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Picasso's Guernica Reinvents the Language of Art

In addition to the impressive capture of the Basque town of Guernica’s bombing and the political causes, the painting Guernica embedded many personal references to Picasso’s life as well as his unique methods of scene creation, which challenged the world of Cubism. Guernica was commissioned to be exhibited as a protest-painting in the Spanish Pavilion to advocate Democracy against Hitler’s nationalist party. It represents the violence, aggression and sadness that every person was facing during Nazi attacks in Spain.


However, the objective political message that it transfers does not eliminate from Picasso’s individual attitude within the painting Buchanan, “Picasso’s Guernica: the Imaginative Treatment of History”. Picasso’s Guernica reinvented the definition of modern art through the artist’s personal vision of the town’s bombing along with general meanings and hybridity of style.


Unlike other Civil Art paintings that were meant to function as the past events’ reminiscent, Guernica is a documentation of the artist’s contemporary event, a reason for which it has gained universal importance. The city of Guernica, which was a centre of resistance in Northern Spain, was attacked by Franco and German military’s collaboration as a reminder of Nationalist extraordinary power over Communists. Such brutality had never been used as a painting material before 1937.



The event served as an idea for Picasso, who had been commanded to prepare a mural by means of a political statement for Spanish Government, who was wishing to display it at the 1937 Paris World Exhibition Cripps. Prior to the exhibition, Guernica was located in the Spanish Pavilion and was ignored due to the building’s insignificance comparing to the giant German and Soviet building. Nevertheless, the painting’s forcefulness and disturbing features made it appear as Avant-Garde art and drew the public’s attention soon after Payne, Book Reviews.


Another aspect making Guernica distinct from other Cubist paintings is its slight approaches to technology and mass media. The scene’s setting is similar to the old photographs distributed to inform people about controversial events on a global scale. Perhaps Picasso has been inspired by newspaper and media of the time for the creation of his masterpiece. Its content also resembles the actual pictures taken of Guernica’s bombing to suggest that painting could be socially realistic and not only aesthetically valuable Buchanan, “Picasso’s Guernica: the Imaginative Treatment of History”.


Even though there is not a visible proof of it within the painting, the brutal vibe connotes the tension that the newly emerged technologically-advanced weapons had entitled in the 20th century, the major reason why the period is remembered as “Century of Violence.”. Lastly, the mural’s setting and the characters’ situation remind the beholder of a drama played on a theatre stage. The artist has done an inventive job in binding pictorial values with performance art. 


 Picasso has claimed that Guernica is his way own of resistance against the war. Thus, he has juxtaposed deep emotional responses and the political statement’s requirements he had been asked to deliver through his art. Not only is the painting a reinvention the world of Cubism art, but it also describes the artist’s shift in his artistic voice borrowing from symbolism, surrealism and abstraction. He has constructed the painting based on his internal feelings about the war through the use of abstract elements, which keeps the painting alive and generate a new layer of significance again and again anytime one looks at it. The uncertainty of objects and relations between the figures yields to interpretation and exploration.


Picasso’s depending on symbolic elements serves the specificity and generality of the narrative of the Spanish Civil war Cripps. In Guernica, the scary faces and deformed lines and shapes express the theme of deconstruction, which is attributable to the frightening cooccurrence of Picasso’s sister, Lola’s birth in Malaga with an earthquake in the city. Picasso’s personal trauma aided him to create an effective masterpiece that became an icon for the intensive climate of the twentieth century after passing through massive rejections by art critics, formal opinions and the masses of the time.



Guernica was completed later than the golden “moment of Cubism.” Similar to other Cubist paintings, the shapes and forms used in the artwork may seem to be none-sense on their own and get meaningful after emerging as a whole within the context of painting, which makes it rationally comprehensive to the observer. The implicit existence of unconscious and unrealness proves that the artist has been inspired by the genre of Surrealism for his painting. Picasso has highly relied on his imagination and experience of his unconscious mind and combined his mind-made picture of the miserable war with the unclosed chapters of his personal trauma, earthquake, to make his work extraordinary.


Guernica is believed to be the unreal representation of the real due to the coexistence of imagination and real, human and animal figures and explicit and implicit, which all together render a new relationship between the external world and the world perceived by human’s mind. It invites the viewer to enter the painting and grasp the surrealism and confront the surreal world inside their head Buchanan, “Picasso’s Guernica: the Imaginative Treatment of History”. There are no objective values found in the painting and yet, it is known as the most engaging masterpiece of the century that has gained a global importance and validity Arnheim, 84-87


             Importantly, symbolism is another language that Picasso has appreciated in his artwork. There is no direct attempt towards promoting the Spanish Civil war or Republican beliefs in Guernica. Likewise, no existing evidence proves that the painting’s concept is describing the dark reality that Spain was facing throughout the war. Although, the diversity of symbols, themes, and elements pushes the interpreter to come up with political conclusions about the period of war.


