In 1937, Pablo Picasso painted Guernica, oil on canvas. The Republican Spanish government commissioned the mural for the 1937 World Fair in Paris. Guernica is a large mural, twenty-six feet wide and eleven feet tall, and was placed at the entrance to Spain's pavilion. Picasso did not do any work after receiving the commission until reading of the bombing of the Basque village of Guernica, in Spain. It was that attack, perpetrated by the German Luftwaffe, that inspired him. Guernica, however, is not a complete depiction of that event. In Guernica, Picasso masterfully conveys the suffering of the Basque people and the tragedy of war. He seeks not to report on every detail of the bombing, but only to highlight the suffering by all.
On first viewing Picasso's Guernica, one initially focuses on the center of the mural. Many lines cross or meet near the middle of the work. There are two major diagonal lines crossing Guernica. They start at the two bottom corners and meet toward the middle-top where the vertex is an oil lamp. These main diagonals are not explicitly defined, but are created with overlapping, dark and light values, and the subjects themselves. For example, towards the bottom right a there is woman picking herself up whose head, neck, and arm point along one of the main diagonals. That diagonal is continued in the background by a contrast between light and dark shapes. These lines frame the middle of the mural, which is further highlighted by some of the lightest values within the work. This area contains a large geometric shape of pure white as part of the background. This light color draws the eye to the center. However, the eye is also drawn to this area because of contrast in light and dark. The black, rectangular shape near the horse's neck, they gray of the newsprint, and the white of the background all overlap in a tangled, chaotic manor that attracts attention.
Although the initial focus is near the center of the mural, Guernica commands a larger movement of the eye from bottom right to top left. Each subject of Picasso's work has their head turned towards the top left corner. The floating head is looking left, the horse twists his neck to look to the left, and the woman holding her child looks directly upward. The strong diagonal line that moves from bottom right to top left also adds to this movement. Focusing more specifically on the subjects of Guernica, movement from right to left is aided by the severity and gravity of the individuals' situations. At the extreme right, a woman is falling and has not yet hit the ground. Further left, a woman is picking herself up after falling. The horse in the center is fatally wounded and will soon die. To the far left, the child in his mother's arms has already died, and so has the warrior whose head rests at the bottom of the mural. But again, the strong right to left movement arises from the direction in which the subjects are looking. Guernica is monochromatic to make its imagery more powerful. Lack of color keeps the viewer focused on the subject matter at hand, as well as keeping the mural cold, which agrees with its general theme of injustice in war. Also, Picasso's flat imagery does not distract the viewer from concentrating on imagery. The viewer is given no other choice than to concentrate on the subject matter of Guernica and ponder it's meaning. The flat, grayscale images generalize the imagery and contribute to the general theme of unnecessary suffering and tragedy.
At the extreme right of Picasso's mural, a woman is falling from a burning building. Flames appear to be spewing from the top of that building. The flames consist triangles with different values of gray. The same light triangles are coming from the woman's dress. Her arms flail upwards as she falls, and it is her fall that draws the eye downward and moves the viewer through the work. Below lies the woman picking herself up off the ground as she flees. This woman is made...
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