Author: Pablo Ruiz Picasso (Malaga, Spain, 25 October 1881 – Mougins, France, 8 April 1973)
Date: 1937 (May 1st – June 4th, Paris)
Genre: Group portrait
Technique: Oil painting
Dimension: 349,3 cm x 776,6 cm (height x width)
Location: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
When the pain occurs, when the bombs drop on the civilians, can we find out what art is really for?
If we want to find out this, our answer would be a painting, and it would be in Madrid right now.
In Madrid, one painting, one of the most known anti-war symbols, will make you forget everything you know about the art! It was undoubtedly not for those who wanted something easy on the eye! Nevertheless, it is the living embodiment of the pain! The painting is none other than Picasso’s epic depiction of what happened when German bombs fell on a small Basque town, Guernica, in the Spanish Civil War, hanging on the walls of the Reina Sofia Museum.
Even though we have a chance to see Guernica anyplace, how well do you know this work of art? If your answer carries even the slightest doubt, let’s get to grasp all the essential and compelling details of Picasso’s Guernica together!
AN ANGUISHED RESPONSE TO TRAGEDY AND SUFFERING OF WAR
Having a good day? Got anything planned for this afternoon? If I say we visit one of the most striking images of 20th-century art, Guernica, would you be up for it? If you would, come and join us to feel the warm breeze of the Mediterranean lands! Vamos!
Today our selection call us from Madrid. As we hurried on our way to get to the Reina Sofia Museum, which houses many imposing pieces of modern art, we found ourselves thinking about what makes great art great. Then, we entered the ornate Room 206.06 in the museum; one art piece, which could answer this question caught our eyes! Although, we have to make an extra effort not to notice the enormous canvas size “349,3 x 776,6 cm.”
As the one calls us to come closer, we are invigorated by our walk to the painting. And there it is! Before our very eyes, early Spanish painter Picasso‘s precious Guernica, the gigantic painting, allows the curiosity about its history to grow inside us!
Let’s attempt to get to know Guernica better by looking at its story first.
THE STORY OF GUERNICA
Hectic, terrifying, burning, screaming!
Something happened in the years 1936-1939, a human tragedy! Firstly, The civil war began in Spain between the Democratic-Republican Government and fascist forces, led by General Francisco Franco in 1936. The Civil War was vicious. Franco’s armies sweep through Spain. At first, Madrid, the attacked capital, holds out somehow. But later, a shell breaches the Prado Museum’s defenses.
On April 26, 1937, It was about four in the afternoon in the tiny city of Guernica, 15 miles from Bilbao, in the north of Spain; all of a sudden, a black spot appeared in the blue sky. Solitary plane wheels over the town then, almost casually, drop bombs. In Franco’s support, Hitler’s ruthless German air force dropped over 5,000 bombs on the defenseless village. When the people of Guernica escaped into the streets and fields, the pilot bombarded them with machine-gun fire. As a result of this, Guernica leveled to the ground!
It was history’s first aerial saturation bombing of the civilian population. The brutal attack killed hundreds of people (the number is not accurate, and reports vary between 200 and 1,700) and terribly wounded as many as 900 others.
Why Did Picasso Create Guernica?
In 1937, The Spanish Republican Government asked Picasso to paint an artwork for the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair. As a matter of fact, Pablo Picasso’s first thought was to select and send one of his paintings to the fair. The official theme of the exposition was a celebration of modern technology.
Meanwhile, Europe was in deep trouble, and fascism became powerful in the 20th century. Above all, two great wars took place, and these wars changed the political balances in the world, and as a result, civilians suffered too much.
On the other hand, Picasso was spending the beginning of this period away from politics and wars. There’s no tiny hint in his works. It seemed like the only war Picasso had ever fought had been with himself and his art on the way to leading up to Guernica. Therefore, He produced as much as he could make the revolution that he started with his artwork “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” permanent.
To point out this, One of his best friends called Picasso “The least political person I’ve ever known.” So, it is not that shocking, am I right?
When Picasso heard about Guernica, he felt personally assaulted, and he was suddenly protective of his ancestry. Sadly, all those Spanish masters, especially Goya, witnessed the troubles of war. Picasso painted Guernica in response to the 26 April 1937 attack of Guernica, Nazi Germany, and Fascist Italy bombed at the request of the Spanish Nationalists.
On May 1, 1937, news reached Paris. Afterward, Picasso decided to deliver to painting that will become Guernica to the Fair’s Spanish Pavilion. Then, On May 1, 1937, Pablo Picasso started to work intensely and made his first sketches. Here is how one of the 20th century’s most extraordinary artworks was born!
