‘El Guernica’ was created as a response to the bombing of the town of Guernica in the Basque country. In April 1937, the German and Italian troops who were helping the rebels under Franco bombed the town with the aim of attacking its civil population. Following the request of the president of the Spanish republic, who still hadn’t succumbed to Franco’s rule, Picasso, already living in France, depicted the massacre in a painting to be shown in Paris that year.
The painting is a large black and white canvas, (3.50m x 7.80m) painted in a recognisable Picasso style (cubism). Picasso didn’t want the painting to return to Spain until the country became a democracy again and so it was housed in the MOMA in New York until 1981. It was then transferred to an annexe in the Prado Museum, the Cason del Buen Retiro. Since 1992, the painting has been hanging in Madrid’s Museo de Arte Reina Sofia, a public museum dedicated to contemporary art.
‘El Guernica’ is an emotive reminder of the horrors of war. As such, it hangs outside the UN’s security council’s entrance in New York. When in 2003, Colin Powell delivered a speech to convince the world of the need to attack Iraq, the copy of the Guernica was covered with a drape.
Picasso had wished for the US to keep his painting safe until Spain became a democracy once more. I wonder what he would have made of this.
During my research for The A to Z of Spanish Culture, I came across this video put together by the national TV channel, about the return of Picasso’s Guernica to Spain.
Unfortunately, I can’t embed the video here, but here is the link.