Pablo Picasso – Guernica (1937)

Art History online presents Guernica by Spanish Painter Pablo, Picasso Picasso painted Guernica in 1937 Since 1992 the painting is hung in an especially built gallery in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid the capital of Spain The size of the oil on Canvas painting resembles a mural painting since it measures almost three and a half by eight meters To understand the painting we need to know about the historic context and picasso’s motives Picasso was born on the 25th of October 1881 in the City of Malaga in the Andalusian region of Spain he also lived in Barcelona and Madrid Picasso made his first trip to Paris in 1900 with already a year later. He definitely moved to the French capital Picasso always avoided being too political even though already for years prior to the Spanish Civil war there was a political divided Spain Eventually leading to this war. On the one hand there were the left republicans, pro-Democracy and the Spanish republic On the other hand there were the right-wing nationalists, a rebelling group under the command of general Francisco Franco These parties weren’t just [opposition’s]. They were enemies demanding each other’s annihilation, The Nationalists eventually triumphed in 1939 and Franco ruled Spain until he died in 1975 when Franco attacked the Prado museum in Madrid in 1936 Picasso felt personally insulted Suddenly he was protective of his own ancestry, the Spanish artistic heritage Picasso visited spain for the last time in his life in 1934 but in 1936 he was assigned as the honorary director in exile of the Prado museum in Madrid. By supporting the prado Museum He chose the side of the republicans and took a stand against franco in January 1937 the Spanish Republic also commissioned picasso to make a mural for the Spanish Pavilion at the world’s fair 1937 in paris Picasso immediately started sketching But he changed this course after reading an article by Journalist George Steer about the attack on Guernica. what happened in Guernica that startled Picasso? Franco wanted to save Spain from Marxism, the Left-wing Republican and for this cause he was willing to shoot half the country, “Viva La Muerte” with the Nazis luftwaffe and the Italian fascists by his side he attacked the Basque town of Guernica This town was seen as the Northern home base of the republican resistance. On the 26th of April 1937 in the end of the afternoon around 4 o’clock Guernica was Overrun with a three hour-long bombing by german and Italian planes Over 3,000 bombs were dropped on the Defenseless town turning it into an inferno The citizens were unable to escape since the roads and bridges were destroyed first every moving person was shut with machine guns That day 1645 People died and thousands were Terribly wounded Most of the victims were women and children since the men were away fighting for the republican army. This Brutal Terrorist attack was clearly a threatening message to the rest of Spain. With these historic circumstances in mind we’re going to analyze the painting We can assume the painting depicts the bombing of Guernica At first sight it’s a very dynamic scene with several human and animal figures in an unknown space consisting of Geometric shapes Since this face is illuminated by a light bulb Because there’s a table and the ceiling is suggested the left side of the painting appears to be in interior But the right side of the painting suggests an outdoor scene you can see the outside of one or two houses in the foreground We can see several separated body parts of a man his head and both arms in one hand holding a broken sword This defeated soldier is lying at the feet of a collapsing horse with the gaping wounds the central figure on The left there’s a woman overcome with grief holding a senseless child she’s in front of a massive bull on The right side of the painting we can see a female figure leaning towards the agonized horse on The far right there’s another woman. She’s screaming in front of burning house partly covered by blazing wreckage From a window a woman is curiously observing the wounded horse She’s holding a candle even though the scene is already lit by an electric light bulb Besides these figures we can vaguely a could see you screeching birds on top of the table Next to the hand of the soldier a flower is noticeable Remarkably all the figures are portrayed en profil Some argue the painting can be divided into three sections in accordance with the tradition of the triptych So it doesn’t consist of three separate panels Picasso applied a very complex composition. There’s no singular triangular composition Picasso implied a plural triangular design as well as several obvious triangular shapes The use of light within the painting is unseparable from the composition the light source dictates the main triangular composition Following the light form as well the candle from the light bulb even though the triangular design derives from the light sources It leads the eyes of the viewer to the Central figures the horse it also connects elements on opposite sides of the canvas The Obvious triangular Shapes can be found throughout the painting on the right of the horse in In the mother and child and in the woman in flames. You can probably see more triangle since the painting is full of geometrical forms. Actually, we can state that all the figures are formed by triangles or Opposed so they form a triad for example We can distinguish triangular forms in a noses, tongues, the woman’s hair, their breast in the roof of the bull and the horse in the wounds knees Etc By repeating triangular form as well in the main design as in the figures There’s not only a sense of unity in the painting it also fortifies the suggested movement Within the composition also the Bull is emphasized several lines derive from the bull or move towards it It’s remarkable that there is not a single but a variation of perspectives in this painting besides, there’s no clear background Horizon Or whatsoever that want to spacious surrounding for the placement of the figures, we can hardly distinguish a background The disproportionate figures, especially their faces are dominant in the picture even though the triangular shapes create a sense of space distance and movement It’s difficult to outline the fragmented figures But there is some overlap noticeable; the mother and child partly overlay