9 Apr, 2023 @ 11:38
2 mins read

Picasso’s Guernica revisited: The Malagueno artist’s perplexing masterpiece

Reabre El Museo Reina Sofia En Madrid
(EDITORIAL NEWS USE ONLY - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL OR MERCHANDISING USAGE) People look at Guernica by Pablo Picasso during the partial reopening of the Reina Sofia Museum, after its closure in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, on June 06, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. A maximum of 30 people (30%) at a time are now allowed to view Picasso's iconic anti-war painting depicting the 1937 bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish civil war. (Photo by Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto)

PICASSO was living in Paris when German bombs rained down on the Basque city of Guernica.

Stark black and white photographs plastered over the front pages of L’Humanité and other French newspapers were the first visual representations he saw of the bloodshed and devastation.  


Those images became his inspiration for one of the world’s most iconic paintings, a universal howl against the atrocities of war which attracts millions of visitors to its Madrid home at the Reina Sofia Museum last year.

Picasso’s choice to paint it in monochrome has been cited as a deliberate effort to represent a photographic record of the genocide, despite its avant garde style.

HOME: Guernica is housed at Reina Sofia Museum
HOME: Guernica is housed at Reina Sofia Museum

Picasso had originally been commissioned to paint a mural for the 1937 Paris Exhibition. But he abandoned his original idea in favour of the mural-sized painting on discovering what had happened in his homeland.

Its unveiling that summer garnered little interest. Few people fully understood it as Picasso resolutely refused to discuss its symbolism.

In fact, the official German guidebook to the exhibition advised against visiting Picasso’s ‘hodgepodge of body parts that any four-year-old could have painted’.

Later it would tour the world and become the focus of countless scholarly works analysing

AT WORK: Picasso painting Guernica
AT WORK: Picasso painting Guernica

its striking motifs.

The most haunting symbols are the bull and the gored horse. But look beyond those and you can learn about the atrocities of the Spanish civil war and peer into the mind of the Malagueno artist.

Guernica scholar Anthony Blunt separates the painting’s central pyramid into two groups: the first containing the bull, horse and bird, the second with a dead soldier and various women in different manifestations of grief.

The overwhelming female presence is representational of the ratio of men to women in the town at the time of the bombing. Most men were away fighting.

Art historian Patricia Failing says: “The bull and the horse are important characters in Spanish culture. Picasso himself certainly used these characters to play many different roles over time. This has made the task of interpreting the specific meaning of the bull and the horse very tough. Their relationship is a kind of ballet that was conceived in a variety of ways throughout Picasso’s career.”

Picasso used the minotaur motif throughout his pieces, and it’s said to represent his alter ego.

However, he himself said that the bull in Guernica signifies brutality and darkness, and that the speared ‘workhorse’ represents the people of Guernica.

Under the horse lies a dismembered soldier. On his palm is a stigma which symbolises martyrdom. In his other hand he clutches a broken sword out of which a very faint flower grows – often interpreted as a symbol of hope.

ICONIC: Guernica attracts millions to the Reina Sofia each year

Grisly fragmented motifs remind us of a tragic moment in Spain’s history, but the canvas itself has a story of its own to tell.  

Beginning its life at the Spanish Pavilion in Paris, it subsequently toured Scandinavia and was exhibited in Whitechapel Art Gallery, London.

It was then sent to the US to help raise money for Spanish refugees and housed in New York’s Museum of Modern Art before travelling around the country and then to South America.

It was under Picasso’s express wishes that it was not delivered to Spain until the country became a Republic.

It arrived here, weathered and worn, in 1981 – six years after Franco’s death – where it now rests, a symbol of peace that will outlive us all.



Chipperjo A Background Of Refreshing Beer With Some Bubbles Co 1991604e 1fa7 4625 A584 A7cc7406bc81
Previous Story

Not carrying the can? Will powdered beer become popular in Spain?

2 bedroom Apartment for sale in Calahonda with pool garage - € 235
Next Story

2 bedroom Apartment for sale in Calahonda with pool garage – € 235,000

Latest from La Cultura

Go toTop

More From The Olive Press