HOW DID PABLO PICASSO PAINT GUERNICA?
He worked with his canvas against the wall and completed the painting’s upper parts on a ladder. Even for Picasso, working on such a large canvas was challenging. We can understand the details of the painting process from the pictures taken by the photographer Dora Maar, with whom Picasso was together at that time.
GUERNICA IS CUBIST PAINTING
What is Cubism?
Cubism is an early-20th-century avant-garde art movement. As a matter of fact, Cubism was born against impressionism. But, like the other art movements, it emerged in France.
The Impressionists painted slices of everyday life in natural light: people on a picnic, a walk in the park, an outdoor summer dance. The impressionists blend and paint the impression from the image using colors and light.
Contrarily, Cubists wanted to replace the visible with the mind. In other words, Cubism could be called the artsy side of Einstein’s theory of relativity. All is relative; what you see depends upon your point of view!
In cubism, all is relative; what you see depends upon your point of view!
Did Pablo Picasso Invent Cubism?
Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso invented Cubism to observe all views of a person or an object at once, from any angle. Therefore, They rearranged forms, gave a new mean to them, and the resemblance sheared away—a different vision of something compact, solid, and firm. Since Renaissance art, painters gave a sense of depth with perspective, but cubists aimed to provide geometry.
Once, Picasso was said;
I’m getting beyond surface appearances, to the core.Pablo Picasso
What did you catch from your first glance? If you are unsure what you will say, it is normal because this painting is like solving a puzzle or making it from scratch.
Pyramid of writhing bodies, the wounded horse, the massive bull, the candlelight bearer, dead babies, distraught mothers, a single daisy, unmistakable puncture mark on the fallen warrior’s hand.
Before, We mentioned that the bombs destroyed the city, and everything became unclear, and also we said Cubism gives new forms to the object. In fact, with this unfortunate event, Guernica has changed in conditions just like Cubism. That is to say, Guernica had gone Cubist!
Now that we know its story and movement, it is time to examine it in detail. You are in front of the overwhelming canvas, and you feel like it wraps around you, immerses you. Later, You start to think, what is all the meaning of these larger-than-life figures, and what does Picasso want to tell us with this painting?
Firstly, since it emphasizes the Civilians’ suffering, Guernica is black and white. Pablo Picasso pictures Guernica as a night massacre, even though it was actually dead in the afternoon.
In addition, here, we are looking into a closed space like a room. We can guess from the door on the right of the painting. TIn addition, here, we are looking into a closed space like a room. We can guess from the door on the right of the painting. There are loads of puzzle-like figures waiting to be life-like to illustrate, a pyramid of writhing bodies, the wounded horse, the massive bull, the candlelight bearer, dead babies, distraught mothers, and a single daisy unmistakable puncture mark on the fallen warrior’s hand.
Hand or Plane?
In the first place, a woman, kneeling with arms outstretched, right in front of the door seems to escape from flames. According to us, if you look carefully at her right-hand looks like a plane. This reference is made directly to the planes bombing the city. Right above the woman, the window was placed, and who knows if it is a glimmer of hope or not? However, flames lick through the window in front of the figure, suggesting that the rest of the town is also under attack.
An Important Cultural Symbol of Spain
On the left of the painting, there is a massive bull. The bull usually signifies strength, and the bull or minotaur is a motif that the artist used many times in his work. Back then, Picasso witnessed the bulls’ suffering during the bullfight in his childhood, and later this pain found a place in Guernica. When looked carefully, another bull is located right behind this bull, attacking the horse. There is a pigeon between the bull and the horse also.
When you look at the bull’s tail is unclear whether the bull is twitching its tail or whether the tail is actually on fire.
Troubled Mother and Child
Below the giant bull, we see a troubled mother figure carrying her child in her arms. The disjointed style of the woman’s face conveys an impression of deep anguish. Her head is thrown back in a scream of despair, and Picasso has painted a spike for her tongue, a shape that expresses the most genuine form of her pain. Some associate this description of mother and child with Mary and child Jesus.
Floating Female Flies Through
The center of the painting is a person who seeps like smoke carrying a candle, and we can think of the city’s resistance, which will soon get obscure. This floating woman, whose style is reminiscent of Picasso’s surrealist work, could be bringing enlightenment to the scene. Yet her candle flame is next to the electric lightbulb, drawing attention to the significance of these juxtaposed symbols.
