Famous Painters and Paintings: Picasso's Guernica

About the famous painting Guernica by Pablo Picasso, history and information of the artwork.



THE PAINTING: Guernica. If any one painting of the 20th century may be called the most powerful outcry of the age, that one work must be Guernica--painted in response to an event that took place in April, 1937.

General Francisco Franco was leading an army in revolt against the Spanish Republican Government at that time. To show the military strength he could command if he chose to do so, Franco called upon his friend Adolf Hitler to send a fleet of bombers to destroy a Spanish town. The target selected for the mission was the sleepy little city of Guernica. The armada came by one Monday afternoon and completely razed the peaceful community. Franco had proved his point. Not only were the buildings reduced to rubble, but their inhabitants were almost completely annihilated.

Picasso was outraged by such wanton obliteration of life. Commissioned to prepare a mural for the Spanish pavilion at the Paris World's Fair of 1937--with the violence wrought upon Guernica vividly in his mind--he set to work on a painting that has become an unforgettable memorial to the battered old city and its residents. The elements that make up the composition are symbolic rather than documentary and reflect a profound depth of insight into the plight of war victims everywhere. Human sensibilities are torn by the combination of poignancy and horror put together with an astonishing economy of lines. The overall mural evokes deep compassion.

The artist's death on April 8, 1973, in France, gave Spaniards cause to reflect on why he shunned his native land and whether or not he really willed Guernica to his country. The painting is on indefinite loan to New York's Museum of Modern Art and is purportedly the artist's gift to the Spanish people--but with one firm condition: that it will be delivered only when democracy returns to Spain.

In March, 1974, as stunned visitors looked on helplessly in the 3rd floor gallery of the museum, a vandal drew a can of spray paint from his pocket and scrawled the words "Kill Lies All" on the masterpiece. The man was seized immediately and the red lettering was removed without damage. The curator of the museum said that what saved the 25' by 11' painting was a heavy coat of varnish that had acted as a transparent shield.

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