Antoni Tàpies

Antoni Tàpies was born December 13, 1923, in Barcelona. His adolescence was disrupted by the Spanish Civil War and a serious illness that lasted two years. Tàpies began to study law in Barcelona in 1944 but decided instead within two years to devote himself exclusively to art. He was essentially self-taught as a painter; the few art classes he attended left little impression on him. Shortly after deciding to become an artist, he began attending clandestine meetings of the Blaus, an iconoclastic group of Catalan artists and writers who produced the review Dau al Set.

Antoni Tapies, Creu I R, 1975

Tàpies’s early work was influenced by the art of Max Ernst, Paul Klee, and Joan Miró, and by Eastern philosophy. His art was exhibited for the first time in the controversial Salo d’Octubre in Barcelona in 1948. He soon began to develop a recognizable personal style related to matière painting, or Art Informel [more], a movement that focused on the materials of art-making. The approach resulted in textural richness, but its more important aim was the exploration of the transformative qualities of matter. Tàpies freely adopted bits of detritus, earth, and stone—mediums that evoke solidity and mass—in his large-scale works.

In 1950, his first solo show was held at the Galeries Laietanes, Barcelona, and he was included in the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. That same year, the French government awarded Tàpies a scholarship that enabled him to spend a year in Paris. His first solo show in New York was presented in 1953 at the gallery of Martha Jackson, who arranged for his work to be shown the following year in various parts of the United States. During the 1950s and 1960s, Tàpies exhibited in major museums and galleries throughout the United States, Europe, Japan, and South America. In 1966, he began his collection of writings, La practica de l’art. In 1969, he and the poet Joan Brossa published their book, Frègoli; a second collaborative effort, Nocturn Matinal, appeared the following year. Tàpies received the Rubens Prize of Siegen, Germany, in 1972.

Retrospective exhibitions were presented at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, in 1973 and at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, in 1977. The following year, he published his prize-winning autobiography, Memòria personal. In the early 1980s, he continued diversifying his mediums, producing his first ceramic sculptures and designing sets for Jacques Dupin’s play L’Eboulement. By 1992, three volumes of the catalogue raisonné of Tàpies’s work had been published. The following year, he and Cristina Iglesias represented Spain at the Venice Biennale, where his installation was awarded the Leone d’Oro. A retrospective exhibition was presented at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, and the Guggenheim Museum SoHo, New York, in 1994–95. Tàpies lives in Barcelona.


Interest in abstract art came late to Spain. The most important Spanish vanguard artists always remained within the channels of figurative art. As the historic initial movement came to an end, when abstract art had spread throughout the world, Spaniards were living in a self-sufficient regime. This isolation of the country during the first decades of the dictatorship contributed in delaying the introduction of abstraction.

Foto Ornitóptero
Ornitóptero, 1962
Fernando Zóbel

The regime looked askance at aesthetic manifestations which spoke a cryptic language which was unquestionably subversive and foreign. The ease and freedom with which painters and sculptors applied paint and used materials offended institutions which preferred art of the academy praising national values.

Therefore the creation of abstract art at the end of the nineteen fifties entailed a little more than adopting an aesthetic; it meant taking a stance and risking condemnation at a politically difficult time. This should be remembered if we are to understand the ethical meaning of these stances and all the difficulties entaled, which contrast with today when Spanish artists can avail themselves of any subject, technique, style or material with total freedom. A further reason for remembering this has its connections with this museum. The fact that here paintings and sculptures may be contemplated in calmness, positioned in the singular spaces of this Gothic building, can lead to an aesthetic consideration of works which in the past often flew the vanguardist standard and were subject to critical rejection and scorn.

Almost all the artists represented here, were in an evolving stage in the nineteen fifties. They lived abroad, mainly in Paris and Rome, and travelled to different countries where they could view art which had been created in Europe, well aware they could not do the same in their home country. I am not suggesting that they attempted to copy the forms or the styles that they saw there, but rather they were trying to paint and sculpt in freedom, in accordance with their temperaments. They wanted to create abstract art without being held under suspicion.

