Art Essay Example: Guernica by Picasso

Published: 2022-09-12
Art Essay Example: Guernica by Picasso
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Arts
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1445 words
13 min read

The response to war is often an influential factor that shows country preparedness for calamities. Guernica, created in 1977 by the painter Pablo Picasso, is one of the most famous paintings depicting a response to war. Picasso, born in 1881 in Spain, is a universally renowned and the most influential artist of the twentieth century (Arnheim 5). He was brought up in Spain where he was introduced to painting at an early age of eleven. He moved to France for a majority of his adult life, where he worked as an artist. During this time, he created over 20000 pieces of art in the form of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and ceramics (Carafoli 450). He had a dynamic range of work produced, which incorporated manipulation of materials not previously used in painting or printmaking of sculpture. The incorporation of different tools to his work portrays him as an innovator. His outstanding skills made him collaborate with Georges Braque and established the Cubist movement. Cubism had a crucial role in influencing European art styles, including literature, music, and contemporary architecture (Picasso n.p). The cubism style of modern art introduced the use of abstract visualization. The approach rejected the traditional methods of art, and the assimilation of external influences, such as African art. One of his most famous paintings, the Guernica, is a depiction of the response to war, and the effects the war had on Spain.

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Figure 1: Picture of Guernica. Retrieved from Picasso, Pablo. Guernica 1937. [Oil on Canvas]. Rue des Grands Augustin, Paris.

Picasso was deemed an influencer through his art. His work was selected for display at the Paris World's Fair in 1927. In 1936, Picasso was commissioned by the newly elected government of Spain to create a painting to be presented at the Paris World's Fair in 1927(Arnheim 6). Although the theme was the celebration of modern technology, he took the opportunity to create a political painting Guernica. The art focuses on the occurrences of April 27, 1937, in Spain, when Hitler bombed Guernica, a village in Spain under the support of the Franco. The attack was a response to the civil war between the fascist forces and Spain. The bombing had the sole goal of intimidating the resisting Spanish troops, and had devastating effects on the city, leaving a third of its population either dead or wounded (Carafoli 450). The painting was a response to the barbaric massacre and was presented at the Fair. Contrary to the plan of showcasing technological development, the Paris World's Fair was packed with numerous presentations, showing the brutalities of the civil war.

Picasso showed his stance on war and its effects through the painting Guernica. The painting depicts the tradition adopted by European painting history. However, due to its position on the role of war, it sets itself apart as a European piece, as it challenges the concept rather than looking at it as a win. The meaning of the painting is not easily deciphered due to all the action displayed within the work (Blunt 3). However, the central theme of the picture, which is death at the face of war, is evident through the use of many figures in an unusual form. All faces are distorted in agony, an aspect that shows the effects of war on the citizens of Spain. It also shows the impact of the Guernica attack had on the country's peace.


On the farthest left of Guernica, is the image of a woman and a child. The woman has her head back and is screaming in grief while she holds her lifeless (Blunt 5) child. This move sets the tone for the entire painting, depicting how war affects families. It also shows that war does not only affect the adults but children too. The next image on the right of the woman is a large white bull. The art shows the head part of the body. In the entire painting, the cow appears to be the only unharmed figure within the chaos depicted. Next to the cow is the image of a man with a mutilated hand, holding a broken sword. At the heart of Guernica is a large light with a bulb, which illuminates the horrified horse that has its mouth open (Blunt 6). It seems to be in pain as there is a spear on its side. To the right of the painting, there are three women in different motions. One rushes up to look at the bulb within the scene, whereas the other appears to be screaming as she is trapped within a burning building. The third women lean out the window while holding a lamp on her extended arm. Agony is an evident theme within the entire piece. This aspect is depicted by the distortion of the faces and the wide opened mouths. The suffering reflects the pain experienced, which makes the painting an effective communicator of the role of war and its stance against war.

Picasso had different themes of work during various periods of time, such as the blue period, the rose period, and the African influence period. The blue period, which lasted between 1901 and 1904, had his works adopt a monochromatic tone, with the use of grays, blacks, blues and white (Picasso n.p). During this period, his paintings were dark, showing themes of prostitution and malnutrition. From 1904 to 1906, he introduced colors with the use of pink and oranges. These colors depicted his hope in life after recovering from the suicide of his close companion. Between 1907 and 1909, he had an African influence phase where he departed from the use of traditional European aesthetics for perspective and more dimension in his work. The painting Guernica called back to the blue period. In the picture, he adopted a monochromatic scale on the image, by using black, gray, and white as the primary colors (Arnheim 20.) While some believe that this would have been the reflection of the newspapers that circulated the information of the attack on Guernica, the monochromatic scale creates drama and texture within the painting. This action is one of the factors that make it appear as a reflection of the newspapers.

As an introducer of the Cubist movement, his paintings took the perspective of cubism, with Guernica being a representation of the surrealism aspect of the campaign. Surrealism, which had various characters, for instance, the use of juxtaposition, fantasy, the World War 1, association, and revolution, is depicted within the painting (Picasso n.p). The utilization of form within the art shows the complex Cubist ideas, such as the use of abstract thoughts and the incorporation of angular lines. While he balances the images from left to right using three vertical groupings, his use of overlapping images makes it difficult for one to differentiate boundaries within different elements of the piece quickly. Cubism gave an opportunity for the painters of the period to adopt new concepts and respond to various social issues without the restriction of prior art methods.

Symbolism in Guernica

Although some of his works have defined interpretations; for instance, La Vie, which displays internal torment, Guernica has no traditional description. Picasso used bulls and horses in his painting for a majority of his work as bullfighting was common in Spain. Within the art, scholars identify the cow as a representation of Franco's fascist army, while the horse represents the Republican fighters. Picasso had noted that the bull represented darkness and brutality, which can be closely associated with the Nazi military. However, there exists no conclusion on its meaning. With its ambiguity of interpretation and the continuum that is war, the painting is timeless and can reflect conflict, even in its presentation today. It brings out the role that art can play in the world. It shows how political crime, the emergence of war and subsequent death affects everyone.

Picasso redefined approaches used by artists through his influence and activities in the twentieth century. He is deemed the most influential and renowned artist of the period due to his consistent approach, which is evident in the introduction of the Cubist movement. One of his most famous paintings Guernica also depicts this trait as he chose to represent the role of war and its effects on everyone. The art is a crucial piece in shaping and describing surrealism through its use of color, lines, and the known association between the war and its effects on life. Hence, he establishes the influential role that art plays in responding to issues experienced in the world.

Works Cited

Arnheim, Rudolf. The Genesis of a Painting: Picasso's Guernica. University of California Press, 2006.

Blunt, Anthony. Picasso's' Guernica.' Oxford UP, 1969.

Carafoli, Ernesto. "The Complex Structure of the Creativity Process." RendicontiLincei 28.3 (2017): 449-462.

Picasso, Pablo. Guernica 1937. [Oil on Canvas]. Rue des Grands Augustin, Paris.

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