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Guernica

Pablo Picasso

Guernica

Pablo Picasso
  • Date: 1937
  • Style: Cubism, Surrealism
  • Period: Neoclassicist & Surrealist Period
  • Genre: allegorical painting
  • Media: oil, canvas
  • Dimensions: 349 x 776 cm

Guernica was Picasso's response to the bombing of the Basque town of the same name on April 26, 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. Picasso was commissioned by the republican government of Spain to produce a mural painting for the Spanish Pavilion at the World Fair in Paris. Painted in one month - from May to June 1937 - Guernica became the centerpiece of the Spanish pavilion and a sensation at the Fair, but it was consequently banned from exhibition in Spain until military dictator Franco fell from power in 1975.

Picasso had studied dramatic photographs of bombing published in various periodicals. Despite that, neither the studies nor the finished picture contain a single allusion to a specific event, constituting instead a generic plea against the barbarity and terror of war. The scene depicted in Guernica is a room full of moving, screaming and dying adults, children and animals. Most of the individual images are also symbols: a bull (virility of man), a woman with a dead child (pieta image), a horse (innocent people), a dead soldier with stigmata (martyrdom), a blazing light (bombs), a prison cell (torture), a dove (peace).

Guernica is painted in monochrome, using a palette of grey, black, and white. Perhaps Picasso wanted to give his painting a veneer of photojournalistic realism; or maybe the bleak, night-time colour scheme complemented the jagged shapes and terror-stricken faces, and added to the sense of panic and terror. In any event, the lack of colour gives added impact to the flattened Cubist forms, and adds to the drama of the work by allowing Picasso to highlight key faces and objects in white. This painting is undoubtedly modern art's most famous response to war, and an international symbol of genocide committed during wartime.

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Guernica is a mural-sized oil painting on canvas by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso completed in June 1937, at his home on Rue des Grands Augustins, in Paris. The painting, which uses a palette of gray, black, and white, is regarded by many art critics as one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in history. Standing at 3.49 meters (11 ft 5 in) tall and 7.76 meters (25 ft 6 in) wide, the large mural shows the suffering of people wrenched by violence and chaos. Prominent in the composition are a gored horse, a bull, and flames.

The painting was created in response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country village in northern Spain, by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italian warplanes at the request of the Spanish Nationalists. Upon completion, Guernica was exhibited at the Spanish display at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (Paris International Exposition) in the 1937 World's Fair in Paris and then at other venues around the world. The touring exhibition was used to raise funds for Spanish war relief. The painting became famous and widely acclaimed, and it helped bring worldwide attention to the Spanish Civil War.

In January 1937, the Spanish Republican government commissioned Picasso to create a large mural for the Spanish display at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne at the 1937 World's Fair in Paris. At the time, Picasso was living in Paris, where he had been named Honorary Director-in-Exile of the Prado Museum. He had last visited Spain in 1934 and never returned. His initial sketches for the project, on which he worked somewhat dispassionately from January until late April, depicted his perennial theme of the artist's studio. Immediately upon hearing reports of the 26 April bombing of Guernica, the poet Juan Larrea visited Picasso and urged him to make the bombing his subject. However, it was only on 1 May, having read George Steer's eyewitness account of the bombing (originally published in both The Times and The New York Times on 28 April), that he abandoned his initial project and started sketching a series of preliminary drawings for Guernica.

Guernica is a town in the province of Biscay in Basque Country. During the Spanish Civil War, it was regarded as the northern bastion of the Republican resistance movement and the center of Basque culture, adding to its significance as a target.

The Republican forces were made up of assorted factions (Communists, Socialists, Anarchists and others) with differing goals, but united in their opposition to the Nationalists. The Nationalists, led by General Francisco Franco, sought a return to pre-Republican Spain, based on law, order, and traditional Catholic values.

At about 16:30 on Monday, 26 April 1937, warplanes of the German Condor Legion, commanded by Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen, bombed Guernica for about two hours. Germany, at this time led by Hitler, had lent material support to the Nationalists. Later, intense aerial bombardment became a crucial preliminary step in the Blitzkrieg tactic.

In his journal for 30 April 1937, von Richthofen wrote:

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