Guernica, a Changing World and Inescapable Horror


Pablo Picasso’s Guernica represents a critique and protest against the 1937 Spanish Civil War and the horror and terror that came with it. (Lede paragraph)

This painting is a quintessential piece within Picasso’s portfolio of work.  It is the epitome of his cubist style and experimental technique.  It demonstrates his ideal that, “art is a lie that makes us realize the truth,” because it uses almost cartoonish and warped images to explore the tragedy of war and express his displeasure and protest of the Spanish Civil War and event that divided his country from 1936 to 1939.

The painting has seemingly no boundaries to it and all the figures seem to blend together in an amalgamation of destruction and horror.  The characters of the piece are simple farm folk, their livestock and their loved ones dying together.  The painting is of the people and not the attack.  No planes are featured, no guns are fired, but it is the horror on their faces that speaks.  Some lie dying, others watching, but the sentiment is the same.  Something that Picasso does that I found to be very interesting was his ability to collage the images and make more with less.  Such examples include the bull’s head being formed mainly by the horse’s entire front leg which has the knee on the ground. The leg’s knee cap forms the head’s nose and a horn appears within the horse’s breast. (Description)

Amongst the first things that I looked for and subsequently was unable to detect within the painting was the presence of the attacking airplanes.  Guernica was bombed by the Germans and Italians at the behest of the Spanish Nationalist army.  Yet, the painting is completely devoid of this.  It shows merely the aftermath of the bombing and I interpret this as Picasso saying that it is not the attack, but the destruction that is the horror of war.

In my opinion, two of the most important aspects of the painting are the bull and the horse.  Art historian Patricia Failing said, “The bull and the horse are important characters in Spanish culture. Picasso himself certainly used these characters to play many different roles over time… Their relationship is a kind of ballet that was conceived in a variety of ways throughout Picasso’s career.”  Both animals appear to be in pain and it represents the pain being felt by the people of Spain.

Another interesting facet of the painting is the direction of the characters’ eyes and the color.  It is a very bleak portrait and uses its lack of color to express oppression. Combined with the idea that all the characters seem to be looking towards the sky, it seems to further represent their oppression.  Yet, I also felt that the painting is really condensed on the sides and on the bottom, but there is room in the sky.  The people are looking at the sky as a form of escape from the death and destruction of their environment.  Given that the attack on the town came from the sky (and airplanes were a brand new tool of warfare), I believe that Picasso is saying that what was once thought of as an escape, to fly to the heavens, is now where the destruction is coming from.  He is saying that there is no escape from this type of warfare.  There is nowhere to go anymore. (Analysis)

In Guernica, Pablo Picasso is acknowledging a changing and industrialized world and the horrors of war through experimental and highly interpretive art. (Conclusion)

Pablo Picasso. Guernica. 1937. Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain. (Citation)