Last Updated 17 Aug 2022

A Reaction Paper to Pablo Picasso’s Guernica

Category Guernica, Picasso
Words 555 (3 pages)
Views 1639

What would be the best way to express an outcry against war? How could one influence another, a crowd, or even the world? During the Spanish Civil War in 1937, the Basque town of Guernica was bombarded by the German Air Force, which led to the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. In response to this, Spanish-painter Pablo Picasso expressed his outrage with a mural-sized painting entitled Guernica, his memorial to the brutal massacre, which has since become the twentieth century's most powerful indictment against war, a painting that still feels intensely relevant today.

Confusing and chaotic; those were the words to describe the painting at first glance. I was thrown into the midst of seeing everything in a state of instability. Every nook and cranny screams the word death. On the far left is a woman, head back, screaming in pain and grief, holding the lifeless body of her dead child. This is one of the most devastating and unforgettable images in the painting. To her right is the head and partial body of a large white bull, the only unharmed and calm figure amidst the chaos.

Beneath her, a dead or wounded man with a severed arm and mutilated hand clutches a broken sword. Only his head and arms are visible; the rest of his body is obscured by the overlapping and scattered parts of other figures. In the center stands a terrified horse, mouth open screaming in pain, its side pierced by a spear.

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On the right are three more women. One rushes in, looking up at the stark light bulb at the top of the scene. Another leans out of the window of a burning house, her long extended arm holding a lamp, while the third woman appears trapped in the burning building, screaming in fear and horror. All their faces are distorted in agony. Eyes are dislocated, mouths are open, tongues are shaped like daggers.

The space is little to none, compacted and ambiguous with various perspectives and multiple viewpoints characteristic of Picasso's earlier Cubist style. Images overlap and intersect, obscuring forms and making it hard to distinguish their boundaries. Bodies are distorted and semi-abstracted, the forms discontinuous and fragmentary. Everything seems jumbled together, while sharp angular lines seem to pierce and splinter the dismembered bodies. However, there is in fact an overriding visual order. Picasso balances the composition by organizing the figures into three vertical groupings moving left to right, while the center figures are stabilized within a large triangle of light.

Picasso chose to paint Guernica in a stark monochromatic palette of gray, black and white. This may reflect his initial encounter with the original newspaper reports and photographs in black and white; or perhaps it suggested to Picasso the objective factuality of an eye witness report. A documentary quality is further emphasized by the textured pattern in the center of the painting that creates the illusion of newsprint. The sharp alternation of black and white contrasts across the painting surface also creates dramatic intensity, a visual kinetic energy of jagged movement.

In the end, the painting does not appear to have one exclusive meaning. Perhaps it is that very ambiguity, the lack of historical specificity, or the fact that brutal wars continue to be fought, that keeps Guernica as timeless and universally relatable today as it was in 1937.

A Reaction Paper to Pablo Picasso’s Guernica essay

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