Foto Intervalos azules
Intervalos azules, 1971
José Guerrero

If we concentrate on the works here we will see that they are neither American abstract expressionism nor French lyrical abstraction, nor op art or constructivism, although in each of them external influences can be appreciated, as is logical. They exhibit a very Spanish style which has been traced by critics and historians to the paintings of El Greco, Ribera, Velazquez and Goya, to the tragic and mystical thinking of Spain’s poets and to the temperament, half fiery and half sober, of the Spanish character. But, leaving aside clichés of what “Spanish” is supposed to mean and despite the different styles which can be recognised in these artists, there is no doubt that all the works exhibited here share the feeling of being part of a family, which gives the museum a unique character. This feeling, uniting a generation, has nothing to do with the highly diverse subjects, styles or techniques. It is the genesis of a dream: the triumph of abstraction, which comes from their having been comrades in battle, and above all friends. We are indebted to them for having shown us how to rid ourselves of prejudice to see, understand and love modern art.

But we should not merely resign ourselves to discovering these similarities and the empathy radiated by these works; we should also note the huge differences that make each artist’s work a different world which expresses itself in its own inimitable language.

To be able to develop their work and project it critically and socially, virtually all these artists at some moment in their lives joined to organise collective exhibitions and publications. These groups help us to understand the different aspects of this excursion into Spanish abstract art.

There are five groups which polarise this effort: Dau al Set in Barcelona, El Paso in Madrid, Parpalló in Valencia, Gaur in Vitoria and the founding of the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art in Cuenca. These are the most notable landmarks in the period commencing at the end of the nineteen forties.

The artists of the group Dau al Set (1948-1953), including Antoni Tàpies and Modest Cuixart, who helped with its foundation, started from fantasy and surrealist automatic writing to reach material abstraction.

El Paso (1957-1960) was founded to enliven Spanish contemporary art. Among its members were Manuel Millares, Antonio Saura, Luis Feito, Manuel Rivera, Rafael Canogar and Martín Chirino. All of the artist, although from varying personal stances, fashioned a vigorous, abstract, non-objective language which was liberating and very typical of committed painting in the fifties and sixties.

Amadeo Gabino and Eusebio Sempere, together with other Valencian artists, formed the Grupo Parpalló (1956-1961), an attempt to create abstract art which, nevertheless, based itself on formal qualities, recovering the experimental tradition of the constructivist vanguard.

Foto Marrón y Ocre
Marrón y Ocre, 1959
Antoni Tàpies

Basque painters and sculptors, among them Jorge Oteiza, Nestor Bastarretxea and Eduardo Chillida, founded the group Gaur (1966-1970) as a “Basque cultural front” for abstract and non-objective art which, in the case of the sculptors, was strongly constructivist and geometric. In this way, these two latter groups formulated the other extreme of Spanish abstraction.

Some artists in all the groups gathered round Fernando Zóbel and the painters Gustavo Torner and Gerardo Rueda to create the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art. But this story perhaps requires greater attention.

Fernando Zóbel was born in Manila (Philippines) and studied at Harvard University. His many journeys to the United States, France, Italy and Spain helped him understand perfectly both American abstract expressionism and European non-objectivism. From 1955, he began to travel to Spain and grew interested in the work of the then incipient abstract artists. When he definitively settled in Spain in 1961, he encouraged them by acquiring their work; for some he was their first purchaser. The moment came when his personal collection was sufficiently full and coherent for him to feel the social obligation to show it to the public.

Foto Galeria de la Mina
Galería de la Mina, 1965
Manuel Millares

He was aided by the artists themselves, especially by Gustavo Torner and Gerardo Rueda, who were the first curators of the collection. They persuaded Cuenca Town Council to give them part of the Hanging Houses, which had recently been restored, to be used as the site for the museum which opened in 1966.

Some of the painters started to move into the abandoned upper part of Cuenca, whose buildings then were lying in ruins. Zóbel, Torner, Saura, Millares, Rueda, Antonio Lorenzo, Sempere and José Guerrero found homes and at the Museum Jordi Teixidor and José María Yturralde contributed their help. This was how the miracle occurred; the renovation, through art, of a neighbourhood with the Museum of Abstract Art at its hub.

