Picassos Guernica

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Picassos Guernica

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 during

the Spanish Civil War, this painting holds connotations beyond the syllogism for

which it is given credit. Picasso, unlike Romantic period artists, who are

attributed to great political propaganda, is not suggesting an emotionally based

judgment should be made about the contemporary event, but rather a focus on

the contemplation of the forces of good and evil at work throughout timeless


On the afternoon of April 26, 1937, German forces under the command of

the Spanish fascist leader Francisco Franco embarked on the first aerial bombing

of a civilian target, the small town of Guernica. The attack was due to the conflict

in Spain, the Spanish Civil War: an issue of Democracy against Fascism. The war

heightened the threat of Communism and Fascism in Western Europe to a new

level. Franco’s attack on the small town, a center of culture in Basque, made it

clear that his forces were strong and unrelenting. His allegiance with German

forces spawned one of the most tumultuous times in modern history. The aerial

bombing of Guernica became a symbol of his unmerciful, cruel political power.

Guernica was almost completely destroyed. News of the mounting death toll

spread rapidly.

However, universally, the impact of the Guernica bombing could have been

minimal. While Spain would surely never have forgotten Franco’s reign of terror

and its zenith with the bombing of Guernica, Picasso contributed an everlasting

reminder to the entire world of the threat of Fascism and the evil of unrelenting

power. Having been invited to contribute a piece to the Spanish Pavilion for

Paris’ World’s Fair in 1937, Picasso was inspired by the grief of Spain to present

an image that would make the most powerful statement against Franco yet. His

creation became not only the symbol of the Spanish crisis but of protest of

Fascism for all time. Not only is the size of the mural overwhelming, but the

shocking images that mix classic symbols with modern technique provide an

emotion and passion that is unforgettable.

While passion and empathy undeniably drove Picasso to choose his

subject, Guernica, it is not the fruit of spontaneous emotion, but of a


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agenda is unworthy of praise because he was most focused on creating more a

shocking piece for his exhibition, in which the tragedy was merely an outlet for his

desire. However, Picasso’s careful treatment of the subject, the fury with which

can be seen in him through the grotesque distortions of his figures, and the

sympathy for which he begs of humanity in the helpless, horrified faces which

look upon the world from his mural, make an everlasting impression on

civilization of the brutality of war. Whether Picasso’s political agenda was his

priority is certainly debatable, but Picasso once said, “I like what continues”.

Guernica must be a source of great satisfaction to him.

Works Cited

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.
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