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Guernica:

Picasso, Surrealism and the Spanish civil war


Lecture given for the Art Gallery Society lecture series 2014, at the Art Gallery of NSW
Jaime Tsai, 2014

Pablo Picassos Guernica is perhaps the most recognisable image of the 20th century,
and arguably his best painting. In that sense, the painting that famously memorialised
the atrocity of the bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica needs little introduction.
Countless books have been written on the subject, and the meanings of its
iconography continue to be debated amongst art historians. In fact, I could give you
an entire lecture series on the one painting, but today my focus is directed toward the
surrealist Picasso of the 1930s, and Guernica as a manifestation of a distinctively
surrealist personal mythology. My focus will be the evolution of two highly
personalised motifs: the bull and minotaur, and their complex relationship to the
motifs of the woman and horse that almost always appear together in Picassos
paintings and prints of the 1930s. I believe that it is through the image of the bull in
Guernica that we see Picassos personal mythology most powerfully mobilised.

A Spaniard living in Paris with a network of creative peers, Picasso came under the
influence of the Surrealists, who were the presiding avant-gardes in the 1930s. For
Picasso, it was a period of introspection, and according to the art historian TJ Clark,
his most emotionally tumultuous. From early on, Andr Breton, the founder of
Surrealism, claimed Picasso as one his own saying that [it is] Picasso to whom
together with Picabia and Duchamp we owe the most1

In 1934, Breton proclaimed that while Sade is surrealist in Sadism, and Baudelaire is
surrealist in morals, Picasso is surrealist in Cubism.2 Picassos influence on the
surrealists through cubism was twofold: firstly, according to Breton, cubist
abstraction made a frontal attack on the external object, in other words, the cubist
deconstruction of the world of appearances radically redefined reality, plunging it into
the shadowy realm of the imagination.3 This attack on verisimilitude in the history of
Western art dislodged the image from its anchor in the real world facilitating instead
irrational abstractions of the mind. In Bretons opinion, this was at least partially due

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to the inextricable nature of his art and emotional life: his inner turmoils were
exorcised on the canvas for all to see, a spectacular example of surrealist
automatism.45

Cubism also influenced surrealism on a social level. The collage in cubist works
brought high art into contact with everyday life. By using wallpaper and newsprint,
and drawing on subjects related to 20th century middle-class existence, Picasso and
Braque rejected the traditions of art bound to religious or aristocratic patronage in
favour of art that communicated with the masses.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that in the wake of Dada, the surrealists abhorred the
reign of logic in the 1930s, as well as the current governments investments in
capitalism, nationalism and Catholicism. For these reasons, Picassos ability to merge
art and life in his psychologically receptive abstractions represented a creative
potential for social and psychological revolution for the surrealists.

Like Marcel Duchamp, Picasso was defiantly independent, yet he shared many
interests and values with the surrealists. Captivated by the erotic and instinctual
potential of the unconscious mind, Picasso experimented with several Freudian and
surrealist techniques in his art and writing such as juxtaposition, doubling and
automatism during the 1930s. He frequently collaborated with the surrealists in this
period, contributing illustrations to publications by Aragon6, Breton (Clair de terre,
1923), Tzara7, Pret8, Jarry9 and his closest surrealist friend, the poet Paul luard.10
He also knew Man Ray well and even used some of his rayograms in his collages.
luards influence is obvious in Picassos questionable automatic poetry. But more
importantly, Eluard was responsible for imparting his knowledge of Marx and
communism. Up until 1936, Picasso could hardly have been called a political animal,
but his political evolution in the company of the surrealists cannot be underestimated.

Like the surrealists, Picasso also had a great love for ethnographic objects. The
presence of such objects in Picassos studios is striking. Picasso surrounded himself
with these so-called primitive objects from Africa, the South Seas, and most
importantly from Iberia, which he identified with his own Spanish heritage. If we then
look at Bretons studio, which is now permanently installed in the Pompidou in Paris,

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we immediately see the similarities. Like Picasso, Breton also collected masks and
totemic objects. Their collections are unsurprising given the 20th century affinity for
primitivism. Although both men adopted anti-colonial positions in the early twentieth
century, they nonetheless saw such collections from a colonialist perspective: as
archaic, raw, immediate and magical. On both a formal and social level, these
primitive objects offered an alternative to bourgeois representation and the stifling
rationality of civilised culture. It was for very similar reasons that Picasso and the
surrealists drew on the art of children, the insane and nave artists like Henri Rousseau
for inspiration; untainted by an academic education and ignorant of the bourgeois
taste for avant-gardism, these marginal figures provided further evidence of a more
immediate and instinctual art.

