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Guernica Icon of Peace


Guer­ni­ca is a spe­cial work; you can tell at the first glance: a monu­men­tal, 27 squa­re meter pain­ting: all of its cha­rac­ters are big­ger than their natu­ral size; they are loca­ted in an enc­lo­sed space, in a total absence of color six human bein­gs and three ani­mals assem­bled so as to immedia­te­ly give the impres­si­on of a world domi­na­ted by anguish. We will dis­co­ver that it is an auto­bio­gra­phi­cal work by an exi­led Spa­niard: Picas­so, the geni­us, who has beco­me an icon for the who­le world!

The Car­toon I redis­co­ve­r­ed after years of rese­arch, stems from the ori­gi­nal Guer­ni­ca oil pain­ting, now per­ma­nent­ly exhi­bi­ted at the Rei­na Sofia Muse­um in Madrid, con­cei­ved and crea­ted in just 33 days after the bom­bing of the Bas­que town of Guer­ni­ca, which took place in April 1937, and exhi­bi­ted at the Paris Expo that same year. The Car­toon, on the other hand, was crea­ted 18 years later, in 1955, when Nel­son Rocke­fel­ler encou­ra­ged Picas­so to remake that work, which had immedia­te­ly attrac­ted the atten­ti­on of the who­le world thanks to its strong emo­tio­nal char­ge, the most dra­ma­tic state­ment against the devas­ta­ting con­se­quen­ces of all wars! Guernica’s uni­queness can­not be found in any other work: Dora Maar, a talen­ted pho­to­gra­pher and Picasso’s part­ner back then, took over three thousand pic­tures of the evo­lu­ti­on of the pain­ting, of its birth and its chan­ges allowing us to fol­low the crea­ti­ve path from the first brush stro­ke to its final ver­si­on. It is perhaps the most docu­men­ted art­work in histo­ry: through the­se pic­tures and pre­pa­ra­to­ry drawings which Picas­so star­ted from may 1st, 1937, we can see what is no lon­ger visi­ble today becau­se oil, unli­ke drawings, makes it pos­si­ble to cor­rect and rework the image.


P. Neru­da

Inspi­red by the oil pain­ting, this car­toon is made on 6 strips of wrap­ping paper as wide as the loom, to act as a model and gui­de for the wea­ving of the tapes­try which is cur­r­ent­ly at the United Nati­ons. It is also the first of a seri­es of 26 car­toons, which each will spur a tapes­try. It is a uni­que pro­ject in the art of the 20th cen­tu­ry! Picas­so signs all the car­toons and the tapestries next to the logo of Cava­lai­re, the ate­lier belon­ging to Jac­que­line de la Bau­me Dürr­bach, also known as the bril­li­ant “gol­den-fin­ge­red” artist, becau­se she was able to “wea­ve a pain­ting” into a tapes­try. Her extra­or­di­na­ry abi­li­ty will con­quer Picasso’s heart, who will say that only the Dürr­bachs will have per­mis­si­on to turn his works into tapestries, even com­mis­sio­ning some for hims­elf, decla­ring: “Your woven Demoi­sel­les are more beau­ti­ful than the ones I painted.”

In a rare pic­tu­re taken by Edward Queen in 1960, Picas­so in his ate­lier “la Cali­for­nie” stands oppo­si­te the tapes­try of the Demoi­sel­les d’Avignon. The Rocke­fel­ler archi­ve in New York keeps a copy of the agree­ment that would invol­ve Nel­son Rocke­fel­ler, Picas­so, and Jac­que­line de la Bau­me Dürr­bach in a uni­que col­la­bo­ra­ti­on for 18 years, bet­ween 1955 and 1973. 1973 marks the year of Picasso’s death and the birth of a uni­que collec­tion that will turn the gre­at artist’s mas­ter­pie­ces into tapestries to bring peop­le beau­ty! Rocke­fel­ler belie­ved in the “trans­for­ma­ti­ve power of art”, in the impor­t­ance of beau­ty, spi­ri­tu­al strength and con­stant inspi­ra­ti­on in ever­y­day life.

Nel­son Rockefeller’s pas­si­on for modern art leads him to collect works by the grea­test artists of the 20th cen­tu­ry. Howe­ver, Picas­so had a spe­cial place in his heart: “… of all of them Picas­so was always my favo­ri­te. His rest­less vita­li­ty, and con­stant search for power­ful new forms of expres­si­on, com­bi­ned with his superb craft­s­manship and sen­se of colour and com­po­si­ti­on, have remai­ned as unen­ding source of joy and satis­fac­tion to me.” In 1951 Picas­so met Dürr­bach at an exhi­bi­ti­on at the Musée de l’Annonciade in Saint Tro­pez, immedia­te­ly sen­sing her crea­ti­ve abi­li­ties; in 1954, she crea­ted the first tapes­try for Picas­so, from the 1920 pain­ting Har­le­quins. One year later, the gre­at adven­ture of Guer­ni­ca began!

This Ate­lier was whe­re all of Picasso’s tapestries were woven and defi­ned as “vibrant trans­la­ti­ons”, ela­bo­ra­ti­ons capa­ble of trans­la­ting the same vibrant ener­gy of Picasso’s pain­tings. This is the­re­fo­re the begin­ning of a won­der­ful sto­ry, which shows us Picasso’s abi­li­ty to evol­ve and to explo­re dif­fe­rent expres­si­ve means and dif­fe­rent fee­lings, such as the pain and deso­la­ti­on that wars cau­se in every man. Until now he had focu­sed on his art, try­ing dif­fe­rent styles, con­vey­ing his crea­ti­ve strength. The tra­gic bom­bing of the Bas­que town for­ces him to open up to man and to histo­ry, to express his par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on in human pain and his furious moral jud­ge­ment on vio­lence, as we can see in the more than 40 pre­pa­ra­to­ry drawings for the work, whe­re eyes take the shape of tears and mouths with poin­ted tongues scream with a sharp, pier­cing pain.

