3 Feb, 2017 @ 18:00
2 mins read

Spanish Civil War Expo pavilion restaged in London

spanish pavilion
The Spanish pavilion at the 1937 Paris International World’s Fair

IT unveiled two of Spain’s most radical art works to the world.

And now the Spanish Pavilion of  the 1937 Paris  International World’s Fair, which showcased Pablo Picasso’s Guernica and Joan Miro’s The Reaper for the first time in public, has been recreated in London.

Barcelona’s Galeria Mayoral will house the scaled down reconstruction of the art space at its pop-up venue 6 Duke Street until February 10.

The gallery’s aim is to highlight to a new audience the retrospective importance of its content, which was shockingly ignored by most art critics until many years later.

Pablo Picasso’s Guernica

The structure, once housed in the centre of the city, was built by Spain’s Republican government during the country’s devastating civil war.

By selecting two radical left wing artists, the government’s aim was simple – to highlight the horrors of the conflict that were being inflicted upon its people at the behest of Spain’s right wing Nationalists.

But they were shamefully overlooked at the time in favour of totalitarian exhibits by the Russians and Germans, who were ultimately awarded the prizes for best pavilions.

Painted in an outrage over the Nazi and Italian Fascist bombing of the Basque village of Guernica, Picasso’s canvas stood in the gallery at a towering 3.49 metres high and 7.76 metres wide.

Although created in his studio, he finished it on site.

Pablo Picasso standing in front of his Guernica painting at the Paris International World’s Fair

It was there that, as legend goes, a workman from the German pavilion spotted it and asked Picasso if it was his work.

“No, yours,” he countered.

A harrowing mural of tortured souls surrounded by a gored horse, a bull and flames, it was hoped Picasso’s work would generate much-needed international financial aid.

But it only did so in the months after the expo when it went on worldwide tour.

Miro’s The Reaper (El Segador) was equally arresting, at 5.5 metres high.

It depicted a Catalan peasant wearing a barretina hat holding up a sickle in one hand, his other raised in a Republican clenched fist salute, his face contorted in a cry of despair.

Mysteriously it disappeared after the exhibition, never to be seen again, leaving historians only with black and white photographs to prove it ever existed.

Joan Miro painting The Reaper

Miró’s grandson, Joan Punyet Miró, still hopes his grandfather’s work may resurface one day. He said: “El Segador reflected the pain, suffering and revolutionary angst of the Catalan people, on seeing how their identity, their language and their culture risked being engulfed by a nationalist victory.”

Other artists also played an important role in the Republican’s 1937 expo pavilion.

Works by Julio González, Alberto Sánchez,  Alexander Calder and José Gutiérrez Solana led visitors on a tour of republican Spain.

They all served to highlight the positive role of culture, education and popular traditions in countering the devastating effects of the civil war.   

Ramon Puyol’s ¡No Pasaran!

Barcelona’s Mayoral gallery is responsible for bringing the exhibition to Duke Street, which opened its doors this month.

Its staff worked tirelessly to try overcome their biggest problem- to choose in what colours to paint Miro’s contribution.

After much deliberation, they decided to recreate it by scanning and stitching together black and white photographs, so as to not present a false representation.

Revolutionary posters and propaganda materials displayed in the 1937 pavilion, plus original posters and programmes for the fair, and drawings by many of the artists.

To Miro’s grandson, the pavilion still holds great importance.

“For many of us people born in the 50s and 60s, the pavilion continues to have a very special meaning,” he said.

“We lived during the latter years of the dictatorship, the transition period and the arrival of democracy.”

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