DECEMBER 2, 2011
A CRTIQUE OF STOKSTAD AND COTHREN’S COVERAGE OF PABLO PICASSO’S “GUERNICA”
Located on pages 1062-1063 of the 4th Edition (Volume II) of our textbook -Art History- are five paragraphs of commentary on Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” perhaps his most well known painting. In those five paragraphs, Stokstad and Cothern offer a fairly accurate and concise description of the historical events leading to the creation of the masterwork and a description of some of the imagery depicted in the painting itself. Unfortunately, Stokstad and Cothern do not offer any insight as to the legacy of the painting. Nor do they offer any examples of how the images contained in the painting have been utilized for contemporary purposes.
Stokstad and Cothern begin their commentary of Guernica by very briefly outlining the political climate of Spain in 1937 and the circumstances surrounding the bombing of the small town of Guernica on April 26, 1937 that served as the inspiration for the painting. During the course of Picasso’s life, his country of Spain had been in almost continuous turmoil. Spain was defeated in the Spanish-American War of 1898, several prime ministers had been assassinated, countless strikes and uprisings from the population had occurred, and military dictatorships came and went. In 1931 the Spanish Republic was established but faced numerous challenges related to reform. Economic reforms sought to redistribute the wealth of the landowners, the church, and those in the military. Wealthy members of these groups all resisted the changes implemented by the new government and after several years of struggle, these factions re-gained control of the government away from the Republicans. However, early in 1936, a united group comprised of Republicans, Socialists, Communists, labor unions, and even anarchists achieved a decisive political victory at the polls over the wealthy. They gained control of the government away from the group comprised of the wealthy and the military, led by General Francisco Franco. The Spanish Civil War erupted on July 17, 1936 as General Francisco Franco led a coordinated revolt against the rightfully elected government in several towns throughout the center of the country. By the end of the first months fighting, General Franco’s insurgents controlled a third of the country. However, the capital city of Madrid and the major cities of Barcelona and Valencia remained in Republican control. As did the cities of the Basque region in the North of Spain, including Guernica. None of these underlying events are thoroughly discussed in our text. However this is to be expected since our text acts only as a survey. How can we expect our text to be able devote this much background information on a single painting when it must cover many hundreds of years of historical information related to art history.
In early 1937 Picasso, writing poetry during this period of his life in France, penned the poem “Dream and Lie of Franco.” Many of Picasso’s other poems of the time were untitled and ambiguous in meaning; Dream and Lie of Franco was not. Accompanying the poem Picasso created etched caricatures depicting General Franco in unflattering forms. To date, none of Picasso’s studio art contained any political, moral, or ethical messages whatsoever. It is at this time when a group of Spaniards -many of whom were close friends- loyal to the Republican government approached Picasso about painting a large mural on a subject of his choice to be displayed at the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne. The Republican Spanish government wanted to legitimize their position as the true Spanish government and rally support for their cause. Picasso was hesitant. He had never produced a commissioned piece of art in his life and was somewhat reluctant to have his art used as propaganda, even if it was for a cause that he supported. On...
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