of intense aerial bombardment was an important part of the Blitzkrieg tactic.
Because most of the men in Guernica were away fighting for the Republicans, the town was mostly made up of women and children when it was bombed. These demographics show up in Guernica. Guernica is an image of innocent, defenceless people who have been hurt.
Rudolf Arnheim says that for Picasso, the women and children make it that way. Women and children, on the other hand, have often been shown by Picasso as the very best of mankind. Picasso thinks that attacking women and children is a way to get to the heart of people.
People around the world learned about
this event thanks to the Times reporter George Steer, who was a supporter of the Basque and Republican movements in Spain. There was a story about Steer’s eyewitness account in both The Times and The New York Times on 28 April. On the 29th, it was in L’Humanité, a French Communist newspaper. Steer said that:
It was insurgent air raiders who completely destroyed Guernica, the oldest town in the Basque country and the centre of their culture and history, yesterday afternoon. The bombardment of this open town far behind the lines lasted three and a half hours.
During that time, a powerful fleet of three types of German planes, Junkers and Heinkel bombers, kept dropping bombs on the town. It is estimated that more than 3,000 two-pounder aluminium incendiary projectiles were dropped. Fighters, on the other hand, came down low from above the town centre to machinegun civilians who had fled to the fields for safety.
People like Picasso lived in Paris during World War II when the city was under German rule. A common story is that a German officer asked Picasso, “Did you do that?” when he saw a picture of Guernica in his apartment. Picasso said, “No, you did.”
Guernica was painted with a matte house paint that was made especially for Picasso’s request to have the least amount of gloss possible. John Ferren, an American artist, helped Picasso prepare the huge canvas.
Dora Maar, a photographer who had been working with Picasso since mid-36, took pictures of his studio and taught him how to take pictures without a camera. John Richardson, an art historian, says that Maar’s photos “helped Picasso to eschew colour and give the work the black-and-white immediacy of a picture.”
Picasso, who didn’t let many people into his studio to watch him work, let a few important people in to see how he was progressing on Guernica. He thought the publicity would help the anti-fascist cause. As he worked on the mural, Picasso said: “The Spanish struggle is a fight against the people, against freedom. It’s a fight against the people.”
My whole life as an artist has been a fight against the people who don’t like art and the people who want to kill art. How could anyone think for a second that I would agree with reaction and death for a second? Guernica: In this painting and in all of my other recent works, I clearly show my disgust with the military caste that has sunk Spain into an ocean of pain and death. This painting is called Guernica.
It took Picasso 35 days to finish the painting.
There is a room in which the scene takes place, and on the left, a bull with wide eyes stands over a grieving woman who has a dead child in her arms. It looks like a spear or javelin ran through the horse’s side, leaving a big hole in its side. The horse is in so much pain that it can’t move. It looks like the horse is wearing chain mail armour with vertical tally marks that are arranged in rows.
A dead and dismembered soldier is on the ground under the horse, and it is very sad. They hold a broken sword in his right hand. A flower grows from it. In his left hand, there is a symbol of martyrdom, like the stigma on Christ’s body. A light bulb in the shape of an eye shines over the head of the horse that is hurting.
To the horse’s upper right, the head and right arm of a woman who is scared appear to have floated into the room through a window. She sees the scene. Right now, she has a flame-lit lamp in her right hand. She holds it near the bare bulb. From the right, below the person who was there, an awestruck woman stumbles toward the centre, staring at the blazing light bulb with a blank look.
Daggers that look like screams have replaced the tongues of the horse, the bull, and the woman who is sad. A dove is written on the wall behind the bull. Part of its body is a crack in the wall through which bright light from the outside shines in from outside.
Across the far right, a fourth woman has her arms raised in terror, her head thrown back and her mouth wide open. She is trapped by fire from above and below. This is what her right hand looks like.
The right side of the room is marked by a dark wall and an open door.
In Guernica, there are two “hidden” images of the horse that you can see.
A human skull is on top of the horse’s body.
