There is an extensive iconography that occupies the pages of art history on works inspired by war situations, which occurred in different times and geographies of the world; but on this occasion we will talk about the most emblematic artwork of the 20th century inspired by the cruel bombing carried out on a Basque civilian population on April 26, 1937, we refer to Picasso’s Guernica, an anti-war mural, a symbol of terror and war.
Picasso stated that “artists who live and work with spiritual values cannot and shouldn’t remain indifferent to a conflict in which the highest values of humanity and civilization are in danger”; therefore, as an artist, undoubtedly, he couldn’t be indolent in the face of such a frightening and inhumane act perpetrated against the town of Guernica, during the Spanish civil war.
At that time, in 1937, Picasso was living in Paris and, precisely, in that year preparations were being made for the International Exhibition in Paris, in which Picasso was going to participate in the Spanish Pavilion; however, he didn’t have a theme to carry out his work, until the moment he heard the tragic news about the air attack on Guernica. On May 1, based on that warlike event, he proceeded to make his first sketches, and, not satisfied with them, he later made others, around 44, until he finally decided to start working on his oil painting on canvas, which It measures 349 x 777 cm, which ends 35 days later, that is, on June 4, the date in which this year, in 2022, it will be 85 years since its completion.
It is important to comment that the creation process of this significant work was documented by Dora Maar, a French artist, Picasso’s romantic partner at that time, who took seven photographs where each one shows a different result of its realization; that is to say, this photographs allows us to see that the artist changed his mind at some stages of the execution process, rethinking elements and the location of some figures, such as, for example, the body of the bull, which at first was disposed to the right and then reverses it to the left of the canvas, thus being sharply crooked; the dying horse, which was in the lower part of the canvas, then centers it and raises it to the height of the bull (2)(3), under the light bulb, which was previously a bouquet of flowers raised by a fist (1)(3), thus giving it a prominent place in the composition; Similarly, the look and position of the body of the man lying in the lower part of the canvas and some aspects of the characters located between the right and left of the painting also change (1)(4).
Guernica is made up of six people, the woman and the dead child in her arms, the fallen warrior, and the three women located to the right of the composition; In the center and to the left of the painting are three animals: the bull, the horse, and a bird between them. Terror, pain, and suffering are printed in the expressions of all these images, both in humans and animals. In this oil painting, the artist uses black, gray, blue and white, colors that allow him to achieve strong chiaroscuro contrasts and accentuate the drama caused by this tragedy. One of the elements or figures that has attracted the attention of the interpreters of Guernica has been the light bulb, related to the sun, the light that opposes obscurantism, the light of hope and the eye of God, who sees everything.
It is worth noting that although Picasso is inspired by that catastrophe suffered by the population of Guernica, his work is not really a chronicle that realistically narrates that event in a chain, it is a painting created on the basis of the visual discourse of the artistic avant-garde from the beginning of the 20th century, which in the case of this artist, is a work of cubist tendency, with some expressionist features, where the scene is fragmented, in which an interior and an exterior space are represented simultaneously. Let’s say that the content of this work is symbolic, connotative, suggestive; although the artist’s intention, in itself, consists of a visual discourse alluding to the inhuman feelings that lead to the disasters of wars; to the terror and pain that they have caused and continue to cause. This large-format work is designed to shock us and induce us to reflect and become aware of these events of a warlike nature.
Picasso was opposed to Guernica remaining in Spain while Francisco Franco, a military man and dictator, was exercising power, which is why he decided that his work be protected in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where it remained for 44 years. Six years after Franco’s death, Guernica returned to Spain in 1981, since then it has been exhibited in the spaces of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
Written by José Gregorio Noroño,