Pablo Picasso's Guernica (1937)
a) Pablo Picasso's Guernica
The painting Guernica seems to show a large, open room with people and animals who are suffering. A bull stands over a woman crying over a dead child in her arms. A horse falls in terrible pain as it dies after being run through with a spear. A dead soldier lies under the horse, his arm has been chopped off, but the hand grasps a shattered sword from which a flower grows. A light bulb shines strongly. A female figure floats in, holding a lamp which is a symbol of hope.
b) Interpreting the symbolism
It was painted in 1937, Picasso was expressing his horror of the military caste which was then plundering Spain into an ocean of misery and death. as an immediate reaction to the Nazi's devastating casual bombing practice on the Basque town of Guernica during Spanish Civil War. He permitted the idea that if viewers give a meaning to certain things in his paintings, they might be very true, but it would not be his idea to give this meaning, and then what ideas and conclusions they have got, he obtained too, but instinctively and unconsciously. The painting contained massacred animals. He made the painting for the painting and he painted the objects in it for what they were.
c) Picasso's alternative response
However, his alternative response would be to say that the bull represented the brutality and darkness while the horse represented the people. The whole mural was symbolic and allegorical, and was for the definite expression and solution of a problem, and this was not normal for his work.
- Picasso: ...this bull is a bull and this horse is a horse... If you give a meaning to certain things in my paintings it may be very true, but it is not my idea to give this meaning. What ideas and conclusions you have got I obtained too, but instinctively, unconsciously. I make the painting for the painting. I paint the objects for what they are. (http://www.pablopicasso.org/guernica.jsp)
- Picasso: These are animals, massacred animals. That's all as far as I'm concerned...(http://www.pablopicasso.org/guernica.jsp)
- Picasso: My whole life as an artist has been nothing more than a continuous struggle against reaction and the death of art. In the picture I am painting — which I shall call Guernica — I am expressing my horror of the military caste which is now plundering Spain into an ocean of misery and death."(http://www.pablopicasso.org/guernica.jsp)
- Picasso: Yes, the bull there represents brutality... the horse the people. Yes, there I used symbolism, but not in the others (Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics (1968) interview with Jerome Strickner, (1945), p487)
- Picasso: No, the bull is not fascism, but it is brutality and darkness(Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics (1968) interview with Jerome Strickner, (1945), p487)
- Picasso: My work is not symbolic. Only the Guernica mural is symbolic.but in the case of the mural, that is allegoric. That's the reason I used the horse and the bull and so on. The mural is for the definite expression and solution of a problem and that is why I used symbolism ((Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics (1968) interview with Jerome Strickner, (1945), p487)
told Picasso that many people were saying that now, with his political
affiliations, he had become a leader in culture and politics for the
people, that his influence for progress could be tremendous. Picasso
nodded seriously and said "Yes, I realize it." I mentioned how he was
often discussed in New York, especially the Guernica mural (Now on loan
at the Museum of Modern Art in New York) [Acquired by the museum soon
after-Ed] I talked about the significance of the bull, the horse, the
hands with the lifelines, etc and the origin of the symbols in Spanish
mythology. Picasso kept nodding his head as I spoke."Yes" he said "the bull there represents brutality, the horse the people. Yes, there I used symbolism, but not in the others"I explained my interpretation of two of his paintings at the exhibition, one of a bull, a lamp, palette and book. The bull I said, must represent fascism, the lamp, by its powerful glow, the palette and book all represented culture and freedom - the things we're fighting for - the painting shows the fierce struggle going on between the two.
I mentioned now that we looked forwards to a perhaps changed and more simple and clearly understood symbolism within his very personal idiom.
- ...the people of the world know the two are the same, that wherever fascism has gone there is darkness and brutality, death and destruction. There is no distinction."Picasso shook his head as I spoke. "Yes, 'he said" you are right, but I did not try consciously to show that in my painting. If you interpret it that way then you are correct, but still it wasn't my idea to present it that way."'But," I insisted, 'you do think about and feel deeply these things that are affecting the world. You recognise that was is in your subconscious is a result of your contact with life, and your thoughts and reactions to it. It would be merely accidental that you used precisely these particular objects and presented them in a particular way The political significance of these things is there whether you consciously thought of it or not.' 'Yes,' he answered, 'what you say is very true, but I don't know why I....(Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics (1968) interview with Jerome Strickner, (1945), p488) (but recovered from The Penguin Book of Interviews:(1993)
- "...used those particular objects. They don't represent anything in
particular. The bull is a bull, the palette is a palette, and the lamp
is a lamp. That's all, but there is definitely no political connection
for me. Darkness and brutality, yes, but not fascism"
He motioned to the color etching of the glass and the lemon. "There" he said "is a glass and a lemon, its shape and colors - reds, blues, yellows. Can you see any political significance in that?""Simply as objects" I said" no""Well," he continued, "it's the same with the bull, the palette and lamp." He looked earnestly at me and went on, "If I were a chemist, Communist or fascist – if I obtain in my mixture a red liquid it doesn't mean that I am expressing Communist propaganda, does it? If I paint a hammer and sickle people may think it's a representation of Communism, but for me it's only a hammer and sickle. I just want to reproduce the objects for what they are and now what they mean. If you give a certain meaning to things in my paintings it may be very true, but it was not my idea to give this meaning. What idea and conclusions got I obtained too, but instinctively , unconsciously. I make a painting for the painting. I paint objects for what they are. It's in my subconscious. When people look at it, each person gets perhaps a different meaning from it, from what each sees in it. I don't think of trying to get any particular meaning across. There is no deliberate sense of propaganda in my painting"
" Except in Guernica, "I suggested"Yes" he replied, "except in Guernica. In that there is a deliberate appeal to people, a deliberate sense of propaganda....""I am a Communist and my painting is Communist painting.... But if I were a shoemaker, Royalist or Communist or anything else, I would no necessarily hammer my shoes in a special way to show my policies" (Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics (1968) interview with Jerome Strickner, (1945), p489)