Art Critic : Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”
Pablo Picasso’s painting entitled “Guernica” has been a masterpeice of modern art since it’s first appearance at the World Fair’s Fair of 1937. The huge mural has become an icon of Picasso’s work and has been interpreted in several unique ways, many of which contradict Picasso’s actual intentions. Artistically the composition is balanced and characteristically of Picasso’s work perfectly planned and flowing. The symbols of this piece despite the misconceptions of it’s many critics, including those present at the World’s Fair in the year that the painting was introduced, were clearly defined by Picasso himself.
The preliminary sketches of the work began in May of 1937, and was commissioned by the official Republican government of Spain in January of the same year. It was to be displayed in the International Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 International Exhibition, or as it is more popularly known, the World’s Fair. Picasso was given a large studio in which to conduct his artistic endeavers in partial payment for the work which was being done.
Picasso went through many artistic periods throughout his career as an artist, one of which was cubism. In a few ways, Guernica, somewhat broke from the traditional cubism which he had a hand in inventing. The painting makes use of a two dimensional picture plain with all of the objects on the canvas appear flat looking as is dictated by the cubism style. The picture plain is not, however, fractured like many of the previous works which were categorized under the same style.
Picasso’s reason for painting Guernica has been disputed by the many art critics of modern art, but perhaps the most accurate summary is the genius himself. Picasso explained that the work was not specifically about the bombing of Guernica, nor was it specifically about the Spanish Civil War which was the culprit in this destructive incident. It was rather a broad statement about human beings fighting amongst themselves, and the chaos which would ensue should such hateful human relationships be allowed to continue as they had in Guernica, Spain.
The organization of the piece was carefully planned in the forty-five preliminary sketches, which obviously concentrated on leading the eye thorough the composition. The objects themselves balance each other well to create a peaceful composition. Picasso makes a conscious effort to emphasize the bull, the horse and the woman in the window as each of these images are important to the symbolic aspect of the graphic depiction of the bombing of Guernica. As one looks at the overall movement in the painting, they get a sense of frozen motion unlike what is typical of the futurism style of composition. The idea that everything came to a sudden halt with no time to come to a real rest. The one piece of evidence contrary to this is the soldiers arm which lays peacefully across the ground.
The enormous 138″ x 308″ canvas was painted using only grey scale colours, which is said to be in co-ordination with the ink of the newspapers which often covered the bombings during the civil unrest in Spain. Picasso uses dominantly blacks and whites using value changes in few areas over the picture plain. He uses line extensively, with almost geometric shapes taking form and leading the eye as can be seen in many of his pre-production sketches.
Texture is kept to a minimum in the specific work as it is a very two dimensional art work and as is common of the cubism style. He has made extremely good use of space as nearly the entire canvas is used, while maintaining the balance which is necessary to keep the composition aesthetically pleasing.
Among the many symbolic images in the work are a bull, a horse a soldier with a broken sword and a woman looking out of a window with a very concerned look on her face. The images which had been misinterpreted on several occasions were corrected by Picasso when he explained that “The bull is not Fascism, but is brutality and darkness . . . the horse represents the people . . . the Guernica mural is symbolic . . . allegoric. That’s the reason I used the horse, the bull and so on. The mural is for the definite expression and resolution of a problem, and that is why I used symbolism.” The broken sword in the soldiers hand, which can be seen at the bottom centre of the composition was used to symbolize the broken spirits and the failure to resist on the part of the people. The woman is a symbol of concern for the fighting people by people who have succeeded in being able to see the whole picture.
In my opinion this is a very emotion provoking and is appealing to my eye. The largest contributing factor to “Guernica’s” overall appeal is the excellent use of symbolism which encourages it’s audience to think. If ever given the opportunity I would be most interested in seeing the original of this work. I have gained a lot of respect for not only the artistic integrity of this painting, but also for Pablo Picasso as an overall intuitive and creative person.