the bull The soldier overlaps the horse, this overlap also contributes to the spaciousness in the depicted scene The use of variation in perceived depth, the fragmentation and deformation of figures and the use of geometrical Shapes are characteristics of cubist art. Because of the repetition of triangular shapes, the use of several perspectives the lack of background, the dominant faces, the overlapping figures and the enormous measurements As the viewer you’ll feel like you’re there in Guernica in the middle of the painting. As you’ve probably noticed, the colorful palette of the painting only exists of black and different shades of gray There appears to be some use of white, but that’s a really light gray Picasso created a contrast between the dark background and the light figures the contrasting colors create the lines of the composition We’ve analyzed before Most interpreters agreed Picasso probably used black and gray Since it’s appropriate for the severity of the subject and to express pain and Chaos Some say the stock monochromatic color sheen gives the painting the appearance of a newspaper photo The vertical strokes applied on the horse seemed to constitute a newspaper print these apparent references to newspapers could be a reminder that the depicted scene is a current event a newspaper article made picasso aware of the offense in Guernica. newspapers with black and white photos were the main source of information at that time Some say the newspaper elements were giving the painting the same sense of truth and horror as the newspaper heads. Some art historians attribute self reference to the Coliseum and newsprint his detail recurrence in Picasso’s early cubic art. Though we’ve only pointed out some cubist element the painting is seen as a synthesis of Cubism, surrealism Ancient art and Picassos personal pictorial preoccupation, not only concerning its style, but also its symbolism There are many attributed meanings and picasso himself has made several statements about the meaning of the painting About Guernica, Picasso said: “My whole life as an artist has been nothing more than a continuous struggle Against reaction and the Death of art. In a picture I am painting which I shall call Guernica I am expressing my horror of the military caste which is now plundering spain into an ocean of Misery and death Just like most of Picasso’s work the precise meaning of the imagery in this painting remains ambiguous Any symbol cannot many as contradictory explanations To explain its symbolism Picasso said: “it isn’t up to the painter to Define the symbol Otherwise it would be better If he wrote them out in so many words, the public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them” He also said: if you give a meaning to certain things in my paintings it may be very true But it’s not my idea to give this meaning but ideas and conclusions you have got I obtained – but instinctively Unconsciously I make the paintings for painting. I paint the objects for what they are Nevertheless we will be considering the common interpretation of individual picture element as well as the entire scene Some of the picture elements seem to originate directly in the event of Guernica the suffering caused by the bombing the defenseless people and animals But most noted seem to have an allegorical or ambiguous meaning The main Characters the Bull and the horse have contradictory interpretations Picasso himself [uses] characters to [play] many different roles over time which makes its explanation unsure on The one hand the bull is seen as the symbol of the traditional [republic] Spain The Bull is the unofficial national symbol of Spain and bull fighting at the typical Spanish tradition. It’s inevitable to consider A nationalistic meaning of the bull the painting Depicts several elements that are featured in traditional bullfighting on a bull or horse and a man with a sword or spear, a matador Later on in his life Picasso actually made sketches featuring bull fights The bull the horse and the matador, might be present in the painting They’re nothing like the usually victorious [matador] and the slaughtered bull in This case the man is slaughtered, the weapon is broken and his horse is suffering. Though, the bull is not triumphant Victory He remains peaceful rather stoic in case of this interpretation the bull is the symbol of republic Spain Still standing [even] after a brutal attack like in Guernica the horse then represents Franco’s Nationalism Picasso predicting its downfall on The other hand the bull is interpreted as the brutality and the horse as a symbol for the people It seems more likely to me since the horse is wounded and grouped with the other victims the citizens of Guernica Some interpreters think there are hidden symbols in Guernica Which are favoring the bull as evil enemy for example the hidden bull overlaying the horse This bull assualts the shrieking horse with his head and horns [has] also an arrow visible not hidden but neither obvious this arrow points towards mother and the bull Actually crossing the bulls genitals and the mother’s [breasts] in some of picasso sketches for Guernica there are sexual violence the bull is raping the female figure The dying horse is representing the senseless death of the people without any hope is a disturbing [idea] Though Picasso added a sign of Optimism in the lower center of the painting [a] single blooming flower but this blooming flower also points out that life and hope is fragile [a] third considered meaning of the bull opposed to the other figures concerns the conflict of Gender the ungoing friction between the Masculine and the feminine an Assumptive reflection of Picasso’s personal life Picasso [versus] his lovers at the time he made Guernica He was involved with three women his wife and two lovers Conclusively it’s ambiguous whether the bull and the horse will present the nationalist fighting the loyalists Franco versus the Spanish people or if they represent the main characters of Picasso’s personal battles or both? The Bull can be the aggressor or the pacifist, the bad or the good guy depending on which interpretation the viewer applies Perhaps there is no evident enemy in painting and all subjects are victims the conflicting interpretations Challenges the most basic notions of war as heroic it might purposely focus on war as a brutal act perhaps even with self-destruction Besides