By 1980 the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art of Cuenca was already very well-known and had received various prizes and international publicity. The collection had grown in tune with the museum’s physical space. What had begun as the personal and enthusiastic initiative of a group of friends now called for professional attention and dedication which was beyond its creators. Fernando Zóbel decided then to donate the collection to the Fundación Juan March. It was accepted and increased both through the foundation’s funds and with the acquisition of the collection belonging to Amos Cahan, an American doctor who lived in Spain and collected fifties and sixties’ art.

Now a stable collection, selected so as to give coherence to the creative efforts and the aesthetic achievements of a generation, has become a tribute to those artists who risked more than they expected to receive.

Catalogue of the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español (Fundación Juan March), de Cuenca. Javier Maderuelo

Pablo Picasso Birthday Tribute

This is the month of Pablo Picasso’s birthday and to celibrate here is a little reminder of his acheivements.

“Yet Cubism and Modern art weren’t either scientific or intellectual; they were visual and came from the eye and mind of one of the greatest geniuses in art history. Pablo Picasso, born in Spain, was a child prodigy who was recognized as such by his art-teacher father, who ably led him along. The small Museo de Picasso in Barcelona is devoted primarily to his early works, which include strikingly realistic renderings of casts of ancient sculpture.

“He was a rebel from the start and, as a teenager, began to frequent the Barcelona cafes where intellectuals gathered. He soon went to Paris, the capital of art, and soaked up the works of Manet, Gustave Courbet, and Toulouse-Lautrec, whose sketchy style impressed him greatly. Then it was back to Spain, a return to France, and again back to Spain – all in the years 1899 to 1904.

“Before he struck upon Cubism, Picasso went through a prodigious number of styles – realism, caricature, the Blue Period, and the Rose Period. The Blue Period dates from 1901 to 1904 and is characterized by a predominantly blue palette and subjects focusing on outcasts, beggars, and prostitutes. This was when he also produced his first sculptures. The most poignant work of the style is in Cleveland’s Museum of Art, La Vie (1903), which was created in memory of a great childhood friend, the Spanish poet Casagemas, who had committed suicide. The painting started as a self-portrait, but Picasso’s features became those of his lost friend. The composition is stilted, the space compressed, the gestures stiff, and the tones predominantly blue. Another outstanding Blue Period work, of 1903, is in the Metropolitan, The Blind Man’s Meal. Yet another example, perhaps the most lyrical and mysterious ever, is in the Toledo Museum of Art, the haunting Woman with a Crow (1903).

“The Rose Period began around 1904 when Picasso’s palette brightened, the paintings dominated by pinks and beiges, light blues, and roses. His subjects are saltimbanques (circus people), harlequins, and clowns, all of whom seem to be mute and strangely inactive. One of the premier works of this period is in Washington, D.C., the National Gallery’s large and extremely beautiful Family of Saltimbanques dating to 1905, which portrays a group of circus workers who appear alienated and incapable of communicating with each other, set in a one-dimensional space.

“In 1905, Picasso went briefly to Holland, and on his return to Paris, his works took on a classical aura with large male and fernale figures seen frontally or in distinct profile, almost like early Greek art. One of the best of these of 1906 is in the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, NY, La Toilette. Several pieces in this new style were purchased by Gertrude (the art patron and writer) and her brother, Leo Stein. The other major artist promoted by the Steins during this period was Henri Matisse, who had made a sensation in an exhibition of 1905 for works of a most shocking new style, employing garish and dissonant colors. These pieces would be derided by the critics as “Fauvism,” a French word for “wild beasts.” Picasso was profoundly influenced by Matisse. He was also captivated by the almost cartoon-like works of the self-taught “primitive” French painter Henri “Le Douanier” Rousseau, whom he affectionately called “the last ancient Egyptian painter” because his works have a passing similarity to the flat ancient Egyptian paintings.

“A masterpiece by Rousseau is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, his world-famous Sleeping Gypsy, with an incredible tiger gazing at the dormant figure with laser-like eyes.

“Picasso discovered ancient Iberian sculpture from Spain, African art (for he haunted the African collections in the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris), and Gauguin’s sculptures. Slowly, he incorporated the simplified forms he found in these sources into a striking portrait of Gertrude Stein, finished in 1906 and given by her in her will to the Metropolitan Museum. She has a severe masklike face made up of emphatically hewn forms compressed inside a restricted space. (Stein is supposed to have complained, “I don’t look at all like that,” with Picasso replying, “You will, Gertrude, you will.”) This unique portrait comes as a crucial shift from what Picasso saw to what he was thinking and paves the way to Cubism.

