Paintings You Should Know: Pablo Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ (1937)

I love it. Initially Picasso started doing an interpretation of the Rape of the Sabine Women – a biblical story which many artists had a version of. This was abandoned when he saw a black and white photo of the bombing of Guernica in the newspaper El Pais. (He did a much later “Rape of the Sabines” at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962). I too was overwhelmed by the size of La Guernica. It had such a shocking impact in the gallery. The bombing was allowed by Franco in a pact with Hitler to try out his air weapons. Franco had been aggravated by the Basques who did not want to be part of his United Spain. It shocked the world. Southampton, my home town took a ship-load of children refugees from the Basque area following this. Most returned after WW2 but some who had no family remained here.

The Culture Project

Guernica is one of those rare things: a famous painting that I’ve actually seen, thanks to a visit to the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid while I was on my O.E. (‘Overseas Experience’) years ago. The overwhelming memory that I have of it is its size: Guernica is a mural, 3.49m by 7.76m, and the sheer size of it makes its subject matter intensely confrontational. As it should be, because Picasso intended his painting to depict war in all its horror, and in particular in the horror of its impact on non-combatants and innocents – women, children, and animals.

PicassoGuernica Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937

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