Whenever I have some spare time, I tend to visit the National Museum Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS) and, among other major works of Pablo Picasso, I contemplate Guernica (1937).
This summer, in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the first presentation of the large mural, the museum exhibited “Piety and Terror in Picasso. The Road to Guernica”.
In this article I would like to share with you my thoughts about the “road to Guernica”.
A Way to Guernica
The first step to Guernica was taken by Picasso in 1907 with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Thirty years later, after his incursion into different forms of expression (cubism, surrealism, etc.), he painted his great mural with a singular breakthrough impulse.
At the beginning of 1937, the artist received the socio-political commission to make a mural for The Republic, as a call of attention upon the war, for the International Exhibition of Paris in May of that same year. Its dimensions, 11.50 ft.x25.50 ft., made the painting stand out in the Spanish Pavilion and draw public attention to the republican cause in the middle of the Spanish Civil War. When talking about his work, Picasso once said: “Painting is not made to decorate apartments. It’s an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy.”
During the first three months after the request, Picasso only found disposable positioning; but on April 26, 1937, after Condor Legion’s devastating and tragic attack on Guernica and a month before the due date to which he had committed, in extremis, Picasso found inspiration and succeeded in extracting the clamorous motive he needed to address such a special task. Until then, his art had been essentially intimate and personal; he had almost never alluded to public sphere, even less to political events.
Picasso decided to undertake the painting in a feverish month of May, taking also the first two weeks of June, on delaying for the opening of the exhibition.
It is necessary to emphasize another special event that took place in this occasion. Development and sequential stages of the work were accompanied by his mistress, Dora Maar -whom I consider to some extent as the instigator of the dazzling and strongly emotional effects achieved-. Dora Maar, bright and restless photographer, and Picasso’s partner (1936-1945), helped and inspired Picasso with photos compiled from the press and provided by her colleagues, reporters of Guernica after the bombing. She also documented with her camera the painting’s progress.
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Picasso´s Breakthrough
We well know that big jumps in the artistic world are responses to the steps previously taken; but at the same time, although it seems contradictory, it can’t guarantee in advance what will happen, since, sometimes, art is invented by surprise, without warning. What we must understand is that invention can only take place when one has a notion of the value of the invention itself, and this isn’t possible if there is no knowledge of what has been done in the past.
Picasso had a classical figure drawing formation. Let’s try to analyze the new concepts he brought into the artistic world with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. The scene’s sketches were drawings of a descriptive-figurative cut, notes of a group of women au naturel (and even of men, as we can’t forget the masculine figures represented by the philosopher and the sailor that were eliminated). Picasso does not start with an abstract painting. At that moment, he refuses to copy and launches himself towards the adventure of solving a picture at any cost.
The components of the painting took over and told Picasso: here we are, do whatever you need with us… The picture no longer depends on the written script and it gives rise to a new argument. The argument itself guides the author since he is the only one who knows what he is dealing with.
Picasso might not have known very well that he was opening a new chapter in the history of painting, but he sensed something that moved him, he went as far as his eagerness took him. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was not ordered, but he painted it for himself, perhaps to show himself and the world his power. At first, Picasso was disconcerted with the result (just as Braque) because it’s a painting that looks like if it had been conceived by spontaneous generation, without saga. It didn’t seem to have consequences, nor did it immediately generate a series of pictures. It was a strange phenomenon: it happened, overwhelmed, and remained a bit isolated. Thirty years later, Picasso painted Guernica.
Picasso and Guernica
What worried him the most was treating the painting as a composition, as if it was the first and last thing to do: the relationship between the strokes and the other elements. In this way, he struggled with a fragmented whole, merged into a space that’s no longer three-dimensional, but bi-dimensional.
Picasso looked for a flat projection frame with no colors in order to accentuate the dramatism using white, gray and black. Guernica, in essence, is the composition and the expression. It’s a painting with sound: the characters scream, gesticulate, and die under blind bombs that have wiped out almost everything.
Hits in the Work of Picasso
In both paintings, the foreground exposes an elementary treatment of the line drawn in fragments, like a poster, along with its ineffable wake-up call. During the years between them, Picasso painted very different things and, as usual, he wasn’t “looking for but finding”. In Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, he works with certain primitivism and he founds inspiration in the ethnic and African art masks. Then, in a constant recognition of Cézanne’s work, he experiments with cubism, but he does not abandon other topics, assignments, and a lot more classical approaches (like Suite Vollarde, 1930-1937).
I believe Picasso didn’t use that same strength with which he created Les Demoiselles d’Avignon until 1937, when he had to face Guernica in an almost precipitous way. It’s then when he again finds the resource of a “crushed” treatment against the foreground of everything within the painting and the schematic layout of figures without volume, depth, or perspective.
On Friday’s workshop, I’ll do this with my daughters, my father, and some friends, we’ll go deeper into Picasso’s composition and expressive force through a game that will bring his masterpiece to the children’s world and we’ll learn how to compose like him. If you want to see our workshop’s outcome, follow me on social networks.
I made another of my playlists with the music that Picasso used to listen:
What do you think about it? Leave a comment bellow.
Photography: Alberto Hernandez
Styling and decoration design: Carolina Verd
Make up: Su&Jo
Fashion by Pez
Velvet olive dress; Nili Lotan