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El Guernica

El Guernica

Information about El Guernica, the most famous Picasso cubist work. History and description about the world famous Spanish paint.

26th April 1937 the German Condor Legion and the Italian Legionary Air Force, who fought on the nationalist side, initiated Operation of bombing the basque population of Guernica. It is considered the first carpet bombing destined to completely destroy one city.

Guernica became an icon of the government of the second Republic of Spain and its President Juan Negrín asked Pablo Picasso to create a painting portraying to the world the horror of the Civil War and to evoke sympathy for the Republican cause. The picture was intended to be exhibited in the International exhibition of Paris in 1937.

In 1940, with the Franco victory, Picasso did not want the painting to be in Spain and under a dictatorial government and he sent the painting, named the Guernica, to the New York museum of Modern Art on the condition that it be returned the day a new Spanish democracy be voted in. In 1981 the Guernica returned to Spain and was exhibited in the el Casón del Buen Retiro in 1992 in its final location: The Reina Sofía Art Museum.

The Guernica is a canvas oil painting of 3.50 x 7.80 metres and it is in the style of cubism the movement which Picasso was one of the protagonists. It is painted in white and black with a wide range of grays. Its design is in triptych form and the composition is made up of triangles.

In the triptych panels we see, on the left a bull protecting a woman who has a dead baby in her arms. In the central panel we can see a lamp, open-mouthed horse and parts of the body of a soldier with a flower and a spade. In between the bull and the horse there is a dove with its head looking up but with a lowered wing, a symbol of broken peace. In the right panel we have a house in flames and a woman shouting through the window. Another woman is entering the scene with a hand lamp all of which is a symbol of the Spanish Republic who are disconcertedly watching the events.

The symbolism of the events is heavily discussed and criticised. For many people the figure of the bull is the figure of Spain, but for the artist the bull is the darkness and the savage. With regards to the woman with the dead child it is a representation of Mercy, one of the most representative works of occidental Christian tradition.

The horse that is standing on the dead soldier is a symbol of the war and of Spain. The lamp is like an eye; it is the eye of God which looks down horrified on the war scene, but it is not a natural eye, it is an electric bulb. It symbolises the divinity given to technology in the 20th century, represented by the avant-garde movements at the start of the century.

All the faces of the picture and the positions of the bodies are an expression of the horror towards to war which has made this picture the antiwar symbol in the whole world. It also should be borne in mind that in the picture there is no direct reference to Spain or to the Civil War which has transformed the picture into a universal symbol.