#art, «Guernica» Let’s Take a Look

(Photo- Dora Maar, Museo Nacional Cetro de Arte Reina Sofía)


«Guernica» was bought from Picasso, by the Spanish Republic in 1937. However, due to the start of WWII, Picasso decide that the painting should remain in the custody of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) of New York until the war would be over. In 1958 Picasso renewed the contract with the MoMA for an indefinite amount of time, or until democracy was re-established in Spain. In 1981 the painting was finally returned to Spain after it was proven that Spain paid for the painting.

This article is for all of those who ask themselves, what is “Guernica”? Why is this painting so important? Or who just don’t really understand this great work of art. Well, let me try to form an analysis and with it try to explain some of its more interesting aspects and specifically its history. Maybe then next time you see it you can appreciate it more fully.

Guernica” is considered one of the most moving paintings ever made against wars. It describes, in a gentile manner, the horrors of this, the stupidest of man’s inventions. It’s creation was prompted by the bombing of the city of Guernika, in Euskadi, (Basque Country), during the Spanish Civil War by German aviation. I think its power to move hearts and minds comes from its colours: black and white, and its intention to be generic and thus become universal. Why black and white? Simply those were the colours of 1936, the colours of the time.

Reference its anti-war statement, don’t go thinking that Picasso painted it because he was an activist, or because he wanted to make a political statement, no, not at all. Picasso was not a political painter and he never even showed an interest in the Spanish Civil War or by that token, the Spanish Republic. Picasso, was an anecdotal, autobiographical painter who loved to paint his surroundings, his family, his women and his love of tauromachy (bullfighting). He never painted anything that had to do with the politics of his time, and he did live through quite turbulent times indeed.

«Guernica” was a commission made by the Spanish Republic (founded in 1931) so that they could exhibit it in the Paris Expo (Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne) of 1937 and they paid Picasso 200,000 Francs.

According to Max Aub, Picasso refused to accept the money and supposedly took only enough to cover expenses. Max Aub Mohrenwitz (1903-1972), born in Paris, was an experimental novelist, playwright, poet and literary critic. The government of the Spanish Republic, during the Spanish Civil War, placed him as cultural attaché to Paris and charged him with the responsibility of placing “Guernica” in the Paris Expo.

And don’t get confused because the painting does not narrate the actual bombing of Guernika. The painting is strictly symbolic in spirit and composition. It was painted in black and white, as previously stated, in an enormous canvas. It describes the suffering of those, who while being non-combatants, fall, die, lose parents, husbands, sons and friends who are sent to fight.

There is where the power behind this painting lies, as it does not show you the blood and guts of wounded, dying soldiers, it becomes an international symbol of the suffering caused by all wars. And through that gentle, yet impactful manner, it reminds us of the suffering of those who stay behind and who suffer for those whose fate us unknown or who are never coming back.

Now, where did Picasso get the idea to paint “Guernica” the way that he did? It is quite possible that he used his 1935 aqua fort “La Minotauromaquia” as his inspiration. In that work we find many of the elements that later formed part of “Guernica”. We see very similar figures, e.g. the woman with the candle, the head of the bull, the window, and the horse, and a similar placing of these elments in the composition. With “La Minotauromaquia” in mind Picasso was ready to compose his masterpiece.

In “Guernica” there is a woman who cries and I ask myself if that is not Dora Maar? After all I do seem to see a certain resemblance to her. Dora Maar, the poet, photographer, artist was asked by Picasso to document the creation of the painting. She was also his lover at the time. Picasso always considered Dora to be the crying woman and that was how he painted her in the many portraits he did of her. However, her close friends attest to the fact that she certainly was not a woman brought to tears easily.

Now, although it is very impactful to see «Guernica» in person, for me what seems to be more exciting is the process which is captured in Dora Maar’s photographs. She captured Picasso well engaged in the artistic search and that is indeed how a painting gets done. Through her photo-documentation we see, in real time, an artist’s creative process at work. Her photography followed, step by step, how the painter turned this huge canvas, almost 4 metres by 8 metres into the most important work of art to stand firmly against all wars.

These are just but a couple of Dora Maar’s photographs. To see the entire process you must visit the museum, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid.

(Photo- Dora Maar, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía)
(Photo- Dora Maar, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía)

Picasso sketched hundreds of ideas for this painting. That, of course is part of the process. Art is not intuitive, it is contrived, planned, developed and within the context of the idea and the representation there is inherent a philosophy, coherent with the times, which makes each painting valuable ad infinitum. That is the spirit in the art and without it the painting will just pass as a fad of the times and will soon be obsolete and forgotten.  Art is visual philosophy, a message as well as a language, all in all a complex endeavour.

