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Pablo Picasso Guernica




A well known illustration of a group of people and animals in different poses painted on a dark background

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Picasso's magnificent and deeply troubling painting about the suffering of war is painted entirely in shades of gray. Dangling high up in the middle of the crowded composition is a naked light bulb, set in an eye shape, sending out spiky rays. Near it, a kerosene lamp is held by a hand at the end of an impossibly long arm. The arm stretches out from a window on the right side of the painting, and the hand and arm belong to a frightened woman who looks ahead and gasps in horror. Behind the window, a house is engulfed in flames. Inside, a body reaches upward in agony, struck by collapsing timbers. In the lower right corner, a woman escapes the inferno. As she drags herself away from the fire, she looks up pleadingly. Her hand and body are both distorted, suggesting the injuries she has suffered. Near the center, a horse rears and neighs in pain as a lance pierces its body. To convey the animal's agony, Picasso exaggeraged its features, depicting it with flared nostrils and a pointed tongue in its screaming mouth. The horse's rider has fallen, landing across one of the horse's hoofs. His left arm reaches out toward the left side of the canvas. His body seems chopped into bits; a severed arm holding a broken sword appears in the bottom center. Above the dead man, Picasso painted a woman wailing in grief, holding her lifeless child. Behind her is a threatening bull. An actual event drove Picasso to create this painting. While World War II was brewing in Europe, in 1937 the French government organized a Universal Exposition intended to ease the tension. Entitled "Progress and Peace," it was to be held at the base of the Eiffel Tower, and fifty-two countries were invited to display their art. In January of 1937, the Spanish Republic asked Picasso to create something special for the occasion, and he accepted. While he was thinking of an appropriate subject, word came of a tragedy in his homeland. A civil war was being fought there. General Francisco Franco led the insurgent forces against the Spanish Republic. In response to his request, German planes bombed the small town of Guernica in northern Spain. Guernica was the ancient capital of the proud and independent Basques. Although the small city was defenseless, the planes passed over again and again, dropping bombs. Picasso learned about the brutal attack in the newspaper, where he read that the bombing lasted for hours, killing sixteen hundred people, wounding thousands more, and devastating the city. The artist decided to make this event the subject of this painting for the Exposition. To develop his idea, Picasso made more than one hundred drawings. He looked at great paintings showing classical and biblical scenes of war, and created something totally new. He decided that instead of showing the actual town, he would use a few representative figures, placing them on a canvas more than ten feet high and twenty-five feet long. In six weeks, Picasso completed the mural, which he named Guernica. Through exaggerated poses and expressions, jagged shapes and lines, Picasso captured the frenzied horror of the attack.

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