Mythology occupied a similar place to ethnography for the surrealists, these ancient
stories, so frequently violent and erotic, contradict the scientific positivism
dominating knowledge in the 20th century. For Picasso and the surrealists, abandoning
myth in the modern era was at the cost of a highly imaginative communal language
that bridged the gap between man and man, and man and nature. Certainly they had
no wish to invent a new mythology (as this would be a new form of fascist control);
instead they wished to revive its ritual and communal function in society. The lack of
myth along with the demise of all kinds of spirituality, they believed, was responsible
for the alienation that characterised modernism. An excellent visual communicator,
Picasso adopted the bull and the minotaur as symbols of a highly personal and organic
mythology that evolved throughout the 1930s in response to both private and public
pressures.11

The bull has obvious symbolic currency for Picasso. He was born in the Andalusian
city of Malaga - the ancient home of bullfighting. In a lecture on the spirit of Spain,
the Adalusian poet Federico Garcia Lorca, whose photograph graced the opposite side
of the Spanish Pavilion to Picassos Guernica, said Spain is the only country where
death in a natural spectacle. For Picasso, being a true Andalusian included an
obsession with suffering, wounds and the proximity of death.12 In fact, bullfighting
was the last outdoor activity he gave up in his old age. Unwilling to renounce one of
the worlds last primitive rituals of sacrifice, Picasso was drawn to the barbaric and
instinctual pleasures of his Black Spain. The bullfight was a type of muse for

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Picasso throughout the 1930s, just as it was a hundred years earlier for his mentor
Francisco Goya.

Picasso was particularly absorbed by the relationship between the horse and the bull
in the bullfighting arena. Blindfolded with a red scarf, and surgically relieved of its
voice before the fight, the horse is little more than target practice for the bull, being
frequently disemboweled in the process. Picassos bullfighting tours were often in the
company of his lovers, Olga Koklova in 1917, and Marie-Thrse Walter between
May and September in 1934. Thus his evocations of the bullfight are often personified
and intertwined with eroticism: from 1932, he increasingly represented the horse and
bull in mortal combat, imbuing the horse with feminine and passive characteristics,
and identifying his own virile masculinity with the heroic bull.

The Female Torero I and II, produced in the summer of 1934, evolved from a trip
through Spain he took with Marie-Thrse. Picasso shared a private studio with her
between 1929 and 1931. For Picasso, who was 50 when she was 21, she was the
epitome of a passive, accessible and sensual woman. Picasso said at one time that she
was sweet and gentle and did whatever I wanted her to13 Her drowsy, Swiss
beauty is captured in Woman with Yellow Hair and we can see her unmistakable soft
profile in the torero that is swept, along with a horse, underneath the muscled body of
the charging bull. With the presence of Marie-Therese, the bullring reaches its full
erotic potential, and you can see the pleasure Picasso derives from negotiating this
scenario, of the aggressive bull dominating the languid, nubile body of Marie-
Therese, through an extended series of iterations. Many of these bullring works
include the bulls horn piercing the underside of the horses vulnerable flank. It is at
once an unambiguous reference to the sex act, as well as an allusion to the tumultuous
violence of intimate relationships and the agony of childbirth. The proximity of sex
and death in many of these works once again suggests the influence of the surrealists,
with their love of the Marquis de Sade and violent eroticism.

The minotaur appears in Picassos work as a culmination of the bullring struggle


between the bull, the horse and the woman. In many works Picasso moves beyond the
mere personification of the bull, transforming him into a minotaur, both human and
beast. Like the heroic bull, Picasso identified with the minotaur, the spawn of Queen

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Pasiphae and the sacred bull, a cannibalistic amalgam of beast and man that, because
he reminded King Minos that he has been cuckolded by a bull, was condemned to the
depths of a labyrinth where he survived on a diet of Athenian adolescents. For the
surrealists, the labyrinth with its infinite paths alludes to the layerings and depth of the
unconscious mind, and it is no surprise that the minotaur can be found in the depths of
the labyrinth, just as our true animality is preserved and contained in the deepest
recesses of our unconscious minds. The Minotaur is thus a metaphor for Freudian
split consciousness. The man/beast represents the eternal war between the
unconscious instinctual desires of the id and the superego that delays gratification and
to varying degrees is successful in preventing us from degenerating to impulsive
animals. According to the surrealists, the danger of modern culture is its pretense that
savagery no longer exists as part of humanity. Instead barbarism continues in the
guise of rationality and civilisation, a far more dangerous state of affairs as proved in
the following years with the Spanish civil war and the bombing of Guernica.