“Then came the awesome Les Demoiselles d’Avignon of 1907, the shaker of the art world (Museum of Modern Art, New York). Picasso was a little afraid of the painting and didn’t show it except to a small circle of friends until 1916, long after he had completed his early Cubist pictures. Cubism is essentially the fragmenting of three-dimensional forms into flat areas of pattern and color, overlapping and intertwining so that shapes and parts of the human anatomy are seen from the front and back at the same time. The style was created by Picasso in tandem with his great friend Georges Braque, and at times, the works were so alike it was hard for each artist quickly to identify their own. The two were so close for several years that Picasso took to calling Braque, “ma femme” or “my wife,” described the relationship as one of two mountaineers roped together, and in some correspondence they refer to each other as “Orville and Wilbur” for they knew how profound their invention of Cubism was.

“Every progressive painter, whether French, German, Belgian, or American, soon took up Cubism, and the style became the dominant one of at least the first half of the 20th century. In 1913, in New York, the new style was introduced at an exhibition at the midtown armory – the famous Armory Show – which caused a sensation. Picasso would create a host of Cubist styles throughout his long career. After painting still-lifes that employed lettering, trompe l’oeil effects, color, and textured paint surfaces, in 1912 Picasso produced Still-Life with Chair-Caning, in the Picasso Museum in Paris, which is an oval picture that is, in effect, a cafe table in perspective surrounded by a rope frame – the first collage, or a work of art that incorporates preexisting materials or objects as part of the ensemble. Elements glued to the surface contrasting with painted versions of the same material provided a sort of sophisticated double take on the part of the observer. A good example of this, dubbed Synthetic Cubism, is in the Picasso Museum, Paris, the witty Geometric Composition: The Guitar (1913). The most accomplished pictures of the fully developed Synthetic Cubist style are two complex and highly colorful works representing musicians (in Philadelphia and the Museum of Modern Art, New York). He produced fascinating theatrical sets and costumes for the Ballet Russe from 1914 on, turned, in the 1920s, to a rich classical style, creating some breathtaking line drawings, dabbled with Surrealism between 1925 and 1935, and returned to Classicism.

“At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Picasso was appointed the director of the Prado. In January, 1937, the Republican government asked him to paint a mural for the Spanish pavilion at the world exposition in Paris. Spurred on by a war atrocity, the total destruction by bombs of the town of Guernica in the Basque country, he painted the renowned oil Guernica in monochrome (now in Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.) Something of an enigma in details, there’s no doubt that the giant picture (which until the death of Franco was in New York’s Museum of Modern Art) expresses a Goyaesque revulsion over the horrors man can wreak upon fellow man. The center is dominated by a grieving woman and a wounded, screaming horse illuminated, like Goya’s Third of May, 1808 by a harsh light.

“Picasso lived in Paris through the war, producing gloomy paintings in semi-abstract styles, many depicting skulls or flayed animals or a horrifying charnel house. He joined the Communist party after the war and painted two large paintings condemning the United States for its involvement in the Korean War (two frightfully bad paintings about events that never happened – like American participation in germ warfare). [In fact, research has determined that the event depicted by Picasso in “Massacre in Korea” did occur. See this newspaper article written in 1999, after Hoving wrote this piece…although the claim of germ warfare is still unsubstantiated. – ed.]. He turned enthusiastically to sculpture, pottery, and print-making, and, in his later years, preoccupied himself with a series of mistresses and girlfriends, changing his style to express his love for each one, and, finally, making superb evocations of the works of old masters like Diego Velazquez. Whatever Picasso had a hand in turned out to have an unquenchable spark of utter genius.”

Guest Piece: Erika Madrid

Now here is a very talented young painter that I discovered over at Artbreak which happens to be a very friendly community of artists showing their works, with a chance to chat on a forum and sell.  The artists are very friendly and I strongly recommend having a peek.  There really are some talents, and one I found that I particularly liked was Erika Madrid Nacica who was born in 1977 in Argentina in Buenos Aires, she is a writer and a  self-taught artist.  I like how colourful her works are and that they are so full of life and passion.

