Guernica by Pablo Picasso is a well-known painting representing the bloody episodes and tragedies of the Spanish civil war (Picasso et al., 1956). The painting shows the pain and suffering innocent civilians encounter in war. The painting has gained a significant monumental status, used as an anti-war symbol, and became a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of the Spanish Civil war. On April 26, 1937 evening, the historic German military aviation (the Condor Legion of the Luftwaffe) dropped bombs in Guernica town, which claimed many civilian lives (Picasso et al., 1956). The bombing was a test of Junker planes that Adolf Hitler planned to attack Europe. The bombing turned into a massacre that claimed 2000 lives (Picasso et al., 1956).
The Guernica painting is a representation of a bombed interior of the town. Reading the printing from right to left, we can see a man overwhelmed by flames, two women, of whom one drags on with difficulty and the other has a lamp that tries to escape, a screaming horse, a fallen man, a bull, symbol of offended Spain, and a screaming mother holding a dead child (Picasso et al., 1956). Animals are used since they are significant characters in Spanish culture. They are used to represent their faithfulness to humans, sharing fates. The bull represented the onslaught of Fascism, while the horse represented the people of Guernica. The bombing and the war used to happen in the evening. The war entered homes and stables, not sparing anything, including animals, women, and children. The use of simple domestic objects such as lamps is proof of the violations and fragile experiences daily. The lamps are lit since the war takes place in the evening, when everyone is home, including animals, in the belief of being protected and safe.
Considering the linguistic level used in the Guernica painting, the artist uses a summary of the epic stylistic devices such as the aptitude, which shows objects in their lateral and frontal aspect, the juxtaposition of figures with volume and flat figures, and the reduction of color (Damian & Simonton, 2011). Surrealist, cubist, and expressionist forms are also present in the Guernica painting.
The element of painting where the stare is focused is brutal. The gaze is on the left, where a screaming mother holding a dead child. The mother is suffering pain from losing her innocent child. Her mouth is wide open with her neck stretched, showing that she is screaming and in pain. She cries as she faces upward (Ray, 2006). The screams and cries are prayers for help and condemnation: the attackers came from heaven. The corpse represents an innocent body going through underserved pain. The baby is dead despite being innocent, the mouth is closed, eyes are dead, and the head is poured down. The mother’s cry contrasts with her silence (Ray, 2006).
From the interpretation of the painting, Guernica is an icon of modern art. It is an example of what art can contribute towards self-assertion that liberates all living things, including animals, and protects them from overwhelming forces like war, death, political crime. The painting utilizes linguistic styles such as the reduction of colors to show the starkness of the aftermath of the bombing. Therefore, paintings are reliable communicators of various communal aspects the way Guernica brings to the human attention the effects of the Spanish war.
Damian, R. I., & Simonton, D. K. (2011). From past to future art: The creative impact of Picasso’s 1935 Minotauromachy on his 1937 Guernica. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 5(4), 360.
Picasso, P., Larrea, J., & Barr, A. H. (1956). Guernica. Hammarby Tryckeri.
Ray, B. (2006). Analyzing political art to get at the historical fact: Guernica and the Spanish civil war. The Social Studies, 97(4), 168-171.