Guernica in progress at Musée Picasso

Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Dora Maar, Paris, 1937, Musée national Picasso- Paris
©RMN-Grand Palais / Mathieu Rabeau ©Succession Picasso 2018

Guernica, the painting by Pablo Picasso, has become a legend for the theme it represents and the political artistic fight it symbolizes. An exhibition at Musée Picasso establishes the origins of the painting, the artist’s political activism in the 1930’s and through the war, and the after life of the masterpiece when it travelled around the world and was sent  to Madrid after Franco’s death. The exhibition is not too large and very well detailed. Do not miss it.

Dora Maar, Photograph of “Guernica” during its execution, state VII, atelier des Grands-Augustins, mid-june 1937, © Musée National Picasso, RMN-Grand Palais / Mathieu Rabeau

Conceived in five weeks eighty years ago, the painting of Guernica has come to symbolize the importance of the master in 20 th century history.  A few days after the little Basque town Guernika was bombarded by the Germans on 26 April 1937, Picasso decided to paint a large fresco condemning Franco’s fascist ambitions. He was partly inspired by Goya’s “Disasters of the war 1810-1815” and different “Massacres of the Innocent‘ by Poussin and Rubens.

Pablo Picasso,” Tête en pleurs”, preparatory drawing for Guernica, Paris, May 1937, Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia

In 1936 he had met Henriette Theodora Markovitch alias Dora Maar, a Croatian photographer, who was  introduced to him by Paul Eluard. This is when he toured an exhibition of his works all around Spain from January to April 1936, in support of the Republican government. Siding with the Republicans against Franco’s military government, he was made a director of the Prado museum but never went to Madrid at the time. He was kept informed by his mother and friends who sent him articles on the political situation in Spain.

Pablo Picasso, “Corrida: the torero’s death”, Boisloup, September 19, 1933, Musée Picasso

Dora Maar encouraged him to express his political opinions and methodically recorded with photographies, the painting of Guernica during its short five week process. Some of her pictures are shown here. They document the changes and evolution of the work.

Mario Perotti,  “Guernica” in the Hall of Cariatidi during the exhibition Picasso at Palazzo Reale, Milan, in 1953 Photo without date, ©Succession Picasso, ©RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris)/Adrien Didierjean

There is a wall covered in political posters from the time and a room devoted to Guernica’s posterity. From 17 July 1936, Franco led the civil war which resulted into many Spaniards fleeing to France.

After being exhibited in New York for many years, the work of Guernica was finally hung in Madrid in 1975 after Franco died, and moved to the Reina Sofia in 1994. This exhibition gives it all its significance and its powerful image. Until July 19, Musée Picasso.

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