The word art is an encompassing one, vastly interpreted and with multiple definitions. In the case of Picasso’s painting Guernica, art informs, educates and expresses. Its power lies in its ability to capture and compel an audience nearly six decades after the modern world’s “other” day of infamy. To understand fully the painting that evolved out of the Spanish painter’s outrage, one must know its context. “Why do you think I date everything I do? Because it is not sufficient to know an artist’s works–it is also necessary to know when he did them, why, under what circumstances” (Picasso). An appreciator who knows the saga of Spain’s historical fishing village is given a depth of experience that only a genius like Picasso could portray –“it may well be the most terrifying document on the horrors of war ever to be produced by an artist” (Wertenbaker 126).
Most people do not even know that the ancient Basque village Guernica exits, let alone that one third of its citizens were senselessly slaughtered or wounded in little more than three hours. On April 26, 1937, German bombers attacked Guernica, an open city. The unprovoked attack began at 4:30, the busiest hour of a market day. The streets were jammed with townspeople and peasants from the countryside. Never before in modern warfare had noncombatants been slaughtered in such numbers, and by such means (Wertenbaker 1967).
During the Spanish Civil War Franco’s army was often assisted by Germany. The Nazi General Goering’s policy was to use the Spanish Civil War as an arena for trying out the airmen and planes of his new Luftwaffe . The Condor Legion was headed by Wolfram Von Richthofen, the cousin of the near mythical Red Baron of the First World War. V…
…e bombing of the ancient Basque town would now be almost forgotten. Picasso’s monumental painting reminds humankind of one of the first acts of modern “total war” waged against a defenseless population. Picasso’s painting is the quintessential example of humankind’s senseless inhumanity to humankind. It creates a horrific image of humankind with which the observer must reckon. Through the art of Guernica Picasso educates us not only about April 26, 1937, but also about humankind and our tradition of war.
Chipp, Herschel, B. Picasso’s Guernica. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
Fisch, Eberhard. Guernica. New Cranbury: Associated University Press, 1983.
Gordan, Thomas and Max Morgan. Guernica: The Crucible of WWII. New York: Witts, Stein, and Day, 1975.
Wertenbaker, Lael. The World of Picasso. New York: Time-Life Books, 1967.