Art of the 20th Century




A Revolution in the Arts




 





Art Styles in 20th century Art Map



 


 

 

 

 
 

 
 


Pablo Picasso



The Image of the Artist  1881-1973
The Making of a Genius  1890-1898
The Art of Youth  1898-1901
The Blue Period  1901- 1904
The Rose Period  1904-1906
In the Laboratory of Art  1906-1907
Analytical Cubism  1907- 1912
Synthetic Cubism  1912-1915
The Camera and the Classicist  1916-1924
A Juggler with Form  1925-1936
War, Art and "Guernica"  1937
The Picasso Style  1937-1943
Politics and Art  1943-1953
The Presence of the Past  1954- 1963
The Case of "Las Meninas"  1957
The Old Savage  1963-1973
The Legend of the Artist



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appendix:

Pablo Picasso - Erotic Drawings 1968-1972
Pablo Picasso and his Women
 

 
 

 

 

 




War, Art and "Guernica"
1937





 


Guernica, 1937

 


"Guernica"
1937

 

 

"Guernica", filling an entire wall, is surely the best-known 20th-century work of art. It relates to a specific historical event, and expresses Picasso's political commitment. For this reason, art and politics, the creative hallmarks of the work and its historical circumstances, must be treated as inseparable.

By 1936 at the latest, Picasso's lack of interest in current political events was at an end. In April that year, the alliance of Socialists and Communists known as the Popular Front came to power in France, a development matching what had already been a reality for some months in Spain. Since the end of the military dictatorship and the proclamation of the republic on 14 April 1931, Spain had been undergoing violent social and political upheaval. In 1934 the moderate Republican and Socialist government was replaced by a coalition of Monarchists and right-wing republicans, which rescinded reforms. This prompted a miners' revolt and a general strike - bloodily put down by the army, under the supreme command of General Franco and with the assistance of Fascist Italy. In November 1934 the Falange, the Spanish wing of the international Fascist movement, was constituted. Not till 19 February 1936 did the political tide turn, when the Popular Front won the election and was able to form a government - legally and with full democratic legitimacy. The first months of that government were marked by conflict on all sides, the Falange in particular trying to crush the workers' movement via terrorist methods.

The assassination of the leader of the Monarchists on 13 July 1936 signalled the start of open revolt. On 17 July civil war began with the rebellion of the army (under Franco) in Spanish Morocco, a rebellion which spread to Spain itself on 18 July. The Republican government found itself facing an alliance of Nationalists, Falangists and anti-Republicans, led by the forces of Franco, who, helped by Italy and Nazi Germany, transferred his troops from the North African colony to Spain. The war was to last till 28 March 1939 and cost one and a half million lives. The Falangist side was aided by Italian and German troops, particularly the notorious Condor Legion, a German air force unit. The Republican government was supported by the Soviet Union and by numerous volunteers from many countries; the official government policies of France and Great Britain, however, dictated non-intervention.

 

From the outbreak of civil war, Picasso was on the side of the legitimate Republican government, which appointed him director of the Prado in Madrid, Spain's most important art gallery, in July 1936. In January 1937 the government commissioned him to paint a mural for the Spanish pavilion at the Paris World Fair, due to open in July. At the same time, he moved to a new studio in the Rue des Grands-Augustins in Paris (the street where Balzac's tale "Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu" was set). At first Picasso intended to meet the commission with a representation of the freedom of art, using a studio scene with painter and model.But when the news of the bombing of the holy Basque town of Guernica reached him, he changed his mind. On 26 April 1937 the town was totally destroyed in just three and a half hours by Falangist forces, Spanish, Italian and German troops, under German command. The town was of no military importance; its destruction was an act of pure terrorism. But it rapidly acquired political significance as reports of the atrocity appeared in the world press. Guernica was transformed by those reports into a symbol of modern total warfare.