Picassos minotaur appeared frequently throughout the 1930s, for example, he made
several etchings for the Vollard suite (1930), the Metamorphoses of Ovid (1930), and
the Minotauromachy (1935-6). Of course the minotaur had been a frequent subject for
surrealist artists, especially Andr Masson who had obsessively depicted the subject
as early as 1922. The minotaur also featured often in the writings of Breton and
Georges Bataille. In 1933, Picasso contributed the cover for the first edition of the
surrealist journal Minotaure. His cover featured the muscular man-beast, dagger in
hand, on a cubist-style background of doilies, crumpled foil, cardboard, ribbon and
wallpaper.

The horse and bull disappear in Picassos many etchings of the minotaur. The violent
eroticism of the bullring is replaced with a no less confronting encounter of the
ferocious beast with the docile, often sleeping, body of Marie-Therese. The art critic
John Berger claims that Picasso sees himself in the misunderstood figure of the
minotaur, as he represents [an] animal in the captivity of an almost human form; it
also represents the suffering caused by being rejected because [he] exists in an
unattractive, that is to say untamed, uncivilised body. Either way, the minotaur
suggests a criticism of civilisation, which inhibits him in the first case, and dismisses
him in the second. Yet, the Minotaur is not a pathetic creature. He is a king. He has

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his own power which is a result of his physical strength and the fact that he is
familiar with his instincts and has no fear of them.14

In the etching Mintoauromachy, the minotaur is further humanised and nuanced by


Picasso. The composition has the illegibility of a surrealist dreamscape and the weight
and solemnity of an ancient frieze or altarpiece. Once again the symbols of Picassos
personal mythology appear: the horse, the woman and the bull/minotaur. The female
torero reappears draped over the back of a shrieking horse. A male figure on the right
eagerly escapes the minotaurs right arm by scaling a ladder. The vast body of the
minotaur appears stopped in his tracks before the horse captivated by the candle held
aloft by a small girl. In an earlier print, The Blind Minotaur from September 1934, a
similar girl carries a dove, a symbol of peace, while leading the blind and helpless
minotaur through the darkness.

The Minotauromachy is the largest and most complex of all the works produced
during a period that Picasso described as the worst time of his life. He had stopped
painting, and his personal life had creatively crippled him. He had split from his wife
Olga, and he was ambivalent about the pregnancy of his young mistress, Marie-
Thrse. In this context perhaps the minotaur is an image of pity. He awkwardly
stumbles towards the light, but in order to do so he must trample the body of the horse
whose lacerated belly foreshadows the imminent pregnancy of Marie-Therese, who
once more appears in the guise of the female torero. The minotaur is clearly an
equivocal presence in Picassos work. On the one hand he appears as a symbol of
sexual virility and bestial urges, and on the other as a symbol of weakness and
vulnerability.15

But there are social implications to the Minotauromachy in addition to the personal
ones. In this dark etching the presence of physical threat and the restless, foreboding
skies also portend the impending war. A year later on the 17th July, 1936 the Spanish
Civil War began, and didnt end until 1st April 1939, when the Second World War
was in full swing. The Spanish Civil War ensued in response to the democratically
elected Second Spanish Republic. Displaced generals, conservatives, Fascists,
monarchists and Catholics opposed the Republic and financially supported a partially
successful coup, which left Spain militarily and politically divided. From that moment

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onwards Francisco Franco, who was renowned for being Spains youngest general,
began a protracted war with the established government, as loyalist supporters of the
left-wing Republican Government fought the rebel forces for control of the country.

Like Picasso, the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali, had predicted the civil war in his
painting Soft construction with Boiled Beans: Premonition of Civil War. 16 Dali
depicts a nightmarish landscape, desolate but for some scattered beans in the
foreground and a monumental, gnarled body, tearing itself in two. Just after the
outbreak of the war, Dali painted the evolving conflict in Autumnal Cannibalism,
which features two lovers locked in a cannibalistic embrace. Their bodies form the
meal, which has been served up on a platter before an earthy-toned Spanish
landscape. A metaphor of a country divided, the apple balanced precariously on the
head of the male figure refers to the Swiss legend of William Tell, who was forced to
shoot an apple from his sons head.17 The grotesque paintings reflect the impossibility
of either side emerging victorious if it is at the cost of their countrymen. Despite these
obvious criticisms of the civil war, Dalis political position was often questionable. In
the work The Weaning of Furniture-Nutrition (1933-34), for example, Dali painted in
several swastikas, which suggested his support for the Nazis. Horrified by the
implication, the surrealists forced him to paint them out. Nonetheless, Dali always
seemed to lean towards the right, or, according to Andr Breton, any side that was
better funded and supported. Dalis paintings drew a very fine line between
identification with and criticism of Fascism and Hitler. Unsurprisingly, Dali was
expelled from the Surrealists in 1934 for fascist tendencies.18