I found I had a connection with them and I instantly wanted to know more about the artist.  Well, I am afraid I don’t speak Spanish, I am learning Portuguese but that doesn’t really help much. LOL!  So I couldn’t learn too much about her.  The compositions with hands and eyes tells me that the is a deep person who shows a lot of emotion.  I don’t know, they are just fantastic pieces of art, but it is late and I can’t express myself how I would like,so I will leave you all to decide for yourselves.


If you speak Spanish and want to read some of her poetry, which I am sure is as good as her painting then you can go to her blog at La Otra Ciudad or Erika Madrid.  Or if you would like to view more of her works then go to

Well done Erika it was a delight to discover you and good luck. Beso grande!  Hope that’s correct.


El camino a mi patio

Guernica painting

Guernica painting

Guernica painting

Guernica: Testimony of War

It is modern art’s most powerful antiwar statement… created by the twentieth century’s most well-known and least understood artist. But the mural called Guernica is not at all what Pablo Picasso has in mind when he agrees to paint the centerpiece for the Spanish Pavilion of the 1937 World’s Fair.

Pablo Picasso
For three months, Picasso has been searching for inspiration for the mural, but the artist is in a sullen mood, frustrated by a decade of turmoil in his personal life and dissatisfaction with his work. The politics of his native homeland are also troubling him, as a brutal civil war ravages Spain. Republican forces, loyal to the newly elected government, are under attack from a fascist coup led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Franco promises prosperity and stability to the people of Spain. Yet he delivers only death and destruction.

more about the Spanish Civil War
Hoping for a bold visual protest to Franco’s treachery from Spain’s most eminent artist, colleagues and representatives of the democratic government have come to Picasso’s home in Paris to ask him to paint the mural. Though his sympathies clearly lie with the new Republic, Picasso generally avoids politics – and disdains overtly political art.
The official theme of the Paris Exposition is a celebration of modern technology. Organizers hope this vision of a bright future will jolt the nations out of the economic depression and social unrest of the thirties.
As plans unfold, much excitement is generated by the Aeronautics Pavilion, featuring the latest advances in aircraft design and engineering. Who would suspect that this dramatic progress would bring about such dire consequences?

On April 27th, 1937, unprecedented atrocities are perpetrated on behalf of Franco against the civilian population of a little Basque village in northern Spain. Chosen for bombing practice by Hitler’s burgeoning war machine, the hamlet is pounded with high-explosive and incendiary bombs for over three hours. Townspeople are cut down as they run from the crumbling buildings. Guernica burns for three days. Sixteen hundred civilians are killed or wounded.
By May 1st, news of the massacre at Guernica reaches Paris, where more than a million protesters flood the streets to voice their outrage in the largest May Day demonstration the city has ever seen. Eyewitness reports fill the front pages of Paris papers. Picasso is stunned by the stark black and white photographs. Appalled and enraged, Picasso rushes through the crowded streets to his studio, where he quickly sketches the first images for the mural he will call Guernica. His search for inspiration is over.
From the beginning, Picasso chooses not to represent the horror of Guernica in realist or romantic terms. Key figures – a woman with outstretched arms, a bull, an agonized horse – are refined in sketch after sketch, then transferred to the capacious canvas, which he also reworks several times. “A painting is not thought out and settled in advance,” said Picasso. “While it is being done, it changes as one’s thoughts change. And when it’s finished, it goes on changing, according to the state of mind of whoever is looking at it.”

