Last week on Tuesday we had been given a lecture on the painting Guernica, made in 1937, by Pablo Picasso. Picasso was a Spanish painter, sculptor and ceramicist whom is widely regarded as the leader of the Cubist movement. He created 20,000 artworks in his lifetime.
The Guernica is regarded as a masterpiece and the best of any other paintings that are anti-war statements of modern art. The painting was a celebration of an ending of the Spanish Civil War and was put on display in the Spanish Pavilion in Paris, 1937. The painting was made to be 25 feet long in width and 10-11 feet in height.
As an artist in that time of political debate and awareness in Europe, it was dangerous to be a formalist painter and be politically engaged at the same time. Picasso decided to make use of the style of his earlier cubist paintings and create a piece which would be surrealist and abstract to reflect on the fracture of Spain during and after the civil war. It was a memorial of those innocent civilians lives who had been taken by fascism and communism. The advantage of this painting which makes the viewer so engaged by it is the ability to be able to recognise objects and beings within the painting. This recognition is slowed down by the abstract nature of the painting.
The abstract and fractured images within the painting include a bull to represent the tradition of bull fighting, a woman with a dead child which replicates the loss of the innocent, a broken statue which symbolises the loss of history in Spain because of the bombings, and injured man and a horse to represent the violence of the war and the impact it had on so many peoples’ lives. The lightbulb towards the centre of the painting at the top, could be representative of a bomb. ‘Bombia’ is Spanish for Electric bulb. And considering the empowering placement of the symbol, it replicates the destructive power of a bomb and the impact it has on the culture and innocence of a city. In which case it was the city of Guernica that was bombed. Symbols of hope within the painting include the pigeon in-between the horse and the bull, the rose being held by the dying soldier, and the candle being held by the woman climbing out of the window. The woman’s face appears to be in a state of shock and is widely regarded as a ghostly representation of the Spanish Republic. To the right of the painting is an man who appears to be pleading to the sky, perhaps begging for the German planes to stop bombing, and in despair as to the loss of so many innocent lives destroyed by the bombings.
Franco the Prime Minister and dictator of Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975, was aided by other fascists around Europe to bomb the town of Guernica on the 26th of April in the afternoon. The sole purpose of this incident was to see what effect the event had on the morale of the enemy. The bombs that were used were German Incendiary bombs. The event lasted for three hours and destroyed three quarters of the buildings in the town. This attack was the start of a time that would set the pattern in how cities and towns were destroyed by the effect of war across Europe.
Picasso was approached by the Republican Government to commission him with the task of creating the painting. Picasso started work in May of 1937 and completed it in June that same year.
After being displayed in the Spanish Pavilion in Paris that year, the painting has toured the world, being shown in museums and galleries. After many years the painting became too fragile to move and Picasso became unwilling to sell the masterpiece as he felt it was destined to stay in Spain as a memorial of those lives that had been lost that afternoon of the 26th April.
Norman Rockefeller had offered a hefty price for the painting, yet given the circumstances of Picasso’s decision, a tapestry was made as a copy of the painting. Because of the fabric that was used for the tapestry, the colours differentiated to the original painting. Instead, in the tapestry, there were golds, creams and beiges. Ever since, the tapestry has been on loan to the UN Building in New York. In April of 2009 the tapestry was then loaned to the Whitechapel Gallery as an exhibition piece in the re-opening of the gallery in April 2009. The original painting was displayed in London for the only time in 1939 in the same gallery.