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“GUERNICA”, PABLO PICASSO
SPAIN, April 26, 1937: Franco´s Army asks the Nazis to bomb Guernica, which was a cultural and historical capital in the Basque Country, a very beautiful town of about 5000 people. The Nazis, aided by Mussolini´s aircraft too, bombed the city heavily. It was as a training for the WWII. That was the Spanish Civil War for Italians and Nazis; a laboratory to test weapons and tactics. They destroyed 80 % of the town, they threw firebombs and bombs of around 300 kilos, as well as they strafed all the people they saw. It is estimated that around 600 innocent people (maybe more) were killed by the Condor Legion in this action.
This event caused a great impact in the whole world, and the Spanish Republic asked Pablo Picasso to draw a picture about this event. A picture which would be exhibited in the Spanish pavilion at the Universal Exhibition in Paris that year in 1937 in order to support the Spanish Republic, to get supporters to its cause. (Anyway the war would be won by Franco´s Army in 1939.)
So Picasso painted a huge canvas (3,50 x 7,80 metres). It was a symbolic painting; a painting which could be interpreted and read as a kind of triptych. It was all painted in black and white but with a wide range of grays.
In the central panel we can see a dying horse and a woman carrying a lamp. At the right side we can see a burning house and a woman crying. At the left side we can see a bull and a woman with a dead child.
Figures are organized into triangles, the most important one is the central one.
There are nine symbols in the canvas: three animals and six human beings. Let´s analyze some of them now:
a) THE MOTHER WITH THE DEAD CHILD: Most critics consider that this symbol was inspired in the Pietá (that is; the image of the Virgin Mary with her dead son).
b) THE DOVE: A symbol of the broken peace.
c) THE BULB: It can be interpreted as a bomb and as a symbol of human progress in science (in this case with negative effects). Unfortunately it was a premonition of what was to come in later years (The bombing of London, the bombing of Dresden, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the atomic bomb, etc).
d) THE BULL: It symbolizes the brutality and darkness. (Although the poor bull is also dizzy and scared). Many critics thinks that it is also a self-portrait of Picasso.
e) THE HORSE: It symbolizes all the innocent victims of war.
f) THE WOMAN WITH THE LAMP: She symbolizes the Republic. Her gaze is lost and she is in a state of shock.
g) THE MAN WHO IMPLORES: A man is looking at the sky as imploring the aircraft to stop bombing. It is thought that Picasso was inspired by that painting of GOYA called “Shootings of May 2 in 1808”. Thus men have the same gesture, the same pose… they seem to be shouting: “Stop this madness!”.
This painting retains intact its impact and relevance nowadays and it is a plea against all kinds of violence; physical or psychological.
If you want you look at this work closely and face to face then you can visit the Queen Sofia Museum in Madrid, where it is exhibited all the time.