And Guernica also became synonymous with the horrors of the civil war. For it was not the first time something of the sort had happened. In November 1936, for example, large numbers of the civilian population were systematically killed in the several weeks of bombardment that accompanied the attempt to take Madrid. And on 31 March 1937 the small Basque town of Durango was almost totally destroyed by German aircraft. With these new impressions of war vivid in his mind, Picasso abandoned his original idea for the mural and began sketch work on a new idea on t May

1937. By mid-June the finished work was being mounted on the wall of the Spanish pavilion at the World Fair, and the building was officially opened on 12 July. The pavilion showcased Republican Spain in mortal jeopardy; and Picasso's painting fitted perfectly, though he made his statements exclusively in symbolic form. There was no specific depiction of warfare in the work, nor was there any emphasis on political events. In fact Guernica, the great symbol of the terror of war, had prompted an allegorical composition.

The painting is monumental in effect but not oppressive. The horizontal-format composition uses seven figures, or figure groups; it is clearly yet subtly divided up. Two presentations occupy the left and right sides, with a flat triangle between. In the middle, unnaturally posed, stands a wounded horse, its neck wrenched to the left, its mouth wide open in pain. To the right, from a square space, are a stylized human head in profile and an arm holding a lighted oil lamp over the scene. Above the horse's head is an ambivalent motif: a large eye of God, surrounded by a circlet of irregular jags, with a lightbulb for a pupil - standing for sunlight as well as electric light. To the right of the horse a woman is hurrying, her pose plainly conceived to fit the falling diagonal: this is where the central group is completed, in compositional terms. A counterpart to this figure is a warrior statue on the ground to the left below the horse, its arms outstretched, a broken sword in one hand. The statue has been smashed into hollow pieces.

 

Picasso avoids the involuntary rigidity of precision composition. The sun and lamp are to the left, the equally striking white house wall to the right of the painting's central vertical axis. Above the smashed statue stands a unified group. A mother is kneeling before a bull, screaming, holding her dead child in her arms. A corresponding figure at the right edge of the canvas has its head flung back, mouth open to cry out, and arms stretched heavenwards in a gesture of profound emotion. The use of dark and light areas and irregular jags suggests that we see this as a falling, burning figure against a house in flames. The spatial situation of the composition has been systematically unsettled by various lines leading into the depths and by irregular perspective foreshortening. The dark-light use heightens this unsettling effect of destabilization, since no definite source of light can be made out. The scene is happening neither inside nor out: it is, so to speak, everywhere.

Picasso reconciled primal forms of expression, his own formal idiom, and motifs and images that were readily understandable, familiar through a long tradition. In painting "Guernica" as an allegorical history, he was using a traditional picture genre. And quite clearly the tripartite structure of the composition was an echo of the exalted triptych, the classical form of Christian altar paintings. Picasso's use of the form was utterly contemporaneous: the triptych had long since become a secular mode, and had been used in both abstract and representational art for a variety of purposes.

The great triptychs of the German painters Max Beckmann and Otto Dix were important for Picasso. Beckmann and Dix had conveyed the turmoil of the age and the horror of war in allusive yet highly realistic works. Picasso, for his part, proved a virtuoso in code-shifting in traditional modes and methods. Though it is readily taken in as a whole, "Guernica" is nonetheless a work of multi-layered complexity. Therein lies its attraction and greatness. It is far more than agitprop art. The preliminary studies, by a Picasso who was already fully aware of his significance in the history of art, enable us to follow the evolution of the work exactly. Forty-five dated studies and a number of photographs showing the different states of the work in progress provide unparalleled documentation. The labours they bear witness to were carried out with the utmost concentration. From the start on 1 May to the completion on 4 June, Picasso took just five weeks. For a work on so monumental a scale, and of such formal and thematic complexity, it is staggeringly fast. But the explanation lies in Picasso's characteristic way of working, manoeuvring motifs from his own repertoire and from the stock of European art through the ages.