Three months later, Guernica is delivered to the Spanish Pavilion, where the Paris Exposition is already in progress. Located out of the way, and grouped with the pavilions of smaller countries some distance from the Eiffel Tower, the Spanish Pavilion stood in the shadow of Albert Speer’s monolith to Nazi Germany. The Spanish Pavilion’s main attraction, Picasso’s Guernica, is a sober reminder of the tragic events in Spain.
Initial reaction to the painting is overwhelmingly critical. The German fair guide calls Guernica “a hodgepodge of body parts that any four-year-old could have painted.” It dismisses the mural as the dream of a madman. Even the Soviets, who had sided with the Spanish government against Franco, react coolly. They favor more overt imagery, believing that only more realistic art can have political or social consequence. Yet Picasso’s tour de force would become one of this century’s most unsettling indictments of war.
After the Fair, Guernica tours Europe and Northern America to raise consciousness about the threat of fascism. From the beginning of World War II until 1981, Guernica is housed in its temporary home at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, though it makes frequent trips abroad to such places as Munich, Cologne, Stockholm, and even Sao Palo in Brazil. The one place it does not go is Spain. Although Picasso had always intended for the mural to be owned by the Spanish people, he refuses to allow it to travel to Spain until the country enjoys “public liberties and democratic institutions.”
Speculations as to the exact meaning of the jumble of tortured images are as numerous and varied as the people who have viewed the painting. There is no doubt that Guernica challenges our notions of warfare as heroic and exposes it as a brutal act of self-destruction. But it is a hallmark of Picasso’s art that any symbol can hold many, often contradictory meanings, and the precise significance of the imagery in Guernica remains ambiguous. When asked to explain his symbolism, Picasso remarked, “It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words! The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them.”
In 1973, Pablo Picasso, the most influential artist of the twentieth century, dies at the age of ninety-two. And when Franco dies in 1975, Spain moves closer to its dream of democracy. On the centenary of Picasso’s birth, October 25th, 1981, Spain’s new Republic carries out the best commemoration possible: the return of Guernica to Picasso’s native soil in a testimony of national reconciliation. In its final journey, Picasso’s apocalyptic vision has served as a banner for a nation on its path toward freedom and democracy.

Now showcased at the Reina Sofía, Spain’s national museum of modern art, Guernica is acclaimed as an artistic masterpiece, taking its rightful place among the great Spanish treasures of El Greco, Goya and Velazquez. “A lot of people recognize the painting,” says art historian Patricia Failing. “They may not even know that it’s a Picasso, but they recognize the image. It’s a kind of icon.”

“One reason Guernica is considered a treasure in terms of art history is that it seemed to provide a bridge between what were considered by some to be antithetical poles: the idea of making an effective political statement and an effective artistic statement at the same time. And this is certainly one of the achievements of the Guernica project, that it was a third space between those two antithetical poles.”

“A lot of artists, who looked up to Picasso as the exemplar of Modernist practice in painting, were interested very much in being Modernists on the one hand, and still very concerned about larger political events and the larger political arena in which they could act as artists. You can find many attempts to bring these two concerns together into the same body of work, to be really expressive and exploratory in formal terms and still be able to make a very heartfelt political statement. And to find that the great master of Modernism was able to accomplish this goal somehow – the mere fact that this kind of resolution might be possible – is what had such an enormous effect on artists in the twentieth century.”

Guernica betrays the stereotype of the Modern as the incredibly new and the incredibly, let’s say, divorced from tradition, from academic practice. Because it’s a painting that you don’t necessarily associate with Modernism, and yet it makes an extremely important and extremely evocative Modernist statement at the same time. It did something that an academic painter would have loved to do, which is to take a very traditional theme and make it modern and make it relevant to a new time and a new audience and a new sensibility. That’s a pretty big accomplishment.”

  Guernica on display at MOMA  

“There was, of course, a great deal of argument about whether or not it was really as effective a political statement as it could have been if it had been more accessible, if it had been more traditional. And also whether it was really the strongest artistic statement it could have been if it weren’t so tied up with a specific political agenda.”

“When the painting was on tour around the world, there was a great deal of interest on the part of Communist Party members and Communist intellectuals about whether or not this painting would be able to communicate with anybody of the proletarian or worker class. And so you find that there was a lot of testimony collected over the years from people of the working class who saw Guernica. And they responded to it very powerfully, found that they were really just awestruck by this particular painting. It did seem to have an effect on people who you wouldn’t think very likely to react in a positive way to this kind of elitist painting.”

“The controversy about whether or not this particular painting could really be an effective political tool never leaves the painting. Picasso himself later on said that painting is not for decorating apartments; it has a much broader social importance. And I think partly the tour was about finding confirmation of that belief.”

