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Guernica by Pablo Picasso – Background

Created by Pablo Picasso, the most famous artist of the 20th century, Guernica is an expression of Picasso’s revulsion at the Nazi bombing of a Basque city in northern Spain (Guernica), ordered by the fascist general Franco during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Conveying pain, violence and suffering, the monumental image is painted only in black, white and grey, and has become an international symbol of the horrors of war.

Picasso is a child prodigy and an innovator. Among other things, he co-founded Cubism. He introduced collage and ceramics to fine art and developed various styles throughout his career, often inspired by the women in his life.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso – The Paris Exposition

In early 1937, while living in Paris, he was commissioned by the Republican government of Spain to produce a mural for the Spanish pavilion at the Paris Exposition. He is unable to decide on a theme for the mural, when he reads a newspaper article about the bombing in April of that year of the small Spanish town of Guernica, in broad daylight, by German forces acting on orders from General Franco. Picasso decides to let the world know about the atrocity, and that it would be his subject for the mural commission.

What is the theme of Picasso’s Guernica? Analysis of Guernica

Various anti-war elements can be seen in this work. According to Picasso, the bull is usually a symbol of strength as it is related to Spain – it is here as an emblem of brutality. In front of the bull, a woman throws her head back in pain and anguish, holding her dead child in her arms. A single bulb lights up from the ceiling, the jagged light recalling an explosion, while next to the horse’s head, another candle-shaped light is held by a woman at a window. Below the horse is a dead soldier with a severed arm still gripping a sword, from which a small flower grows. This is a small symbol of hope. The lines in the palm of the soldier’s other hand could be stigmata, symbolizing the martyrdom of Christ’s Crucifixion.

When Picasso is asked what the horse means, he explains that he embodied all the innocent people who died in the massacre. To the far right, a figure with outstretched arms is consumed in flames. It is unclear whether this figure (male or female) is falling or trapped, but it screams at the sky.

Guernica Exhibition in Paris

The mural is exhibited in Paris, where there is growing support for fascist parties in France and other European countries, and causes considerable controversy. After Paris, he is moved to America. He continues to tour extensively in North America and Europe, but Picasso refuses to return him to his native Spain until democracy is re-established there as well.

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