Pablo Picasso’s Guernica did not need a rescue by the “Monument’s Men” during or after World War II, because it already hanged in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City by September 1, 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. The painting Guernica is considered one of Picasso’s most famous work. If Picasso’s Guernica had remained in Europe, more than likely the painting would have been destroyed by the Nazis in occupied Paris where Picasso survived World War II. Why?
Well, first of all, the Nazi Party considered all modern art “degenerate.” Second, the history of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica is one of tragedy, opportunity, and good timing (here). Guernica is not only a Spanish cultural treasure, but has become an international symbol for peace and a protest against war.
It all started with the bombing of the Basque city of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. Guernica was demolished by German bombs via the cooperation of Franco according to Spanish history today. The Republican Government and General Francisco Franco’s Nationalist Party fought each other during the Spanish Civil War.
Franco believed the city was a point of Republican Government resistance and requested the Germans bomb it. The Germans obliged Franco’s request which gave the Luftwaffe “practice” to test their new air force tactics called “Blitzkrieg” or lightening war on April 26, 1937. The Basques claimed there were over 1600 civilians killed- the Germans claimed (as of 2004) about 300.
This “practice” continued over several cities in Spain during the Spanish Civil War which included Mussolini’s Italian air forces. The civil war was a very dark time for all Spaniards and one they have not forgotten and do not want to repeat. There are myriad accounts from both sides of the Spanish Civil War, but one of my favorites comes from a very personal point of view entitled Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (here). It would seem that all wars “civil” or otherwise bring on horrendous suffering for all parties [my opinion]. The U.S.A. Civil War is one example.
Picasso mostly lived in Paris since his first visit in 1900. He found Paris to be a good fit for him to study art and work. While in Paris he was commissioned by the Spanish Government (Republican) in January 1937 to create a large mural for the Spanish display at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. Picasso (pro-Republican Spanish Government) opposed the Franco regime and vowed not to return to Spain until it had a free democratic representative government.
While working on this project, Picasso read an eyewitness account by George Steer (published in the New York Times and The Times) regarding the bombing of Guernica. He at once dropped his current project and began sketching some drawings for a mural size painting. He finished the painting around June of 1937 and was paid by the Spanish Republican Government in the amount of 200,000 French Francs.
The Guernica toured Europe extensively in 1938-39, returned to Paris and when Franco won the civil war in Spain, Picasso sent it to the U.S.A. to raise funds and support the Spanish refugees. He entrusted it to the Modern Museum of Art in New York City for safe keeping with the promise that it would be returned to Spain when the government had a bona fide free representative republic government. The Spanish treasure was finally returned to Spain in 1981 approximately eight years after Picasso’s death. Today, you can find Guernica displayed in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, moved from the Museo Del Prado in 1992.
Guernica is a Spanish cultural treasure and has become a symbol of peace and a rallying cry against war, specifically for the Spanish and generally for the world for several generations. Nelson Rockefeller commissioned a tapestry copy of Guernica in 1955 after Picasso refused to sell him the original. The Rockefeller Foundation loaned it to the U.N. in 1985 where it hung in the General Assembly for several years.
Curiously, when Secretary of State Colin Powell presented his Iraqi intervention argument to the U.N. General Assembly on February 5, 2003, the networks covered the Guernica tapestry with a blue curtain. Was the multi-colored tapestry background a technical issue for the networks or political expediency? You be the judge.
Today, there are many good reasons to visit Guernica in the Basque province of Biscay. One is to see the mural copy of Guernica on a tiled wall in that city (here). Another great reason is to view the unassuming oak tree in the town square were citizens of the province have been meeting to discuss and implement ideas and matters both large and small for over 600 years. The oak tree in 1937 survived the bombing. Of course, the tree has been replanted over the years (from its own acorns), but you can read more about the rich history of the city of Guernica here.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a “tree” in your own “village” to meet around and discuss ideas concerning matters large and small? Sounds civilized.