Saturday in the Museum with Pablo

Image: Pablo Picasso, Guernica (1937).

On Saturdays, we usually post about art that intersects with the world of food. Today, however, we break from the escapism of still lifes and feasts. Due to current events, there was one piece of art that seemed appropriate to highlight.

Guernica was created to be part of the Spanish Pavilion at the International Exposition in Paris in 1937. The Republican Government in Madrid commissioned Picasso to paint something for the Exposition in the hopes of raising funds and building support from a world largely ambivalent to its precarious state. Pablo Picasso’s found inspiration for the subject when he read and saw pictures of the German aerial bombing of the Basque town. Hitler and Mussolini had come in to the war on the side of Franco against the Republican Government. Franco won the war. The fascists would go on to destroy so much more.

The picture is located in the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid. The website provides this background: “The huge picture is conceived as a giant poster, testimony to the horror that the Spanish Civil War was causing and a forewarning of what was to come in the Second World War. The muted colours, the intensity of each and every one of the motifs and the way they are articulated are all essential to the extreme tragedy of the scene, which would become the emblem for all the devastating tragedies of modern society.”

The mythology around the piece includes a story that after the Nazi invasion of France, a German officer visited Picasso and saw a photo of Guernica on display. The officer asked, “Did you do that?” To which Picasso replied, “No, you did.”

There is also this footnote to the story. According to the Reina Sofia website: “The government of the Spanish Republic acquired the mural “Guernica” from Picasso in 1937. When World War II broke out, the artist decided that the painting should remain in the custody of New York’s Museum of Modern Art for safekeeping until the conflict ended. In 1958 Picasso extended the loan of the painting to MoMA for an indefinite period, until such time that democracy had been restored in Spain. The work finally returned to this country in 1981.”

NPR has a list of organizations that are providing assistance to those in Ukraine or now displaced, if you are looking for a place to donate. Local charity, World Central Kitchen has mobilized to provide assistance in Poland to Ukrainian refugees.