A bull looks like it’s going after the horse from under. The bull’s head is mostly made up of the horse’s whole front leg, which has the knee on the ground. The nose of the head is made by the knee cap of the leg. This is how it looks. A horn comes out of the horse’s chest. The bull’s tail looks like a flame with smoke coming out of it, and it looks like it’s in a window made by the lighter grey around it.
Interpretations of Guernica can be very different and even disagree with each other. These two main parts of the mural, the bull and the horse, are an example. In art, Patricia Failing said that the bull and the horse are important in Spanish culture.
It’s very likely that Picasso himself used these characters to play a lot of different roles over the years. This has made it very hard to figure out what the bull and the horse mean. Their relationship is like a dance that was thought up in many different ways by Picasso over the course of his life.
Picasso said that when he was asked to explain the things in Guernica, he said: There is a bull and a horse. In my paintings, you may be right if you think some of the things have a certain meaning. It isn’t my idea to give these things a certain meaning. What ideas and conclusions you’ve come up with, I’ve also come up with, but without thinking about it. I make the painting so that I can paint it. I paint things as they are.
In The Dream and the Lie of Franco, which Picasso also made for the World’s Fair, Franco is depicted as a monster who first eats his own horse and then fights an angry bull. They were drawn before Guernica was bombed. There were four more panels added, three of which were related to the Guernica mural.
History experts agree on the following interpretations: “The bodies’ shape and posture show protest”; the black, white, and grey paint set a sombre mood and express pain and chaos; the flames in the painting show the destruction of Guernica, but they also show the destructive power of civil war; the newspaper print used in the painting shows how Picasso learned about the painting.
Alejandro Escalona said, “The chaos seems to happen in small spaces, which makes me feel very oppressed.” Nobody can get out of the cityscape that looks like a dream. In this scene, there is no colour, which makes it even more frightening. This is especially true because you’re used to seeing war images broadcast live and in high-definition right in your own living room.
Preliminary studies, known as the “primary project,” show an atelier setting with a central triangular shape. This shape appears again in the final version of Guernica. Becht-Jördens and Wehmeier say that the painting is a self-referential composition in the tradition of atelier paintings like Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas.
This piece of work by Picasso seems to show him trying to figure out what his role and power are as an artist in the face of political power and violence. But instead of being just a political painting, Guernica should be seen as a comment by Picasso on how art can help people be more self-confident and protect them from things like political crime, war, and death.
Before 1968, Franco said that he would like to have Guernica in Spain. Picasso, on the other hand, didn’t want to let this happen until the Spanish people again had a government. A few more things came later, like the restoration of “public liberties and democratic institutions.” Picasso died in 1973, and he was born in 1890. Two years after Franco, who was ten years younger than Picasso at the time, died in 1975, he died.
After Franco died, Spain became a democratic constitutional monarchy that was backed by a new constitution that was signed into law in 1978. However, the Museum of Modern Art didn’t want to give up one of its most important pieces. They said that a monarchy didn’t represent the republic that Picasso had said was a condition for the painting’s delivery. Under a lot of pressure from a lot of people, the painting was given to Spain in 1981. Spain’s historian Javier Tusell was one of the people who talked about the deal.
At the Casón del Buen Retiro in Madrid, where Picasso was born 100 years ago on October 25, 1981, it was first shown behind bomb- and bullet-proof glass. In the first year, almost a million people went to the show. As long as I can remember, there has never been any attempt to vandalise the painting or do anything else to protect the painting.
An old tiled wall in the city of Gernika says “Guernica” Gernikara, which means “The Guernica (painting) to Gernika.”
When the painting was done in 1992, it was moved from the Museo del Prado in Madrid to a new gallery at Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofa. It was also moved with about two dozen prep
aratory works. This was a big deal in Spain, because Picasso’s will said that the painting should go on display at the Prado.