 


Study for "Guernica"
1937

 


Study for "Guernica"
1937

 

 

The first state (11 May) merely placed the outlines of the key figures on the canvas, not necessarily in their final positions. The bull stands over and to the right of the mother with the dead child. Beside the bull, one arm of the reclining warrior rises like the outstretched arm of a man crucified. This is plainly the central motif; the horse is turning to the warrior, too. To the right, Picasso has already drawn in the figure with the lamp, the hurrying figure, and the burning figure, but the details are different; for instance, the hurrying woman is carrying a dead body. Familiar sources in the European art tradition have influenced this composition. Peter Paul Rubens' great allegorical painting "The Horrors of War" (in Florence) provided forms and subjects for Picasso's treatment of the topic. The lying man with outstretched arms, the mother with child, the frieze effect, the overall impact of extended arms and dynamically interlinked forms, all derived from Rubens.

But the figure at right with uplifted arms is no mere variant on Europa in Rubens' painting. It combines, two figures against a burning house wall in Raphael's Vatican fresco of the Borgo fire.  And yet another traditional image influenced the woman with the dead child in her lap: the pieta of the Virgin holding the dead Christ. The woman's head and the lamp are also variations on a historical motif: light as a symbol of Enlightenment, represented by an allegorical female form bearing a torch. The most famous figure of this kind is the Statue of Liberty in New York, by the French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi. The mother with the dead child alludes to the ancient Pasquino group which Picasso had already drawn upon for his Minotaur works. The bull and horse themselves, of course, relate to the Minotaur and bullfight complex which Picasso had been using since the mid-1930s, not least to convey political statements.

The work Picasso did on the studies and on the final canvas of "Guernica" shows how he altered what were at first unambiguously political symbols in order to endow them with universal validity. When he began work on 1 May 1937, his idea of the total picture was still fairly vague. However, sketchy as some of the preliminary work was, it did include everything of moment: the standing bull at the left, the horse in the middle, the house wall at right with the figure bearing a lamp. By 9 May, after much work on detail, the composition was ready to be transferred to the huge canvas. The last of the studies shows, however, that the first canvas state had taken the development of the idea further and was not merely a one-to-one transfer. In the sketch (No. 15), the bull's head is turned to the right, and a large wheel has been introduced to the centre of the composition; houses are grouped around an area strewn with prostrate soldiers and the dead, not very readily distinguishable, and at right by the house wall a single arm is stretched out. The picture makes a cluttered and unclear overall impression. The first canvas state is calmer, and the figural groupings, few in number but clearly articulated, enrich the impact of the subject.

 


Study for "Guernica"
1937

 


Study for "Guernica"
1937

 

 

But Picasso's reasons for altering his compositional concept once it was on canvas were not merely formal. The first state marks a caesura in terms of content too. In the sketch, crudely stylized though the presentation is, we can still make out a real market square, and so make the connection with the Basque town of Guernica. On canvas, we can no longer identify any place. Only the burning house suggests a particular inhabited place; but it stands more generally for human shelter, and its violent destruction.

Another photograph shows that in the second canvas state the lying warrior's outstretched hand was circled with a halo of fire, and many of the individual figures were painted in, in large areas of black or grey. Next Picasso got rid of the outstretched arm and transformed the aureole into the eye of God. Given the shift in the compositional weight, he turned the warrior so that his head was now at the left. The removal of the arm and clenched fist, with the aureole that emphasized them, was done for reasons of content. The gesture was an international symbol for the struggle of the Left, used by Communists and, in Spain, particularly by the Popular Front. A motif that came with so unambiguous a connotation would have reduced the entire painting to agitprop.

In the next state, Picasso deliberately used the contrasts of large black, grey and white areas to define his motifs further. The photo shows how he tried out his effects before fixing them on canvas, taping wallpaper remnants over critical zones, removing them after testing the impressions, then painting in relevant details. The absence of the warrior's arm had left an empty space in the centre. To fill it, Picasso changed the position of the horse. Now it stood erect, mouth open, head tossed back to the left. This had the effect of placing sheer animal suffering, the primal scream of pain, at the heart of the composition: primaeval, emotional, a formulation directly communicating the main concern of the work.