Picasso's sketch - composition 1

The first composition for the mural — drawn the very day word of the bombing reached Picasso in Paris — introduced characters that had recurred in the artist’s previous work. Picasso shaped and reshaped these figures over the next weeks in a series of preliminary sketches. He brought out the vulnerability of the bull and the agony of the horse. He drew screaming women and children, perhaps inspired by his fear that harm might come to his own baby daughter. He seemed haunted by the many faces of anguish.

colored sketch with human hair

“Many of the drawings are much more expressive than the final painting,” says art historian Tomas Llorens. “But that is inevitable because Guernica was conceived as a very public image. And some of the meanings and emotions that you can convey on a piece of paper cannot be conveyed in a mural that is seven meters wide. For instance, in one of the drawings there is hair — perhaps the hair of Dora Maar — pasted in a kind of collage. So, you would lose that meaning in a large public mural. But in a sense the energy, the emotional energy that comes from those experiments, is not lost. Picasso was always synthesizing in each image a lot of different possibilities.”

On May 11th, just fifteen days after the bombing, Picasso stretched a canvas for the mural. It stood eleven-and-a-half feet tall by almost twenty-six feet wide – so large, he had to brace it at a slant to fit under the ceiling of his studio. He then began to lay out the images in full scale – a woman wailing over her dead child… a warrior clutching a shattered sword as his horse drops in torment to its knees… a jumble of bodies lying trampled on the ground — all part of Picasso’s vision of the holocaust at Guernica.

Consequences of War by Rubens

According to art historian, Patricia Failing, “Picasso was very properly trained in the grand tradition of painting, allegorical painting about universal themes: the horrors of war, the massacres of the innocents. Characters that typically appear in these paintings reappear in Picasso’s paintings as well. There’s usually quite clearly a suffering woman, someone who’s screaming, a woman with a child who’s been injured, or may even be dead. And to see that Picasso was able to take that traditional academic motif and actually rework it and make it relevant again to this particular time and this particular circumstance, I think is really one of his great achievements in this painting.”

With Picasso as he painted was his latest lover, Dora Maar, a young photographer who also became his collaborator. Dora’s photographs of the work in progress documented Picasso’s creative process and his struggle between political imagery and artistic merit.

Guernica - State I

As the focal point of the painting, Picasso initially drew a boldly raised arm and clenched fist, the familiar salute of the Spanish Republican forces. But the artist was dissatisfied with the obvious symbolism. Over the next several days, he created a more hopeful message of victory, the raised fist clutching stalks of grain in front of a blazing sun. Still, Picasso’s artistic sensibility was in conflict with the political sentiment of the canvas. “The stand of Picasso was quite clear,” says Llorens. “A work of art, in order to be really effective in political terms, has to work first of all as a work of art.”

Pablo Picasso painting

A week later, the arm was completely painted over. But the center of the painting had lost its focus. To solve the problem, Picasso moved the body of the bull near to the woman and child, lifting the head of the horse to a place of prominence and making the spear more obvious. No longer was the battle between the horse and bull of the ring. Clearly, the mortal wound was caused by an act of man.

Picasso’s inventiveness took him in many directions. He added color, pattern and texture with scraps of wallpaper; he gave the weeping woman a blood-red tear. Later, Picasso removed all color. Earlier in his career, in his Blue Period, Picasso learned that using a monochromatic palette could produce powerful imagery. He suppressed color because he felt color would distract from the impact of the painting. “There was certainly a long tradition that equated line with intellect and color with emotion,” adds Failing. “And so, to not bring in the whole element of color and its associations with emotion and the sensual, in a way makes it a tour-de-force on another level.”

Picasso sketch of hand - for Guernica

Picasso then sketched possibilities for the warrior. Not the heroic figure of patriotic fantasy — lifeless, broken, weapons shattered — the warrior in Guernica is no match for the engines of modern warfare. “It’s not the clenched fist with the upright arm at the end that becomes such a moving part of the picture, but the outstretched hands with the kind of flayed fingers and the deeply crossed palm,” explains Failing.

lightbulb detail from Guernica

As Guernica neared completion, Picasso added a single image of twentieth century technology. According to Llorens: “In Spanish, an electric bulb is called ‘bombia,’ and ‘bombia’ is like the diminutive of ‘bomb.’ So, ‘bomba-bombia’ is a verbal poetic metaphor for the terrifying power of technology to destroy us.”

Shortly after, although he was not at all certain the mural was complete, Picasso delivered Guernica to the Spanish Pavilion.