the bull and the horse the large lamp is a significant picture element Some say it represents the sun an eartly light source the glimmer of hope though It is clearly an artificial light an electric light bulb The comparison of its form to the shape [of] a human eye seems plausible In that case it could represent the eye of the painter showing his perception of the [event] or even the eye of God gazing upon the human Cruelty in my opinion It’s more likely to represent the evil eye the eye of the death squad [to] targeting [bombers] aggressively flickering Under this flash ball the people of Guernica [are] consumed like Chaos pain and death Coincidentally or not, the Spanish word for electric light bulb is very similar to the word bomb in Spanish Bomba namely bombillo The electric light is sometimes compared to the Lantern in Francisco Goya’s painting ‘el tres de mayo’ the 3rd of may this painting depicts the execution of rebels in Madrid in 1808 the [Square] lantern Illuminates and blinds the victims they can’t see the faces of the cowardly executions The interpretation of the electric light bulb as an evil eye is justified by the opposing candle light the woman carrying the candle is Commonly interpreted as the light bearer the bringer of light and joy then the juxtaposing of these two light sources indicates the battle between good and evil [Franco] against the people maybe even war for his art and it seems the candle light is winning Since it seems to be a stronger light source being the exact centre of the painting horizontally and dictating a strong line That’s part of the composition Some interpret the woman at the bottom right as a symbol for the hope of peace They say that despite her leg injury she continues to pursue the light the ideal of [freedom] and peace The woman with her deceased child strongly resembles the Christian motives of the pietà mother mary cradling the dead body of Christ But in the context of the painting it is more likely to be linked to Mater dolorosa in Spanish art the image of Mater Dolorosa Mother of sorrows has been depicted frequently this figure is a woman mourning for a child who has died Looking upwards with tears in her eyes The woman causing flames is often discussed as a reference to ‘el tres de mayo’ by Goya Like the Central figure in Goya’s painting the woman raises her arms to heaven forming a cross el tres de mayo was a message of resistance to the oppression Guernica could be seen likewise though the woman isn’t fearless and proud like Goya’s heroes resistance her eyes are shaped like tears She’s afraid and suffering The soldier is mostly seen [as] a symbol of the defeat of the people His broken swords points out his determination his willingness to die for his values But it also symbolizes the unfair fight be an equality of arms Republicans did not have the access to the same military resources as the nationalists possessed Concerning the soldier again the comparison to el tres de mayo by goya is made Both men have puncture wounds in the palms of their hands the stigmata of the martyred Christ Both with their arms wide like a crucified christ dying a salvatious death Opposites they [who] interpret the bull as the [Spanish] people see the soldier as the defeated opponent and the broken sword as the symbol of peace Some construed a bird on the table as a dove a universal symbol of peace But this bird or the peace isn’t clearly visible its fading this could mean the prospect of peace is far away Or that is possible but Fragile like the flower The main theme of Guernica seems to be death. Some are convinced a hidden symbol is reinforcing this They think that a hidden skull in the center of the painting influences the viewer subliminal impression The skull is shown sideways like all the depicted figures and can be substracted from the body of the horse in Addition it is said that the mechanical appearance of the skull it in accordance with the Modern weaponry used in the bombing of Guernica this is a precarious assumption sice the entire painting can be classified as mechanical because of its cubist imagery [even] [though] the symbolic meaning of the distinct images is ambiguous and discussed we can state Guernica can be classified as a war painting The painting Depicts Picasso’s interpretation of the horrors of war specifically the attack on the town of Guernica [it] is seen as a billboard sized anti-war image It’s an intense painting that doesn’t just tell about the attack on Guernica It makes us feel it, but the painting isn’t just a [war] painting It’s also a synthesis of the excitement of modernism Picasso’s obsession for art of the past and his personal experiences with love and grief What makes Guernica such an outstanding work of art if the combination of its monumental measurement the [purposeful]? Composition the Monochromatic color sheen the cubist’s imagery in the context of a political painting and the ambiguous symbolic meaning at the World Fair in 1937 many viewers were repulsed by the directness of the painting and the fact they couldn’t really point out the bad guy in it The picture didn’t conform their notion of a political painting Picasso responded. I paint this way because it’s a resolve of my thoughts. I have worked for years to obtain this resolve I can’t use an ordinary Manner. Just to have the satisfaction of being [understood] Nowadays Guernica is seen as an icon as the first truly Modern history painting During the second world war Picasso lived in Paris even though the German nazis occupied the city Picasso was often arrested by the gestapo during a search of his apartment. they found a photograph of the painting They asked did you do that? Picasso replied no you did after the world fair the painting [travelled] across the world Finally being on display in the museum of Modern art in New York for several years Picasso stated he didn’t want the painting to enter his native country until Franco’s regime had fallen Unfortunately Picasso wasn’t able to experience the end of dictatorship since he [died] in 1973 Two years before Franco did in 1981 an occasion of the centenary of Picasso’s birth Guernica. Finally arrived in Spain since 1992 its final destination [up] until now is the Reina Sofìa Museum in Madrid Thank you for watching this video [by] art history online for questions and requests please comment

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