A visit to Madrid recently meant an opportunity to see Picasso’s great anti-war statement “Guernica.” Painted in 1937 the painting was commissioned by the Spanish Government for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris World Fair. The subject matter was to become Picasso’s reaction to the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica, which was attacked by Falangist Forces aided by German and Italian bombers under the direction of General Franco during the Spanish Civil War. The painting is mural sized, painted in black and white; measures 11ft by 26ft and Picasso completed it in just 5 weeks.
The picture depicts the agony and destruction suffered by the people of Guernica on the night of the bombing, which destroyed three quarters of the town and was directed at the civilian population as an act of terror. So famous has the image become as a symbol of the futility of war, that the United Nations tapestry version had to be covered up with a blue curtain when Colin Powell gave press conferences at the UN arguing for War on Iraq. After the Paris Fair, the painting travelled around Europe before finally arriving in America. It was then to remain in the Museum of Modern Art in New York until according to Picasso’s instructions it could be returned to Spain when democracy was restored. The painting was eventually returned in 1981 and housed in an extension of the Prado where it was viewed behind glass and guarded by soldiers with machine guns. In 1992 the painting was again moved and this time to the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid’s old General Hospital converted to a Contemporary Art Gallery, where it has been decided it will now remain.
An adjoining room contains some of the 45 studies Picasso did for the picture and the development of the painting can be clearly seen. Photographs are discouraged in the Gallery itself out of respect for the scenes depicted, as the affair must remain still in the memory of the Spanish people. However. it is possible as every OCA visual arts student will know, to stand in front of a picture and record it in your sketchbook.
Artist’s sketchbook drawing made in the gallery –
Guernica- Gallery View
Side View of Guernica, with Picassos’s Sculpture ‘Women in the Garden’ 1932 in the foreground. The painting dominates the Gallery, with the only other pictures accompanying it being the photographs that Dora Mar took of the canvas in its various stages of creation.
Art and Commerce
For the tourist, Madrid is rich in Art Galleries and paintings, the most famous museum is the ‘Prado’ where works by great Spanish Artists can be found from Goya to El Greco, Zurbaran, Murillo and Ribera. The most famous of all is Valazquez and his great painting Las Meninas. As is the way with popular works of art it can now be found on tea towels, biscuit tins and other tourist memorabilia. Not to be out done and to reflect its status as a tourist attraction the same fate has now unfortunately overtaken Guernica. Where once it reminded the world of man’s inhumanity to man, its images can now be found on the dinner tables of the world.
However, salt and pepper cruets derived from this particular painting, do seem a tasteless addition to tourist memorabilia. It says something about how quickly dreadful events of the past can be forgotten and how quickly images of disaster can be turned into a commercial tourist opportunity. Fortunately Picasso’s great work survives and its message reminds people of the inhumanity, brutality and hopelessness of war.