Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Picasso and Guernica

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It was originally been commissioned as a propaganda piece by the Spanish Republican government for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. Pablo Picasso turned the tragic bombing of Gernika, Basque Country, by German and Italian warplanes at the behest of the Spanish Nationalist forces, on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, into a nerve-wrecking elegy of individual suffering and an embodiment of peace. Fully of hidden images, allegorical figures and meaningful gravitas, Guernica depicted suffering people, animals, and buildings wrenched by violence and chaos. The original now resides at the Renia Sophia Museum*, while a more famous tapestry copy was donated to the United Nations by the Rockefellers. The tapestry is less monochromatic than the original, and uses several shades of brown. On February 5, 2003 a large blue curtain was placed to cover this work as the Bush Administration desired not to it in the background while the U.S. diplomats argued for war on Iraq.

At its unveiling at the Spanish Pavilion of the World’s Fair, David Seymour (Chim) was on hand to photograph the artist in front of his work as it received its first public showing (ab0ve). In this photo, Chim proved himself to be more far-sighted than his contemporaries–at Paris, Guernica was widely criticized. The German fair guide called it “a hodgepodge of body parts that any four-year old could have painted.” The Soviets, who favored realistic imagery, didn’t like it either. Leftists and communists, the very people who should have supported it, attacked the painting as not illustrating any political agenda, and that it expressed suffering rather than optimism. In Spain, it was declared to be “antisocial and entirely foreign to a healthy proletarian outlook.” Later, the painting toured the Scandinavian nations, UK and US, becoming famous and widely acclaimed in the process.

Below is the picture of Picasso painting his masterpiece by Picasso’s longtime muse and photographer Dora Maar, who made herself world famous with her photographs of the successive stages of the completion of Guernica in Picasso’s workshop at the rue des Grands Augustins.


* The first version of this post erroneously mentioned that Guernica was residing in the Prado. In fact, it is in the Renia Sophia, to which it was moved from the Prado in 1992.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

November 9, 2009 at 11:29 am

3 Responses

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  1. “Guernica” now resides at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia – the modern art museum in Madrid. It moved from the Prado some time ago.


    November 9, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    • i stand corrected–always knew it is not good idea to rely on your own memory.


      November 9, 2009 at 3:12 pm

  2. […] palate and teeth, her mouth twisted in pain, was reminiscent of screaming mouths depicted on Picasso’s Guernica. It was quickly dubbed the “Bentalha Madonna”, and controversy ensued. It was revealed that […]

    Davids against goliaths «

    January 13, 2013 at 3:31 pm

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