“Guernica” originally appeared as the centerpiece mural of the Spanish Pavilion at the World Fair of 1937. It was painted by the renowned artist Pablo Picasso as a protest against Fransisco Franco’s facist regime’s actions on April 27th, 1937 against the city of the same name . Some critics have made the assertion that it is in fact “modern art’s most powerful anti-war statement”. After it was revealed at the World Fair, it later brings acknowledgement of the atrocities occurring in the Spanish Civil War as it tours North America and Europe though it never returns to Spain. Picasso’s wishes for it to not return to Spain until the Spanish people are able to enjoy freedom from fascism. It continued touring around the world raising awareness of the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s actions until his reign eventually fell and on the one hundredth birthday of its creator the mural was returned to Spain.
This painting expresses in a visual form the theme of the horrors of war. It was created after a three hour bombing in the cultural center of Basque country by German planes under the command of Generalisimo Fransisco Franco. Through its depiction of the mangled bodies of both humans and animals, burning buildings and mourning of lost ones the destruction of war practically shrieks from the canvass like the woman holding the lifeless body of her child. This figure may be one of the most obvious and at the same time one of the most profound. Yes, children died in that bombing and many wars have unfortunately consisted of the deaths of children and youths. Moreover, this woman also represents the mother of any soldier who puts his life on the line for his ideology or country. She cries with the eyes of bereaved mothers from every era and nation in the history of the earth.
An onlooker is also hard-pressed to ignore the mangled bodies that make up a large portion of this work. From the many heads and arms down to the body strewn to all ends of the lower border of the painting, the broken bodies are a huge part of the theme of the horrors of war expressed in this masterpiece. However, they not only show the obvious meaning of broken and maimed bodies that are the expected results of war, but also, as the war that inspired this mural was a civil war, it also represents the brokenness of Spain, or any nation divided against itself for that matter. One of the greatest horrors of war is how it divides families and communities and completely destroys these once peacefully functioning bodies.
There are a number of other figures on this painting that can be analyzed and criticized, but I will stop there and leave the rest to anyone who has comments. These are just some of my thoughts on the painting and what Picasso may have been trying to express, but as the esteemed painter himself said “The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them.”