From the outset, Picassos position is far less ambivalent. In January of 1937 he made
a two aquatints titled the Dream and Lie of Franco, which were reproduced on
postcards and sold for the benefit of the Spanish Republican Government. Each print
is subdivided into three rows of three scenes that all together form an eighteen-scene
narrative.19 Despite the surrealist absurdity of the narrative, his prints were intended
as a propagandistic attack on Franco and his regime. The title of the prints was
appropriated from the celebrated 17th century dramatist Pedro Calderon, who along
with Cervantes formed the backbone of Spanish literature. Read from right to left
(because Picasso etched the images from left to right), Franco is portrayed as many
manifestations of evil, from a polyp, a hairy turd, to a maja wearing a mantilla and

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carrying a fan embellished with an image of the Virgin Mary. A monstrous grinning
figure, he kills and devours the innards of his own horse before transforming into one
himself, only to be gored by a heroic fighting bull. Nationalistic and religious banners
spout from his open wound. The grotesque representation of Franco is extended in
Picassos poem written to accompany the plates, an abject form of surrealist
automatism. The last four scenes of the second plate were added on June 7, six weeks
after the bombing of Guernica. The mother cradling her child, and the screaming
woman with outstretched arms were vital to his studies for Guernica.

He had in fact accepted the Republicans request to paint a mural for the Spanish
pavilion at the Paris Worlds Fair in January, earlier that year. But he was ambivalent
about the project, and unsure of what to use as a suitable subject. In the following
months he vacillated between the need to support his Spanish comrades and his
antipathy to political dogmas and polemical painting. However, two events solidified
his political position and provided him with the subject matter and motivation for the
mural. The first was the aerial bombs that were dropped on Madrid on the 16th of
November 1936, which hit the Prado. Although the only object that was affected was
a 16th-century relief, Francos military tactics were clearly endangering his aesthetic
heritage, including all the Goyas, El Grecos and Velazquezs that formed the backbone
of his aesthetic education. He agreed after that moment to take on the role of the
director of the Prado, a position primarily in name. The second and most important
event to motivate Picasso was the air raid on the town of Guernica on the 26th of
April 1937. The Times reported:
Guernica, the most ancient town of the Basques and the centre of their
cultural tradition, was completely destroyed yesterday afternoon by insurgent
air raiders. The bombardment of the open town, far behind the lines, occupied
precisely three hours and a quarter, during which a powerful fleet of [German
aeroplanes] did not cease unloading [bombs] on the town the fighters
meanwhile flew low from above the centre of the town to machine gun those
civilians who had taken refuge in the fields. The whole of Guernica was soon
in flames20

News of Guernica hit Paris through the newspaper Ce Soir with a front page photo, a
nocturnal inferno accompanied by an article by George Steer, a London Times
correspondent covering the Basque war from Bilbao. Guernica was staunchly anti-
Franco, but no one expected that when Franco proclaimed to save Spain from

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Marxism I would shoot half of the country that he was quite serious. 5000 bombs
were dropped by the German Luftwaffe on the defenseless town, the total annihilation
of the town finally achieved with incendiary bombs that made Guernica a vast, black
furnace. For Franco, the assignment had two objectives: to test out the new incendiary
devices and measure the speed and efficiency of the towns decimation, and the other
was to demolish civilian morale. Considered in these terms it was a huge success of
modern warfare, but more broadly the civil war was also a success for the Nazis who
controlled the air, and for Mussolini, who had loaned Franco 40,000 Italian troops.
The Fascists saw the whole affair as a practice, a dry run for the inevitable global
battle of WW2. Guernica sent an international message of what these global powers
were capable of.

Nonetheless Franco and the Luftwaffe immediately denied and concealed their
involvement despite reliable reports returning from the ruins. Instead a propaganda
war ensued, with the Fascists declaring that Guernica had been destroyed by Basque
Communists or an anarchist shock brigade in retreat.2122 The following weeks were
brutal for Spain. Francos forces successfully advanced in a broad front across the
north and east, and during the Barcelona May Days (3-8), the republican Popular
Front tore itself to pieces with in fighting. The fall out from the fighting between the
Communist Party (and the Marxists and anarchists) resulted in 500 deaths, the
dismantling of the Marxist party, and the capture and murder of its leader by Stalinist
agents.23 Largo Caballero, the Prime Minister of the Second Spanish Republic was
removed from the premiership.24