(Picasso’s sketch #1 – 1937)
(Sketch for Guernica by Picasso, 1937/Photo Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía)
(Picasso’s sketch for «Guernica» 1937)

Guernica” hangs at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. It is worth the trip. It is an inspiration and an experience to actually stand at the end of the room to look at this amazing painting.

(Guernika after the Nazi air attack of 26 APR 1937-Photo Biblioteca Nacional La Razón)

The statements, ideas, opinions I have expressed here are mine and I know that they are shared by many in the art world, though not by all. To confirm any of these statements is easy enough. To know that Picasso was not an activist or a political artist, all one has to do is to visit the Picasso museums in Malaga, and in Barcelona. Take a good, close look at his work and you will see that the body of his work is autobiographical, somewhat like an Instagramer today. Reference the money he got for “Guernica” and the fact that it was commissioned by the Spanish Republic, well there are plenty of records of that online. Finally the resemblance to “La Minotauromaquia” is quite easily seen if one takes a look at the work.

(Pablo Picasso «La Minotauromachie» 1935 – Photo Credits: © Succession Picasso
Créditos fotográficos : Georges Meguerditchian – Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI /Dist. RMN-GP
Referencia de la imagen : 4N04571/Difusión de la imagen : l’Agence Photo de la RMN)


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14 Comentarios

  1. vermavkv dice:

    Nice information with great paintings.

    Me gusta

  2. FromTheStars dice:

    excelente artìculo. muy actual. saludos y muchas gracias. 🙂

    Le gusta a 1 persona

    1. Muchísimas gracias y un saludo. 😊🙏😊

      Le gusta a 1 persona

  3. pedmar10 dice:

    Bueno bueno de un conocedor de las partes lo que no te dicen pero ellos lo saben creo puedes entender esto: Ok ok by a well knowing person of all sides from what they do not tell you but they/he knows believe you can understand this
    Fronte della Gioventù Comunista – Torino, 47 anni fa moriva Pablo Picasso. Ha fatto conoscere al mondo l’orrore di Guernica, bombardata con un atto criminale dall’aviazione della Germania nazista in supporto ai franchisti nel 1937, disegnata con la sua firma nello storico logo del World Peace Council, promosso dal 1950 dal movimento comunista internazionale. Fu membro del Partito Comunista Francese, a cui si iscrisse nel 1944 dopo essere stato testimone per ben due volte, in Spagna e nella Francia occupata, della brutalità del fascism

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    1. Gracias por tu aporte, siempre bienvenido y agradecido. Si, todos sabemos que Picasso era miembro del partido comunista, pero nunca fue militante, ni tampoco anduvo por ahi promulgando las ideas de esos canallas. Tambien fue abusador, maltratador de mujeres y quien sabe que otras cosas mas, pero a mi lo que me interesa de Picasso es su obra pictórica, sus ideas concerniente al arte y su filosofía artística, no política. Yo, por ejemplo, soy un pintor católico , apostólico y romano y enemigo del comunismo, pero eso no lo tengo que meter en mi vida artística. Admiro a Picasso, reconozco el crimen cometido contra los civiles de Guernika y detesto las guerras, aunque he estado en algunas de ellas. Un abrazo amigo Pedro.

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      1. pedmar10 dice:

        De nada solo un apunte que el arte hay veces que jode militar ya es suficiente los buenos nunca lo fuimos. Solo eso que la historia es la fundacion de la historia a buen entendedor.

        Le gusta a 1 persona

      2. Claro, como dicen, a buen entendedor, pocas palabras. Un abrazo y gracias, espero seguir leyendo tus comentarios.
        Saludos de España.

        Le gusta a 1 persona

      3. pedmar10 dice:

        Igualmente, saludos Bretones kenavo ::)

        Le gusta a 1 persona

  4. equipsblog dice:

    Extremely well done, Francisco. I totally agree with you and think you have done a masterful job in documenting your conclusions.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

    1. Thank you 🙏🏻 so much Pat!

      Le gusta a 1 persona

  5. equipsblog dice:

    You’re welcome.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  6. Easymalc dice:

    Thanks you for an excellent article Francesc. You’ve explained it brilliantly

    Le gusta a 1 persona

    1. Thank you so much Malc!

      Le gusta a 1 persona

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