The Single Bulb Electric Light
The light source above the horse caused a lot of discussions. Some say it is like an eye; others say it is in the form of a bomb and refers to bombs rained on the city. In addition, its glow has a jagged edge and suggests a burst of light, surely a reference to the incendiary bombs that fell on Guernica. The light also resembles a colossal eye that observes everything, perhaps a symbol of the all-seeing eye of God.
The Wounded Horse
Another intriguing figure in Guernica is the wounded horse. The contorted head and neck of the horse form a dramatic image of panic. There is a spear stuck in its body. The horse may represent the civilians who were hit by deadly and their suffering. In fact, when asked for his interpretations of the images in the painting, Picasso said that the shrieking horse represented innocent people.
We see an arm holding a broken sword below the wounded horse, and the broken sword is a direct reference to death. The struggle is over, and death has prevailed. But you need to look carefully. There is a fainted flower above the hand, and it is one of the symbols of hope which is rare on the canvas. This flower bloomed on death.
Below the mother and dead child, there is an unmistakable puncture mark on the fallen warrior’s hand. Perhaps the most challenging image to interpret is the fallen soldier in the foreground. In his dismembered hand, he holds a broken sword, and a single, delicately drawn flower appears to be growing there; it might signify the faintest glimmer of hope. Some associate this mark with the stigmata of the martyred Christ.
Well, what brought this into Picasso’s head?
What was in Picasso’s head now was one more indelible image of the agony of his nation. And one which every Spaniard would have known, Goya’s May 3, 1808. The defiant rebel’s arms flung wide like the crucified Christ and the stigmata appearing on his opened palm in one of Goya’s masterpieces. Specialists consider that Goya’s painting of May 3 inspired Picasso.
To emphasize the focal points of light shadow contrast in the picture, we know that it highlights the beauty and adds a noble air to the figures. But in this case, the areas illuminated in these two pictures are directly related to death.
THE HIDDEN MESSAGGE IN GUERNICA
Picasso has approved none of the messages we have given above. In fact, Picasso, who was naturally approached for an explanation, said, “This bull is a bull, and this horse is a horse.”
“If you give a meaning to certain things in my paintings, it may be very true, but it is not my idea to give this meaning. What ideas and conclusions you have got, I obtained too, but instinctively, unconsciously. I make the painting for the painting. I paint the objects for what they are,” Picasso added.
GUERNICA PAINTING SO FAMOUS
A Cubist commotion, yet also a classical monument! Displaying everybody’s known fact, drawing you in at first glance, every precise detail, having a strong statement against war, and last but not least, growing to stand for war atrocities experienced worldwide make Guernica such a famous painting.
WHERE IS GUERNICA NOW?
Guernica does not create the impact that Picasso anticipated at the 1937 Paris world fair. Perhaps people who were hesitant to talk about a painting that he made with a political theme might have perceived it this way. Two years after Guernica, Franco was victorious in Spain, and fascism eviscerated Europe.
In 1944, after four years of a grueling war, Paris was liberated from Nazi occupation, and Picasso was free to meet an adoring public. And how they flocked to the studio, craving for stories about Guernica’s creation. Picasso once described the creative process as a kind of complete emptying. He’d put so much of everything he had to offer to the world into Guernica.
In 1981, with Franco dead and democracy at last alive, Guernica found its way home to Spain. But, unfortunately, Picasso never witnessed its return, having died eight years before.
A MIRROR OF THE SUFFERING OF CIVILIANS!
As early as 1939, when World War II broke out, he was surveilled by Nazis, due at least in part to Guernica’s resounding message. It’s said that a Nazi soldier once visited Picasso’s Paris studio, pointed to the reproduction of Guernica on the wall, and asked the artist.
“Did you do this?” he says.
”Oh, no,” says Picasso. ”You did.”
”Go on, take one. Souvenir”
What a remarkable comeback, isn’t it?
WHAT CAN ART DO WHEN DID THE BOMBS START DROPPING?
It can instruct us on the obligations of being human.
In all the ways that counted,
Picasso had won, art had won, humanity had won.
So here we finished examining Guernica, one of the most known symbols of anti-war. It was not for those who wanted something easy on the eye!
At this moment, finishing with his quotes;
”Painting is not there merely to decorate the walls of flats. It is a means of waging offensive and defensive war against the enemy.”Pablo Picasso
Last but not least, if you are intrigued by art, we will have a blast seeing you here. ı hope every art-related thing will find you. Hope to see you in our following review ????????✌
PS: I suggest you read the success and failure of Picasso by the art critic John Berger.