The horrific events in Spain split the surrealists in France. Those that were still
faithful to the French Communist Party like Eluard and Aragon chose to ignore both
the Marxists deaths at the hands of the Communist Party, and Stalins Moscow Trials.
As a result they were excommunicated from the movement by Andr Breton, who
continued to be a staunch supporter of Trotsky and saw the Trials as modern
Inquisition. Although Breton visited Picasso and showed his support of his anti-
Franco position by posing in front of the great mural in progress, Breton never
forgave Picasso for groveling to Stalin and becoming a popular mascot for
Communist Party, which he joined in 1944. Breton even refused to shake Picassos

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hand in New York in 1946, because unlike Picasso, he was unable to place friendship
before political commitment.25

Needless to say, Picasso finally had a subject for his mural commission. In May 1937,
Picasso released a public statement of his position:
In the panel on which I am working which I shall call Guernica, and in all
my recent works of art, I clearly express my abhorrence of the military caste
which has sunk Spain in an ocean of pain and death.26
He began the first sketches for his project five days after the bombing. At this time he
had left Marie-Therese with their newborn child and started a decade-long affair with
Dora Maar, a fierce and intelligent Croatian photographer. Like Breton, Maar was an
anti-Stalinist surrealist, and was actively involved in the agitprop group October, and
the far-left groups Masses. She had an enormous political and creative influence on
Picasso and it is under Maars watchful lens that Guernica eventually takes shape. She
captured the entire process in 9 stills, and also helped paint Guernica. Once Picasso
had his subject, it took him just over 5 weeks to complete the vast mural. Maar was
also responsible for finding the studio to house Guernica, a site that had previously
been the meeting place of Counter-Attack, the radical anti-fascist group organised by
Breton and Bataille in 1935. Having been a member of the group herself, Maar
thought the political site perfect for the evolution of Picassos grand mural. Maars
photographs of the various stages of Picassos process continue to facilitate close
examinations of Guernica in its various transformations.27

Guernica is a massive oil on canvas approximately three and half metres high and
almost eight metres long (349.3 x 776.6cm). It was first shown at the entrance hall of
the Spanish pavilion, for the Worlds Fair in July 1937. Guernica was clearly made
with the site in mind; it faced the monumental photograph of Garcia Lorca, with a
sculpture by Alexander Calder in between. Beyond was an outdoor cinema showing
films of the civil war curated by Luis Bunuel. In the midst of the Spanish civil war
between the Republican Communists and Francos fascism, the Worlds Fair revealed
the concurrent tensions rising between Europeans powers and ideological positions in
the lead up to the Second World War.

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This was most explicit in the German and Soviet Pavilions that happened to face each
other off at the Worlds Fair. Boris Iofan designed the Soviet pavilion, which was
embellished with a dynamic, monumental sculpture of a worker and peasant28 striding
forward, hand in hand, with a hammer and a sickle. The German pavilion was
designed by Albert Speer, Hitlers favourite architect. Topped with an eagle and
swastika, its airless geometric stability was intentionally intimidating, a bulwark
against communism.

Picassos monumental history painting on the cost of war seems entirely appropriate
in the context of these world powers facing off at the Worlds Fair. Guernica is
painted in grey-scale, giving it the appearance of a frieze, and Clark adds that in
particular it retains the solemnity and pathos that might be found on a frieze for an
interned sarcophagus. It is important to add that a grand history painting of this kind
is deeply anachronistic in the twentieth century, suggesting Picassos wish to return to
the gravity of history to find an appropriate language for the tragedy of Guernica.
With a pyramidal composition, he refers to the tradition of creating a legible narrative
through the relationship of parts to the whole in a painting such as Delacroixs Liberty
Leading the People. However, unlike Delacroix, the symbolism and narrative is
anything but clear-cut, bearing far more in common with the delirious association of
symbols and mythology found in a surrealist painting. Whereas Delacroix celebrates
the hope for the future as the revolutionaries stride over the fallen bodies of their
comrades, Picassos history painting has no such optimism. In this regard, it has more
in common with Goyas Third of May, or the famously dark Tragedies of War series.

In a dramatic shift from the familiar interior of the cubist still lifes and portraits,
Picasso extended his practice with Guernica beyond room-space to a more dramatic,
open, public space that is more appropriate to the international gravity of the subject.
Nonetheless, Picasso did experiment with pasted, patterned paper29, but it was
removed by state 9 and replaced with painterly stippling on the horse, turning it into a
newsprint image of itself. Clark argues that this final allusion to cubism, his version
of wallpaper, anchors Guernica in real space, and reasserts the texture and tangibility
of room-space. He retrieves surface and gives bodies back their substance, not
nostalgically, but in order to keep the world close. That is, to give the sense of
proximity in Guernica without the implied intimacy of the Cubist collages.

