Guernica (1937)

This painting (1937) by Pablo Picasso (18811973) is one of the best-known examples of art as propaganda. The picture protests the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica on the night of 26 April 1937 by German flyers in the service of the Nationalist (fascist) side in the Spanish Civil War. The Republican (socialist) government commissioned Picasso to paint the work for exhibition in the Spanish pavilion at that summer’s Paris International Exposition; hence the painting is also tied to the use of exhibitions for propaganda. He completed the painting in six weeks. Drawing on images and a cubist technique already well established in his work, Picasso created a monumental canvas. The painting incorporated a frenzied horse, a stamping bull, and four women distorted as though by the violence of the bombing. One woman clutches a dead baby, while another runs from a burning house. Overhead a light bulb swings madly and on the ground lie the screaming head and lifeless limbs of a soldier. In 1945 Picasso explained his belief that art could be “an instrument of war for attack and defense against the enemy.” In The Charnel House (1944— 1945) Picasso used art to protest against senseless destruction in World War II; in Massacre in Korea (1951) and War and Peace (1952) he did the same for the Korean War; and in the series entitled The Rape of the Sabines (1962-1963) he responded to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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