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Pablo Picasso's Guernica as One of The Most Powerful Murals Depicting Anti-war Sentiments

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Pablo Picasso's Guernica as One of The Most Powerful Murals Depicting Anti-war Sentiments Essay

“In the panel on which I am working, which I call Guernica, I clearly express my abhorrence of the military caste which has sunk Spain into an ocean of pain and death.”-Pablo Picasso

How does protesting against a war help influence people who think otherwise? In 1937, Picasso conveyed his anger against a war by displaying his gigantic mural-sized artwork, Guernica, to thousands of viewers at the Paris World Fair. Ever since, the painting has become one of the most powerful allegation against war. After the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, a desire to create an anti-war symbol, a need to express his political loyalty to Spain, and a commission by the Republican government caused Picasso to paint Guernica.

The first cause of Picasso painting Guernica was a commission by the Republican government. Commission means a form of payment for one’s services for the government in any type of way. The Spanish government had requested Picasso to paint an exhibition for the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne, which was to be held on the 25th of May, in Paris, France (Preston, 2007). The fair was to hold exhibitions from artists around world, and meant to showcase the world’s best technological and scientific achievements thus far. The event would be the sixth of its kind, and there was wild acclaim for exhibits from the previous events. The magnitude of this event was so large that at its fourth one in 1889, the Eiffel tower was built to be the centerpiece. This called for a lot of responsibility on Picasso’s part (Read, 1999). At that time, Picasso had been living in France itself, and the Spanish Civil War had broken out just a few months prior. He accepted the commission, but had no inspiration for the actual artwork for the longest time. His initial plans included an artwork about an artist’s studio, but he never felt any real connection to that project. On April 26, 1937, just a month short of the exhibition date, this all changed. As a result of the ongoing Spanish Civil War, the city of Guernica in Basque Country, Spain, was bombed by German and Italian warplanes (Preston, 2007). The bombing caused deaths in local civilians of that area, in magnitudes that debated to this date. The inspiration that Picasso was looking for to paint his commissioned piece finally presented itself. An exhibition for technological achievement probably had not expected to face the negatives of such advancement—warfare technology. That commission itself gave way, as an outlet, and caused Picasso to paint one of his most cherished and iconic paintings, Guernica.

The second cause of Picasso painting Guernica was to create an anti-war symbol. An anti-war symbol represents peace which is opposed to a specific war. The Spanish Civil War was mainly a conflict between then current Spanish Nationalist Government, and the leftists revolutionary Secondary Government that supported democracy (Musciano, 2004). The bombing of Guernica was particularly impactful because it was ordered by the ruling nationalist government to target and attack its own innocent civilians for political advantage. News of the bombing outraged Picasso, who although living in France, was still a Spanish national. The bombing happened on April 26, 1937, and just five days later, on May 1st, Picasso started the initial draft for Guernica (Cantelupe, 1971). In the painting, Picasso illustrates the tragedies of war, and the reckless extents to which institutions can go to maintain power—even kill innocent people, and leave millions of others in suffering. Individuals in the painting are portrayed with tragic expressions, suffering, and despair. The use of black, white, and gray color palettes further enhances the catastrophes of war. Guernica quickly rose to represent the horrors of war during that period of time, especially after the tragedies of the first World War that had left millions of innocent civilians still in suffering (Musicano, 2004). More importantly, it allowed Picasso to advocate anti-war, and call for peace. It was extremely crucial to Picasso to create a piece of art that could relay his desire for an end of war, and his anti-war Guernica did just that. Picasso himself stated while working on the piece that “[his] whole life as an artist has been nothing more than a continuous struggle against reaction and the death of art. How could anybody think for a moment that [he] could be in agreement with reaction and death?”. It became a symbol for movements of peace and acceptance, of anti-nationalistic, rightist governments to take advantage of innocent civilians, and for Picasso to step foot into the political sphere.

The third cause of Picasso painting Guernica was a need to express his political loyalty to Spain. Political loyalty means the devotion or commitment to a political community or a cause. Before his painting of Guernica as a result of the bombing, Picasso was never heavily involved with politics, or even social issues. To Picasso, he was a man bound to no particular country. He was a Spanish national, but was spending a majority of his time in France (Cooke, 1982). He felt no desire to hold strong loyalty to his country of birth. However, after the bombing of Guernica, this all changed. Picasso was overcome with a desire to stand by the innocent civilians of his home country. This instilled within Picasso a need to express his political loyalty to Spain. However, this loyalty was to a nation and not its government. Not only did he want to create an anti-war symbol, but also establish his political alliance with the people of Spain. Picasso felt like Spain had turned into a playground for war-driven governments to play on, without regard to death of innocent civilians, and needed to change that. His political loyalty stood with liberating Spain from the fascist government that was currently ruling (Thomas, 2001). He took that political loyalty to his nation and channeled it into painting Guernica, and made sure to full exploit its power and pushing across his political views and ideologies. When the painting was completed, it was sent on a world tour, and Picasso refused to let it enter Spain until The Spanish Civil War was finally resolved, with results favoring the leftist secondary government that had emerged (Koenderink, 2012). In fact, the painting was used to raise funds for Spanish refugees and civilians, and draw attention by creating global awareness of the atrocities of the civil war. His toe was not just dipped into the political pool, he dunked head on and his need to be politically involved caused him to paint Guernica. He may not be a politician, but he could still use his powerful art to bring about political awareness and change.

“In the panel on which I am working, which I call Guernica, I clearly express my abhorrence of the military caste which has sunk Spain into an ocean of pain and death.”

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