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At this stage Im going to turn your attention to the evolution of the painting through
its various stages in order for us to consider the importance of certain figures to the
meaning of Guernica. We will begin with the solider (sketch). The soldier appears in
the earliest iterations of Guernica and you can see him here, fallen, with eyes closed
horizontal to the canvas. In one hand he holds a spear. Once again referring back to
the grand tradition, the horizontal solider refers to Ingres Romulus Victorious of
Acron.30 Ingres solider is a heroic, fallen, figure, and certainly this is the way that
Picassos equivalent starts out. In the first and second stages, the fist of the soldier is
clenched in a communist salute, forming the central backbone of the composition.
The raised fist that grasps some ears of corn and bright sun behind it evoke the
reaping sickle a symbol of the Soviet Union. But by the third state, the raised fist
and corn have disappeared, and instead Picasso chooses to highlight the despair and
helplessness of the situation by replacing the corn with a broken sword, an
anachronistic and useless weapon in the context of Guernica and industrialised
warfare. Perhaps the soviet symbolism was too Greek and transparent for Picasso, or
too altogether heroic. The soldier displayed some resilient defiance with the fist, a call
to arms that his death has not been in vain, and that another republican will rise in his
place and continue their common purpose. There is also the possibility that at the
time, with the anarchists blood in the streets of Barcelona, the fist was too close to a
Stalinist salute.
Moving through the states you can see that by ninth state31 the soldier is
transformed into a bust of a statue or a decapitated head. His limbs are torn from his
body and the gaping mouth of the solider acts as a declaration of a historical atrocity,
his broken body a testament to the impersonal horror of modern warfare.32

Those familiar with Picassos oeuvre will know that women appear, even in violent
scenes, as a mark of sexuality in his work, and yet in Guernica there is no hint of
eroticism. They bear the full weight of the catastrophe and bear witness to the
bombing. In the first state their bodies are curved and seductive but in the final
painting their breasts and nipples, a symbolic source of life and fecundity, are
rendered in cubist shards sharp, brittle and guillotined: their bodies contort in
response to the bombs that turn flesh to bone and bone to dust.33

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The two light sources in Guernica are the cause of much speculation amongst art
historians. The first is a lamp held aloft by a female figure that bursts through a
window. She recalls the young girl with the candle in Minotauromachy, whose warm
light is enough to keep the monster at bay. This friendly source of light seems to
offer hope in a dark place, and its importance is suggested by its stable presence in the
composition throughout all the studies and states.

The sun behind the soldiers raised fist in the second state is flattened out in the third
and all following states, becoming a sharp, electric eye. One historian claims that the
coldness of the light bulb refers to a world informed but not engaged.34 Yet another
claims that the electric light represents the detached awareness35 of the
uncommitted industrial powers (France and England) that refused to have any
involvement in the plight of the Spanish people. In the context of the electric light,
perhaps the gentle kerosene lamp represents the backward economy of Soviet Russia
that sent the Republican army rifles and riflemen, machine guns and gunners, tanks
and tank drivers, airplanes and pilots. The elongated neck of the woman holding the
lamp suggests the geographic distance of the aid her help arrives on a wing, a small
beacon of warm light in an otherwise catastrophic scene. A further suggestion of the
figures Russian origins are her breasts and left hand, which are metamorphosed into
shapes that loosely resemble the Soviet five pronged star and sickle.36

As we have seen, the bull and horse are favourite figures in Picassos oeuvre, their
various relationships signaling tensions between brutality and vulnerability, strength
and weakness, nobility and ignominy. In most of the studies and states, the horse is
contorted in agony, a large gash in its torso. In the early studies a small winged
Pegasus rises out of the wound, perhaps a hopeful sign of rebirth, of courage and
spirit. In the later states, however, the Pegasus is abandoned and the gash in its side is
represented as a sharp, black chasm. An omen of the horses imminent death, the
cavernous incision perhaps signals Picassos nihilistic attitude at the time. Certainly
the situation in Spain was hopeless, Franco was winning the war with his Moorish
troops and legionnaires from Morocco, and the Popular Front was breaking up,
undermined by the feuds between the anarchists and the communists.37 Following the
civil war, an estimated 15-50,000 political opponents were killed under Francos
dictatorship. The bird between the horses mouth and the bull replaces the Pegasus in

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the final state, but the bird is no symbol of peace and liberty. Instead it is just as
trapped in the nightmare as the rest of figures in the scene - its left wing is broken and
it cannot escape by flight.

