Guernica by Pablo Picasso
Guernica by Pablo Picasso (1937) Oil on canvas, 349 cm x 776 cm 
Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.
In the form of its execution and the scale of the destruction it wrought, no less than in the selection of its objective, the raid on Guernica is unparalleled in military history. Guernica was not a military objective [...] The object of the bombardment was seemingly the demoralization of the civil population. George Steer, The Times (27th April, 1937)

Seventy-two years ago, on April 26, 1937, a little Basque town called Guernica was bombed by planes from the Condor Legion, a unit composed of soldiers from the German air force (Luftwaffe), which was allied to the Nationalists headed by Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. It was the first time in modern history — but not the last one — that an urban population was slaughtered on purpose by the means of a military attack.

Picasso paints Guernica by Dora Maar
Picasso paints Guernica
by Dora Maar (Paris, 1937)
Pablo Picasso had lived in Paris for several decades when Guernica was bombed, yet he began painting sketches for the canvas four days later only, as soon as he heard of it in the newspapers. The painting was finished in a few weeks, to be exhibited in June, 1937 in the Spanish pavilion at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. According to the tale, a German general then asked Picasso: "So, you are the one who made 'this'?" and Picasso answered: "No, you are".

Picasso put Guernica at the disposal of the struggle for the Spanish Republic. After it was defeated and Franco established his fascist power on the country, he insisted that it should return in Spain as soon as its government was restored (which happened in 1981 only). There is no allusion in the painting to a precise war action though. Picasso himself always insisted on the generality of Guernica's meaning, and described it as "the picture of all bombed cities".

Indeed, Guernica represents much more than an illustration of the destruction of the Basque town. It has become a symbol of the suffering of helpless civilians, in any war terror inflicted by a powerful army. As such, the painting could be called Coventry, Dresden or Hiroshima as well.

2 comment(s):

    Interesting post Billy, unfortunately as you say, Guernica was not the only town for mankind's madness! That said, I love historical anedotes such as the one about Picasso.

    Although I spent time in Spain in 1973 when the country was in a transition period, Franco's rule was very much in evidence. I went back to live in Spain in 1980 for a year and psychologically Franco's presence was still very much alive. Since that time, things have changed and each time I've return for a visit, only the older generation that spent much of their lives living under his dictatorship remember what it was like.


    Very true, Lynn. Spain has changed a lot in few decades. Essentially because King Juan Carlos succeded in a democratic transition after Franco died. It allowed the country to apply as a member of the EU, which in turn helped Spain a lot on economic grounds. Spain is not any more the poor country from which a lot of people emigrated for political or economical reasons. It is now a country of immigration, as most western countries.


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