Sixth Form Lecture Series: Picasso’s Guernica: The Enduring Power of Art
Thursday 18th October 2018
On Friday 12 October, Queen Anne’s Academic Enrichment Programme for Lower Sixth students continued with an interesting insight into Picasso’s Guernica: The Enduring Power of Art.
This lecture was presented by Queen Anne’s own Head of Classics, Mrs Smith, who also teaches Art History classes outside of the school.
Most will have heard of Pablo Picasso’s famous piece of artwork Guernica, and many may have analysed this piece for art classes themselves. However, the context and history of the painting is rarely taught and discussed, yet is particularly interesting and relevant.
This intriguing context and history of Guernica, and the power this piece of art has had over the years, is exactly what Mrs Smith would reveal to our Sixth Form students today.
Mrs Smith described Picasso as “a genius”, and rightly so: he entered art school at the age of 16 (although he was eventually thrown out) and, by age 25, he had made more money than his father (who was also an artist) had made in his lifetime.
However, once photography was invented and developed in the 1930’s, Picasso didn’t see the point in painting portraits or detailed realism paintings anymore. He wanted to learn how to draw ‘like a child’. His desire to experiment grew and grew, and eventually he invented and developed cubism.
Mrs Smith showed the audience of Sixth Formers some paintings Picasso created of some of his girlfriends, and how the ladies’ beautiful features had been enlarged and distorted. Yet these pieces were still considered as valuable paintings at the forefront of art. Mrs Smith explained that “a lot of people in the 1930’s just didn’t get his work”, and the split opinions from the audience proved that this is still the case.
Picasso had been commissioned by the Spanish government to paint a mural to celebrate the glories of Spain, for the 1937 Paris World’s Fair. However, he did not have any ideas or inspiration.
The Spanish civil war was raging on at the time, while Picasso was living in Paris, and, on April 26 1937, the small town of Guernica was bombed for around three hours, completely destroying the town. Once news of the bombing reached Picasso, he knew he had found his inspiration.
Mrs Smith revealed that Picasso actually found out about this tragic event through a story published in the New York Times, and that the black and white colour scheme of his famous painting was inspired by the medium of print newspapers through which the news was revealed.
“The painting does not describe the events of the bombing” explained Mrs Smith “Instead, it expresses the idea and emotions of war.”
The power of this piece of art became known worldwide, and the painting even went on a world tour of its own, eventually returning to Spain, where it now resides in its very own museum.
In fact, a tapestry of Guernica was commissioned in 1955 and displayed at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, reminding people of the horrors of war, and that the goal of the United Nations is always and ultimately for peace.
Mrs Smith even told the audience of a controversial event, in which the tapestry was covered up by the Bush Administration whilst key arguments for going to war in Iraq were taking place. It was thought that the scenes in the image of Guernica were so strong that going to war in Iraq could never be justified whilst it was on display.
This was a perfect example of the enduring power that a single piece of art could have, and left our Sixth Form students inquisitive and with a fresh mind when considering historical pieces of art.