The motif was a quotation from Picasso himself. In a gouache of 10 May 1936 on the minotaur theme the horse appears in the very same position as now in "Guernica"; Picasso simply transferred the lance and wound from the minotaur to the horse. This variant on a figural grouping he had been using since 1924 shows the continuity in Picasso's repertoire of motifs. Picasso also changed other parts, reducing the falling figure at right by the burning wall and redefining the lamp and sun in the middle. The final version of the painting had essentially now been arrived at.

In the fifth state, its body realigned, the bull is emphatically on the left, transformed in attitude and bearing into a protector of the mother and child. Blacks, whites and greys are now deployed across the canvas with more consistent deliberation than ever. The dead body in the arms of the hurrying woman has been definitively abandoned. Yet the overall impact still does not seem quite to add up: centre and sides are played off against each other, true, but at left the figure of the lying warrior makes for a diffused effect.

 


Study for "Guernica"
1937

 


Study for "Guernica"
1937

 

 

In states six and seven we see Picasso establishing a more cogent solution, formally and in terms of content. He left the warrior's head where it was, but turned it to look up, and, echoing a still life of 1925, changed the figure into a smashed statue. He used short parallel strokes to indicate the horse's coat, which introduced a dynamic restlessness to the texture of the centre. Finally Picasso reworked some of the details in the seventh state, eliminating (for example) at the very last moment the anecdotal detail of the tear rolling down the hurrying woman's cheek. The work as completed on 4 June was a composition uniquely unified in modern art, and of unparalleled conviction. Its impact derives not only from the subtle complexity of the composition and content but also from the stylized, schematic manner in which the figures are presented, at once tunelessly ancient and universally accessible.

Prior to, during and after his work on "Guernica", Picasso did a series of political pictures that dealt quite differently with Franco's war on the legitimate government of Spain. These etchings bore the title "Dreams and Lies of Franco". In two sheets of nine scenes each, Picasso (for the only time in his entire oeuvre) used a series of pictures to indicate a time sequence. They were intended to be sold separately as single postcards in support of the aid campaign for the Spanish Republicans. On 8 and 9 January 1937 Picasso etched fourteen of the eighteen scenes, then after a break reworked them in aquatint on 25 May and completed the work on 7 June, when he added the remaining four scenes. By then he had abandoned the idea of selling individual pictures in postcard format and had decided to sell the series as a whole.

This also involved a stylistic change, linked to his work on the newly completed "Guernica". Unlike the latter, "Dreams and Lies of Franco" was intended as satirical, partisan agitprop ridiculing Franco, branding his campaign as anti-human, cruel and senseless. Picasso subordinated his style to his political aims. Positive characters retained their natural form; Franco appeared deformed and surreal. Picasso illustrated stages in Franco's vanquishing at the hands of the Spanish people. For printing reasons, the scenes appear in reverse order and should be followed right to left.

In the first scene, the Caudillo appears as a perverse Christian knight, a parody of the legendary El Cid or Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote. Derided by the sun, he gashes his own horse. In the second, the general is tightrope walking, his monstrously erect phallus a burlesque of his machismo, his boastful stance as a glorious warrior. The third panel shows Franco using a pick in the attempt to smash a female bust (for Picasso a symbol of art and perfection): the general is a threat to culture. In the fourth scene, Franco, dressed as a woman, represents cowardice. In the fifth he is attacked by a bull, symbolic of the defeat of Fascism. The sixth shows the Caudillo praying to the monstrance of high finance, in a barbed-wire compound. In the seventh, a parody of the biblical creation of the world, the general, exhausted by his labours, is resting amongst vermin. In the eighth, mounted on Pegasus, he is setting off to the sun: but he has transfixed the winged horse, symbol of poesy, with the shaft of his banner. So in scene nine we see him mounted on a pig, again setting off to the sun: the change symbolic of Franco's fall and the salvation of Spain. The tenth scene shows Pegasus dead, slain by Franco. The eleventh and twelfth show a dead woman and a dead horse, victims of Franco, the horse cradling its fallen rider with its neck. In the thirteenth, the bull is presented as Franco's enemy, killing him in the fourteenth. The last four scenes, added later, deploy figures from the "Guernica" repertoire and illustrate the sufferings of Franco's victims in the civil war.

