Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937, 137.4 in x 305.5 in, Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain.

Picasso’s Guernica depicts the bombing of the little village of Spanish city of Guernica. The town was chosen on behalf of Franco, Spain’s fascist dictator, to be the test site of German incendiary and high explosive bombs. The town is bombed for over three hours and as the town crumbles away, over sixteen hundred civilians are killed or wounded. Guernica burns for three days and the world looks on in outrage. For Picasso, the black and white photos of the aftermath are stunning and in his mind, the painting begins to surface.

The painting itself is huge and consists of a simple color scheme, black and white and blue – perhaps mirroring the images Picasso himself viewed. Outside of the actual subject matter, it seems that Picasso left little as to the exact meaning of the piece – speculations have abounded since it’s initial creation. One thing seems clear, however, Guernica depicts atrocities of war, challenging previous interpretations of war as heroic, exposing it as a brutality of humanity. The painting is a jumbled mess of figures, their faces wide-eyed and open mouthed in panic. On one side, a woman clutches her child, her mouth open in what must be a scream. A man’s body lies upon the ground underneath a panicked horse, and peoples faces emerge from windows, amazed at the atrocities before them. The insanity of the situation is reflected in the piece, with line and form becoming the most important aspects. The painting is almost technical in its use of line, perhaps relating to the barbarous use of technology in the Great War.

The influence of “modern warfare”, of World War I is evident, to be sure. It was called the “War to End All Wars” for a good reason – the first war to be a truly brutal and horrific war. It included monstrous technologies as weapons – tanks, airplanes, grenades, all capable of taking down entire cities and hundreds of people at once. Poison gas and machine guns, a new type of horror, which mercilessly mowed over walls of humans, crippling or deforming thousands of men and woman. Guernica is now renowned for being the anti-war symbol, inspiring the true horrors of modern warfare into the viewer. The chaos of Picasso’s Guernica reveals all of this thought at once, of what people are truly capable to doing to one another. However, as we know, the true atrocities of the Second World War were only evident with the uncovering of the Nazi concentration camps, six years after Guernica’s creation. Apparently, the profound power of Picasso’s masterpiece only demonstrates and warns of so much.

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