Although Picasso stated that the bull is just a bull and at another time that it stood
for dark forces and the horse for the Spanish people, there are very few historians
that take him at his word. Picasso was famously disingenuous, even claiming in
defense of his primitivism that hed never heard of African art. Thus some historians
suggest that the bull is an eternal symbol of the Spanish nation and a hope for its
continuation, while others link it to Fascist cruelty. Either way, the simplicity of
Picassos interpretation undermines the subtlety of the horse and bulls previous
liaisons in his work.

In every sketch and state the bull maintains an odd alienation from the scene. The bull
and the mother beneath him are miniaturised and pushed back from the main action.
The bull commands an alternative, removed plane, like the wing of an altarpiece.
Given that Picasso identifies with the bull and minotaur, often giving them human
facial features that resemble his own, perhaps the bull represents his own dislocation
and detachment from Spain in its time of need. You may have noticed that the bull is
the only figure not contorted in pain and anguish, his pain, Picassos pain, is the
internal guilt of the expatriate, that can only watch on from Paris as the country levels
itself in war. In this context the bull, like the blinded minotaur, is devoid of his sexual
magic: tamed, the bull leaves an image of anger and defeat.38

After its debut at the Spanish Pavilion, Guernica was given to the Museum of Modern
Art in New York on an extended loan. It was Picassos express wish that the painting
should return to Spain after Francos death. Although Franco died in 1975, it took the
Prado six years before Guernica was returned to Madrid. On the 10th of September
1981, the Spanish minister of Culture released the following statement:
I cannot conceal my deep satisfaction upon receiving today, on behalf of the
people and the Government of Spain, the painting Guernica This
masterpiece will enrich the pictorial patrimony of Spain [and] on the other
hand [will continue to] condemn cruelty and darkness. With the arrival of
Guernica a heartfelt wish of all Spaniards who love art and a peaceful
coexistence is hereby fulfilled.

14
Since 1992, Guernica has resided in Madrid's new museum of modern art, the Museo
Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia alongside other Spanish masterpieces by Gris,
Miro, Dali.39

Although Guernica is now well and truly institutionalised, this doesnt mean that it is
no longer a potent anti-war message. In a testament to Guernicas power and ongoing
political currency, on the 5th of February 2003, United Nations officials covered up a
tapestry reproduction of Picassos Guernica during an address by Colin Powell. The
presentation given by the US Secretary of State was the American case for war
against Iraq. Located at the entrance of the U.N. Security Council, Guernica was
shrouded with a blue sheet and Security Council flags. A brief article in the New
York times appeared the same day proclaiming: Mr. Powell can't very well seduce
the world into bombing Iraq surrounded on camera by shrieking and mutilated
women, men, children, bulls and horses.40

As I have argued, women, bulls and horses belong to a deeply personal iconography
for Picasso, but in Guernica, a public work par excellence, they are raised to the level
of a modern myth. And like the ancient myths before it, it is a narrative of power and
violence of world changing proportion. Picassos Guernica ensures that the story of
the small Basque town will never be forgotten, but will survive in our collective
memory to be exchanged and passed down for generations. Only this week, an
Argentinian judge invoked universal jurisdiction to try serious rights abuses
committed by Francos autocratic regime. I dont suggest of course that Guernica is
mythical in the fictional sense, but in the sense of its global, communal language,
spoken through the bull, the horse and the woman. Like all myths, Picassos myth is a
personal and cultural fabrication, highlighting with pinpoint precision the dangers of
mortal hubris.

