Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Let's explore the history of the Guernica painting - the universal and most famous statement of anti-war art - look closely at the details and understand the meaning of this work.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Among myriads of paintings created by artists in different centuries, some works have an enigmatic power and make us continuously look up at every detail. Take, for example, the Guernica painting by Pablo Picasso in 1937. 

Even if we don’t know its story, we can still relate to it and understand the emotional palette. Whether you’ve seen it before or not, you can easily get the message of pain, loss, tragedy, and so on. In fact, Guernica is recognized as one of the signature works of the 20th century and the whole art history. Guernica was in 5th place among the most Google searched paintings worldwide as of 2019.

3,5 m to almost 8 m (~11 ft x 25 ft), the painting has practically muralistic size. The Guernica has never been up for sale, so it’s hard to tell its accurate price. Some experts name some rough numbers around $200 million.

Pablo Picasso

The painting is created in a signature style of Picasso – cubism. It is an art movement developed in 1907 by Pablo Picasso and George Braque. The main idea is to depict subjects from various angles rather than just one. That’s why an object is “broken” into pieces in cubism paintings and reassembled in an abstract manner. In this way, the artists wanted to give the object a greater context and underline that there is more to it than we can see at once. 

Another cubism example of Pablo Picasso. Girl with a Mandolin, 1910

By 1930-es, however, Picasso enriched the style with many new facets, like surrealism with its element of dream and unexpected hyperbolized scenes. So, art historians label Guernica a work of cubism as well as surrealism.

In this article, we want to investigate the story of the Guernica painting, look closely at the details and understand the importance of this work.

What are the story and symbols of Guernica?

In 1937, Spain was in the middle of the Civil War against Francisco Franco, who cooperated with the nazis (and would become a dictator). The Republican anti-fascist regime commissioned several prominent Spanish artists to create works for the Paris International Exposition of that year. The event was an opportunity to draw attention to the country in times of war. The commission was especially hard on Picasso, for his art was usually apolitical, and he didn’t want to involve himself in the affair.

Then, on April 26, nazis attacked a small Basque town of Guernica at the request of Franco. It was one of the first aerial attacks in history. The city was turned down with bombs, and hundreds of civilians (mostly women and children) were killed or injured. The next day, all newspapers printed the story with horrifying photos of after-shelling. Again, it was one of the first photo-documented wars in history.

Guernica town

Like most modern painters, Picasso never explained the meaning of every detail of his painting. Nonetheless, many elements are clear under closer look.

The first unusual thing is the color palette. Picasso chose black and white to imitate the photos in newspapers, that time only visual carrier of news. 

Two women on both ends of the painting are probably, the most striking images.

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