There was a reason why the Prado’s art collections were moved to other nearby buildings. The Reina Sofa, which houses Spain’s national collection of art from the 20th century and is close by, was a good place to move it. At the Reina Sofia, the painting is protected about the same as any other piece of art.
Some Basque nationalists have said that the picture should be brought to the Basque Country. This is because the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum has been built there. People at the Reina Sofa say the canvas is now thought to be too fragile to move, so they can’t. Even the people who work at the Guggenheim don’t think it’s possible to permanently move the painting to Bilbao, even though the Basque government is still in favour of a temporary show there.
There is a full-size tapestry copy of Picasso’s Guernica at the United Nations in New York City. It was made by Jacqueline de la Baume Dürrbach. It isn’t as monochromatic as the original and has a lot of different shades of brown in it, making it less like the original.
From 1985 to 2009, the Guernica tapestry was on show. In 2015, it came back. Original: Nelson Rockefeller bought the tapestry in 1955, but Picasso refused to sell it to him. The tapestry was loaned to the UN by the Rockefeller estate in 1985.
To hide the work that was going on at the United Nations on February 5, 2003, a big blue curtain was put up. This way, when Colin Powell and John Negroponte were giving press conferences and arguing for war on Iraq, they wouldn’t see the UN in the background.
On the next day, UN officials said that the curtain was put there at the request of TV news crews, who said that the wild lines and screaming figures made a bad backdrop, and that a horse’s hindquarters were just above the faces of any speakers who spoke.
However, some diplomats say that the Bush administration told UN officials to cover the tapestry, rather than let it be in the background while Powell or other US diplomats talked about war with Iraq.
This is what they told journalists. Columnist Alejandro Escalona thought that Guernica’s “unappealing mix of mutilated bodies and distorted faces” made it hard to explain why the US was going to war in Iraq to the rest of the world. He called the work “an inconvenient masterpiece.”
After some major work was done at the UN’s main office, Marie Okabe made an announcement on March 17, 2009, that the Guernica tapestry had been moved to an art gallery in London. For the reopening of the Whitechapel Gallery, the Guernica tapestry was the main thing people looked at when they came.
It was in the ‘Guernica room’, which was part of the old Whitechapel Library and used to be there. During 2012, the tapestry was on loan to the San Antonio Museum of Art in Texas. It came from the Rockefeller family and was shown there. It was given back to the UN by March 2015. He took the tapestry back to him in February 2021, when he was the owner of it. In February 2022, it was put back on the wall outside of the UN Security Council, where it had been for years.
It was a symbol for Spaniards in the 1970s that both the Franco regime was over after Franco died and that Basque nationalism was alive and well. The Basque left has used this picture a lot. An example is the group Etxerat, which has a picture of the lamp upside down as its symbol. Since then, Guernica has become a powerful and universal symbol of the pain and destruction caused by war. As a result, the message of the attack is timeless and universal.
This is what an art historian and curator said about Picasso’s work in 1960. W. J. H. B. Sandberg said that in Guernica, Picasso used expressionist and cubist techniques together to create a new language. “Expressionistic”: Sandberg said that Guernica used “the language of cubism” to make a point about the cruelty of the air raid.
For Sandberg, the painting’s most important cubist features were its use of diagonals, which made the painting’s setting “ambiguous, unreal, inside and outside at the same time,” as Sandberg put it. Pablo Picasso tried to show the truth “so viscerally and permanently that it could outlast all the lies of the age of dictators,” says British art critic Jonathan Jones. In 2016, Jones called the painting “a Cubist apocalypse.”
Goshka Macuga’s The Nature of the Beast (2009–2010) used the United Nations Guernica tapestry that is kept at the Whitechapel. The Keiskamma Guernicas (2010–2017) and Erica Luckert’s theatrical production of Guernica (2011–2012) were also inspired by Guernica. A history of art and design called Guernica Remakings was on display at the University of Brighton gall
eries from July 29 to August 23, 2017. Dr. Nicola Ashmore, an art and design historian, organised the show.
All Hidden Symbols & Meanings In Picasso’s Guernica