 


Dreams and Lies of Franco I
1937

 


Dreams and Lies of Franco I
1937

 

 

Picasso was using motifs of his own but also others from Spanish art: figures and scenes from paintings by Velazquez and Francisco de Goya, particularly his bullfight sequence "Tauromachia". Picasso's form and content suited a direct attack on a political enemy; his style employed elements of caricature.

In "Guernica" it is entirely different. Any direct evocation of an identifiable contemporary reality or even a political grouping has been carefully avoided. The symbolic idiom is deliberately generalized. The bull and horse, through their association with bullfighting, stand for Spain: the horse is the people suffering, the bull the people triumphant, but both are victims of aggression and destructive violence. All the figures in "Guernica" are victims. The meaning of the painting, deliberately stated in general terms borrowed from Rubens' great painting, lies in its representation of the destruction of human civilization by war.

The form of the work matches its fundamental simplicity of statement perfectly. There is neither caricature nor propaganda in it. Picasso's allegory is rigorously done. The blacks, greys and whites echo the old use of grisaille in altarpieces. Nothing in the work is specific to the medium of paint: it is a draughtsman's creation. The simultaneity of perspective and figures, the juxtaposition of linear and volumed representation, and varying frontal and profiled angles of vision, are all stylistic devices Picasso had already developed in earlier work. Nevertheless, the simple primaeval power of the picture, so seemingly archaic in tone yet so sophisticated in composition, did mark a new departure. Once again, Picasso's stylistic quest had been catalysed by examination of source material.

In this case, the key is the fourth sketch of 1 May, the first detail study for "Guernica" (preceded by three compositional drafts). The study shows a horse (No. 4). It is drawn as a child would draw a horse, its physical proportions purely symbolic, all four legs and both eyes equally visible. In the third sheet (No. 3) there are seemingly infantile uses of line as well. These, however, are a response to surrealist figural work. Both strands - children's drawings and Surrealism - were interwoven and important influences. In "Guernica" Picasso combined his linear style, widely termed classical, with surreal recordings of the subconscious; and the foundation on which the combination was established was the basic idiom of children's drawings. Children's principles determined his contouring, the use of detail motifs, and the perspective.

 


Study for "Guernica"
1937

 


Study for "Guernica"
1937

 

 

For Picasso, the idiom of children's drawings was evidently a completely new discovery. His early professional training had given him no opportunity to draw in a childlike way himself, nor had his own children prompted in him an awareness of the child's way of seeing the world. This is all the more remarkable since Picasso had portrayed his little son Paul drawing and painting. It was not till the Thirties that Picasso, under the influence of Surrealism, occasionally admitted the child's manner to his work, as in "The Crucifixion" (1930). Taking a detour through another style in art, Picasso came to value the expressive power of children's art. The Surrealists, looking for modes of expression that were untainted by existing mental and cultural pressures, had discovered children's creative powers for themselves. And that discovery in turn helped Picasso. Thus "Guernica", for Picasso, became a great synthesis of the very various artistic approaches he had been taking since his period of so-called classicism.

 


"Guernica"
(1st state; 2nd state; 3rd state; 4th state)
1937

 


"Guernica"
(5th state; 6th state)
1937

 


"Guernica"
(7th state; final state)
1937

 


"Guernica" (detail)
1937

 


"Guernica" (detail)
1937

 


"Guernica"
1937

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