Pablo Picasso • Painting, 1937, 349.3×776.6 cm
About the artwork
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Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Battle scene, Historical scene
Style of art: Cubism
Technique: Oil
Materials: Canvas
Date of creation: 1937
Size: 349.3×776.6 cm
Artwork in selections: 146 selections

Description of the artwork «Guernica»

On 26 April 1937, hell broke out over the town of Guernica, the historical and cultural centre of the Basque Country. At about 16:30, a two-hour bombardment of the city by the German Condor Legion began. It was followed by a large-scale fire that turned Guernica into ruins. According to various sources, the bombing caused deaths of several hundred to several thousand people. Most frightening is the fact that most of the victims were women and children, since most men were involved in the Spanish Civil War fighting at the time.

The tragic news from his homeland could not leave Picasso indifferent, who has repeatedly declared his political apathy. At that time, the artist was working on a canvas for the Spanish Pavilion at the upcoming World Exhibition in Paris. Upon learning about the bombing of Guernica, the artist instantly changed his concept and took on a new canvas, which has become one of the most powerful artistic and political statements in history.

Picasso’s Guernica has become a timeless reminder of the horrors of war and one of the most famous anti-war symbols. The monumental canvas measuring almost four by eight meters, painted in record time (work on the painting took Picasso a little more than a month, from 1 May to 4 June), does not depict abstract heroes of the battlefield, whose exploits will be repeatedly hailed. Picasso painted the most ordinary people, whose names will not be mentioned in history textbooks, but at all times, they became the true victims of any war. The artist deliberately chose the black and white scale for Guernica, and there is not even a pure white colour here, there are only different shades of grey. For Picasso, the world after the wheels of war is devoid of colour, it is a world from which life itself has gone.

There are many interpretations of the painting, which often contradict each other. In particular, this applies to the bull and horse depicted on the canvas. Some critics argued that the picture should not be taken as a political statement, since the image of a bull or Minotaur here primarily symbolizes the ego of Picasso himself. However, commenting on the canvas, the artist stated that the bull is evil and cruelty embodied in fascism on the eve and during the Second World War. According to Picasso, the wounded horse symbolizes the inhabitants of Guernica, who suffered and died in the bloody massacre. However, despite the undoubted gloominess of the canvas and the horror it instills, the artist left his heroes and the viewer with hope embodied in the peacefully burning lamp under a lampshade.

Picasso once said that “the light in the picture is the peace that every living being will always strive to”.

Written by Yevgheniia Sidelnikova