The disarrangement of the shapes and mess of human and animal figures convey the chaotic climate that governmental conflicts render. Lack of painterly artistic standards and disfigured facial gestures symbolize pain and suffering caused by destruction. Picasso’s intentional choice of a limited colour palette makes his purpose of making a “nightmarish” vibe visible and together black and white with the information about time and place create an ultimate chaos. The symbolic elements and hues indicate specific occasions buried under the general concept of war Cripps.


The conflation of inside and outside within the same frame disallows any definite comprehension from Guernica, a feature for which the piece is special.


Guernica’s anonymity has led to the circulation of the rumours which have made the piece lively. The presence of animals such as bull, bird and horse besides the burning building and suggest exteriority. The woman with lamp and other people that are running on the other hand seem to be trying to exit a building.


Therefore, there is an unconventional perspective and spatial uncertainty that perhaps derive from the unshelteredness of people during Nazi attacks Buchanan, “Picasso’s Guernica: the Imaginative Treatment of History”. Russel has argued that Picasso has identified his savage spirit of resistance with the body of a bull that has appealed the other characters of the scene through his powerfulness. The bull’s lost gaze signifies the unsureness of weather to participate in what is happening in the centre of the piece. It looks proud and self-assertive, which epitomizes the artist’s sense of responsibility about his role as a Spanish citizen.


Picasso has employed the political misery that was taking place at his time and translated it into his abstract language simplifying lines, shapes and perspective. The painting Guernica is Picasso’s imperfect and yet super innovative vision of the war concerning the reality rather than a perfect utopia. He has diminished the quality of being locatable and put his objects and body figures on “nowhere.” The repetition of lines on horse’s hide suggests the influence of newsprint and popular culture on Picasso’s art making.



There is no negative space in Guernica and the fully occupied environment of the painting delivers a disturbing message about past hardships. The violence coming through has its roots elsewhere so the work is anonymous and yet, rich of a strong identity. None of the characters could be certainly named or identified and it gives Guernica and ambiguous value unfamiliar to the world of the twentieth century Cubism art. 



Guernica was painted in a hybrid Cubist-Surrealist style a year after Picasso’s symbolic directorship of Madrid’s Prado museum. The artist main goal was transforming his own vision of different styles such as Cubism and Surrealism in the service of political actuality. In other words, Picasso transited the unconsciousness of his fantasy world into realness of Guernica bombing. The painting could be read as political art in the favour of Republican cause against Hitler’s totalitarian regime. Thus, it carries the responsible resistant attitude of the painter, who turned the artistic standards of modern art into a publicly understandable language for the sake of a political statement. Accordingly, Guernica is believed to have feminist approaches opposing the masculine nature of Nazi society.


The characters in the painting are mostly female or ungendered and thus, contemplated as “the other” or minorities. So that, Guernica advocates anything that was abolished or alienated at the time such as females’ participation in the battle and the communist party (Foster et al, 284,285). 



Regarding Russel’s article, Picasso has done forty five preparatory sketches and couple of studies before coming up with his final execution. That proves how thoughtful and picky he has been in the painting’s commission. The painting’s subject matter is consisted of universal validity and individual perspective. Russel argues that the triangular composition in the centre with lateral scenes revives the tradition of triptych art.



The scene resembles a sacrificial slaughter related to the religious theme of crucifixion, to which Picasso had been attracted in the past years. If the running woman on the right is on her knees, she rejects the direction of others’ running and disorients the symmetry of the central figures. The light bearing woman who has had a permanent presence in Guernica from the first sketch, symbolized the artist’s call for revelation of truth among Nazi lies. Picasso has referred to his paintings and sculptures as the elements of the flow of his life and demonstration of his feelings about a matter.


 In spite of the noticeable number of lines on top of each corner and in the background, there is no horizon at the human eye level. The lack of spatial perspective and negative space appear the entire crowd on the same ground with no three-dimensional depth. Guernica is an abstract representation of reality without completely imitating it Buchanan, “Picasso’s Guernica: the Imaginative Treatment of History”. The non-personified characterization that Picasso has depicted invokes unwarranted aggression and cruelty and the nature of this event portrayed gives the audience of Guernica a freedom of interpretation and sense of self-authorization Cripps.



After circulating around the globe, Picasso requested a return for his canvas at the belief that the piece is a national monument at the service of its ethnic heritage, Spain, the country for which Picasso wanted democracy. The piece is emptied of environmental context and yet full of a major political context. Such vagueness and unusual history and method of art making made Guernica a big influence on the world of modern art Payne, Book Reviews.

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