While it may seem at first glance that Guernica, by Pablo Picasso, is a political statement against the tragedy of the bombing of a small Basque town duringthe Spanish Civil War, this painting holds connotations beyond the syllogism forwhich it is given credit. Picasso, unlike Romantic period artists, who areattributed to great political propaganda, is not suggesting an emotionally basedjudgment should be made about the contemporary event, but rather a focus onthe contemplation of the forces of good and evil at work throughout timelesshumanity.
On the afternoon of April 26, 1937, German forces under the command ofthe Spanish fascist leader Francisco Franco embarked on the first aerial bombingof a civilian target, the small town of Guernica. The attack was due to the conflictin Spain, the Spanish Civil War: an issue of Democracy against Fascism. The warheightened the threat of Communism and Fascism in Western Europe to a newlevel. Franco’s attack on the small town, a center of culture in Basque, made itclear that his forces were strong and unrelenting. His allegiance with Germanforces spawned one of the most tumultuous times in modern history. The aerialbombing of Guernica became a symbol of his unmerciful, cruel political power.Guernica was almost completely destroyed. News of the mounting death tollspread rapidly.
However, universally, the impact of the Guernica bombing could have beenminimal. While Spain would surely never have forgotten Franco’s reign of terrorand its zenith with the bombing of Guernica, Picasso contributed an everlastingreminder to the entire world of the threat of Fascism and the evil of unrelentingpower. Having been invited to contribute a piece to the Spanish Pavilion forParis’ World’s Fair in 1937, Picasso was inspired by the grief of Spain to presentan image that would make the most powerful statement against Franco yet. Hiscreation became not only the symbol of the Spanish crisis but of protest ofFascism for all time. Not only is the size of the mural overwhelming, but theshocking images that mix classic symbols with modern technique provide anemotion and passion that is unforgettable.
While passion and empathy undeniably drove Picasso to choose hissubject, Guernica, it is not the fruit of spontaneous emotion, but of a…
…agenda is unworthy of praise because he was most focused on creating more ashocking piece for his exhibition, in which the tragedy was merely an outlet for hisdesire. However, Picasso’s careful treatment of the subject, the fury with whichcan be seen in him through the grotesque distortions of his figures, and thesympathy for which he begs of humanity in the helpless, horrified faces whichlook upon the world from his mural, make an everlasting impression oncivilization of the brutality of war. Whether Picasso’s political agenda was hispriority is certainly debatable, but Picasso once said, “I like what continues”.Guernica must be a source of great satisfaction to him.
Becraft, Melvin E. Picasso’s Guernica. New York: The New York Times Company, 1981.
Blunt, Anthony. Picasso’s ‘Guernica’. London: Oxford University Press, 1969.
Fisch, Ederhard. ‘Guernica’ by Picasso. London and Toronto: Associate University Press, 1988.
Russell, Frank D. Picasso’s Guernica. Montclair, NJ: Allanheld, Osmun & Co., 1980.
Zervos, Christian. “ Historire d’un tableau de Picasso”, Cahiers d’ Arte. Vol.12 no. 4-5, Paris, 1937, pp. 109-111.