15
1
Rudolph Arnheim, The Genesis of a Painting: Picasso's Guernica (Berkley: University of California Press, 2006); Baldassari,
Anne, The Surrealist Picasso (Paris: Flammarion, 2006); T.J Clark, Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2013); Robin Greenley, Surrealism and the Spanish Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press,
2006); Breton, What is Surrealism, ed. and intro. Franklin Rosemont (New York, London, Montreal and Sydney: Pathfinder,
1978) 27
2
Breton, What is surrealism, 164-5
3
Breton, What is Surrealism, 288; In my view Picasso is so great only because he constantly adopts a defensive attitude with
regard to external things.; Breton, Picasso in his element, Surrealism and Painting, trans. Simon Watson Taylor (London,
Macdonald and Co., 1972)
4
ibid, 35; Thus Breton identifies Picasso as a Surrealist insofar as he pushes the external object to its limits and allows it to be
coloured, metamorphosised by experience and imagination. Picassos difference from the surrealists was his defence of
representation. To Brassai he described his own type of surrealism saying: Me, I always seek a likeness A painter must
observe nature, but never confuse it with painting. It can only be translated into painting through signs. Anne Baldassari, The
Sur-realist Picasso, The Surrealist Picasso, 34
5
Breton wrote: What has exempted [Picasso], in our eyes, from the category of those so-called cubist painters who were of no
interest whatsoever to us, is the lyricism which allowed him, very early on, to take great liberties with the strict concepts that he
and his fellow enthusiasts of the movement had imposed on themselves. The secret lay in the fact that once the principles of a
new means of representation had been established, his temperament permitted him to be the only one to go beyond those
principles by refusing to shield them against the impulsions of passion that his life might experience.Breton, Pablo Picasso, 80
carats with a single flaw, in Surrealism and Painting, 116-7
6
Feu de Joie, 1920
7
Lantitete, 1933
8
De derriere les faggots, 1934
9
Poemes
10
La Barre dappui, 1936; Thorns of Thunder, 1936; Les yeux fertiles, 1936; O Solitude! O fontaines! 1937, au rendez-vous
allemand, 1945
11
The art critic John Berger supports this argument with his claim that Picassos imagery of [the 1930s] is Spanish,
mythological, and ritualistic. Its symbols are the bull, the horse, the woman and the minotaur.Berger, 102
12
Chipp, Picassos Guernica, 45
13
Gilot and Lake, 211
14
Berger, 104
15
According to Picasso, the minotaur is only powerful and fearful insofar as he retains his sight, the same can be said of the
artist, who without sight and the power of representation is impotent.
16
His paranoiac-critical method was a more direct than automatism which was seen as passive by destabilising the material
world with delerious and hallucinatory realities formed in the mind of the spectator. Dalis arrival in Paris coincided with the
Surrealists failed relationship with Communists in 1929.
17
According to Robin Greenley, Dali Analyses contemporary political events particularly the rise of Facism, as outgrowths of
paranoid aggressions deeply imbedded in the human psyche.Robin Greenley, Surrealism and the Spanish Civil War, 54
18
Masson, hated Dali and was politically engaged antifacist. In Barcelona Acephale figure (1936), the acephalic man crushes a
crucifix and swastika underfoot. Nonetheless, he was critical of the communist parties hypocritical claims to equality. In
violence, Communism was akin to Facism, thus Acephale, distinguished in difference from facism: useless, nonjudgemental,
antiheirachical and capable of releasing the intensity of human existence. Miro was invited to produce a mural for the Spanish
republics pavilion for the 1937 Exposition Internationale des arts et Techniques in Paris.
19
Met Museum, http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/336519
20
Berger, 164
21
TJ Clark, 242
22
The Nationalist denial of its involvement appeared in the Parisian Le Temps on May 1, 1937.Wischnitzser, 164-165
23
independent Marxist Party (POUM) and the anarchist trade union
24
Clark, 242
25
Anne Baldassari, The Sur-realist Picasso, The Surrealist Picasso, 34
26
"Guenica: Pro and Con" in A.H, Barr, Jr., Picasso. Fifty Years of His Art, New York, 1946, p. 202, excerpt cited in Rachel
Wischnitzser, Picassos Guernica, a Matter of Metaphor, Artibus et Historae 6, no. 12 (1985): 153 - 172
27
Robin Greenley stresses the importance of reading Guernica as a Surrealist work, as its evolution is multifaceted and layered.
Uncovering its meaning thus requires a sensitivity to process and trace, and must be unravelled like a dream with its manifest
and latent content. And just like a dream, I must add that no one claims to have deciphered the absolute meaning of Guernica, all
interpretations are necessarily inconclusive, and this is part of the power of Guernica: that it requires a subjective response. For
this reason I will consider the painting in its various stages, considering the significance of the changes made and choices that
lead to the final object.
28
created by Vera Mukhina
29
appeared on the surface of the painting in State 6 and 8
30
which itself is an appropriation of Davids Intervention of the Sabine Women
31
happens in seventh state
32
Arnheim, Guernica, 94, 102
33
TJ Clark, 262
34
Arnheim, 20
35
Carla Gottlieb, The Meaning of the Bull and Horse in Guernica, Art Journal 24, no. 2 (Winter 1964-5): 110-111
36
Wischnitzser, 162
37
Wischnitzser, 165
38
Wischnitzser, 166
39
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/museums--a-rightful-place-in-history-when-picassos-guernica-left-the-prado-
many-art-lovers-threw-their-hands-up-in-horror-david-sylvester-thinks-they-were-wrong-1554086.html
40
Maureen Dowd, Powell Without Picasso, New York Times, February 5, 2003
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/05/opinion/powell-without-picasso.html

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