Guernica

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Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937
By TROY WORKMAN

Plane engines scream across the sky. Bombs roar as they tear through bricks and steel, fire swallows buildings and people whole. Nazis and Spanish fascists soak their cold hands in innocent blood.

On April 27, 1937, the sleepy town of Guernica in the Basque country of Spain, was mercilessly bombed. Seventy percent of the town was destroyed and one third of the civilians were murdered. Guernica held no strategic value, it was simply picked as a stage for genocide. 100,000 pounds of incendiary bombs were washed over the city for three hours, while other planes picked off civilians trying to escape the fire and rubble. Fires raged across the city for three days.

When the news struck Paris just days after the attack, and Picasso was horrified. He began making hundreds of sketches, and completed the painting for the Paris World's Fair. Not only did millions of people see this work of art at the Fair, after the event the Spanish Republicans sent Guernica on a world tour, and brought the Spanish Civil War to the globe's attention. The painting traveled for 19 years, and eventually returned home to Spain in 1981. Picasso stated that he wanted the painting to return only after Spain had public liberties and Democratic institutions.

The piece itself rattles with chaos. Black, White, and Grey, fight for balance in the jagged shapes. People and animals scream with shattered tongues. A man lies dead with a severed arm and a broken sword. A woman howls with grief for her dead child. A horse cries, impaled by shrapnel. People flail while being eaten alive by burning buildings. Guernica is the pinnacle of Picasso's extraordinary ability. This timeless piece represents the new era of modern warfare, and there is no escaping for anyone.


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