Guernica – Pablo Picasso, 1937
Guernica was painted in 1937, after the official periods of Picasso’s style had transpired. It seems to blend elements of Analytic and Synthetic Cubism: the variety of painted and drawn textures speaks of Synthetic Cubism, while the dark tonal scheme is more like Analytic Cubism. The painting is based on the bombing of the Basque town Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, and is thus very political in nature, reflecting Picasso’s ethos and attitude towards art.
The first thing I noticed about Guernica is that unlike the vast majority of Picasso’s artwork, even the Analytic works, it is solely black and white. This lack of color is probably meant to convey the bleakness of the subject matter, and the emphasis on black speaks of loss of hope and the presence of fear. The next thing I noticed was the anguished expression of every character in the painting. Given that it is a wartime scene depicting a horrific act of violence against defenseless civilians, one of the first of its kind, this anguish is understandable. It is a representation of how not just Picasso felt about the bombing, but the rest of the world as well.
Other things about Guernica began to jump out at me as I looked at it more. For one thing, I realized that the bull towards the left of the painting is a subtle nod by Picasso to Spanish culture and heritage, as the bull is an iconic symbol of Spain. I also noticed more gruesome details of the painting: that the woman crying on the left is holding a limp child in her arms, that the horse in the center has a large gash in its side and is impaled on a spear, and that the man lying at the bottom of the painting appears to have been decapitated in the effort of fighting (he is holding a broken sword). All of these details serve to reinforce the horror of the image and bring attention to the very real injustice that they represent.