This rare image of Jac­que­line befo­re the Guer­ni­ca tapes­try inspi­red by the Car­toon is extra­or­di­na­ry and con­veys the abi­li­ty of this artist to crea­te a com­plex work and to accept a con­si­derable chal­len­ge, bet­ween two mul­ti­fa­ce­ted men like Picas­so and Rocke­fel­ler. To her and to her crea­ti­ve dia­lo­gue with Picas­so we owe the chan­ge from the two colors of the Car­ton (white, black and grey) to the ele­ven colors of the Tapes­try, as well as the inven­ti­on of a com­plex method to join the woven strips without showing the points of junc­tion. While inno­vat­ing the­se uni­que tech­ni­ques, she com­plied with Picasso’s con­ti­nuous direc­tion and super­vi­si­on. Guer­ni­ca will the­re­fo­re be the only “woven” car­toon, while the other ones will be “weven without sewing”. The Rocke­fel­ler archi­ve keeps all the details of the “total agree­ment” of Picas­so. Jac­que­line will wri­te that every detail had to be appro­ved by Picasso.


Art can­not be read like a text; it can­not be exp­lai­ned, but it is fasci­na­ting to learn how to look at a work of art: Guer­ni­ca is not just a depic­tion of an event, but a sequence of extre­me­ly com­plex images that aim at com­mu­ni­ca­ting strong emo­ti­ons. The sce­ne takes place in an enc­lo­sed space, with an enig­ma­tic part of tiled roof in the midd­le. The­re is a lamp han­ging from the cei­ling and forming an ellip­se with poin­ted ends that form dark shadows on the wall. After a first impres­si­on of cha­os, we noti­ce that the work “rests” on some figu­res with strong emo­tio­nal charge.

On the left, the mother, crouched on the ground, with a naked bust, holds her dead baby in her arms: a strong image that evo­kes anguish and death. Her face, poin­ting upwards, screams all her pain with tear-shaped eyes. The mother who lost her baby expres­ses an extre­me amount of pain towards the bull, a threa­tening figu­re that enters the sce­ne from left to right but vio­lent­ly turns its head in the oppo­si­te direc­tion, sta­ring at the view­er. It is impas­si­ve and obli­vious of the pain expres­sed by the huma­ni­ty around it. To its right, a pani­cking bird, sur­roun­ded by shadows, with its head stret­ched up in what seems to be a shrill cry. On the ground, a man with his arms out­stret­ched, with a seve­r­ed arm, his left hand with strai­ned fin­gers and his palm full of deep marks, may­be the hand of work­man, while the other hand is clen­ched into a fist and holds a bro­ken sword, but a small flower appears from below. He is a sol­dier, and his head is also tur­ned upward in a silent cry, with lifeless eyes. In the cen­ter, right under the light, a hor­se, loca­ted – unli­ke the bull – near the man, writ­hing in pain, pier­ced by a spe­ar who­se tip pro­tru­des from its side. Its body is cove­r­ed with small black marks, perhaps evo­king the fonts of a news­pa­per. Its main deno­tes that its head has tur­ned both to the left and to the right, in a pain­ful move­ment, and a sharp, pene­tra­ting cry comes out of its open mouth. On the lower right a woman drags herself, a knee on the ground, almost bur­ned by some weight, she rai­ses her head in a plea­ding atti­tu­de, she loo­ks woun­ded. To her right, ano­t­her woman who­se arms are the only thing we can see, risen in a sign of sup­pli­ca­ti­on and des­pair; she seems to be sur­roun­ded by fla­mes, perhaps in an attempt to reach the win­dow abo­ve her head.

The­re are three dra­ma­tic images of death in three dif­fe­rent parts of the pain­ting. Picas­so moved them during his pre­pa­ra­to­ry stu­dy: the mother, for examp­le, was first ima­gi­ned while clim­bing a lad­der, almost a Vir­gin Mary ascen­ding to the cross of her dead son, then when he remo­ved all colors he por­tray­ed her as a “Pie­tà” with her son aban­do­ned in her lap in a power­ful posi­ti­on, below the bull: the maxi­mum of pain ver­sus the maxi­mum of indif­fe­rence and cruelty!

The fourth fema­le figu­re is an enig­ma­tic bea­rer of light that enters the sce­ne as if she was hove­r­ed, with a sin­gle, long arm hol­ding a torch. Hence, of the six main figu­res four of them tend towards the left and help us under­stand that Guer­ni­ca should be read from right to left, in rever­se, like the world at war that Picas­so describes.Picasso decom­po­ses and sim­pli­fies the bodies, divi­des the three-dimen­sio­nal space, mul­ti­ply­ing the points of obser­va­ti­on of the pain­ting: the light bulb indi­ca­tes that we are in an enc­lo­sed space while that part of the roof sug­gests that we are in an open space out­side. A simul­ta­ne­ous visi­on, an ele­ment that typi­cal­ly belongs to the Cubist lan­guage, at the same time con­veys the tra­gic effects of the bom­bing. The bull, indo­mita­ble, in its immo­bi­li­ty, threa­tens huma­ni­ty with its vio­lence. All that remains of the human world are anguis­hed women and ani­mals! Cha­os has upset the world. The hori­zon­ta­li­ty of the pain­ting allows us to catch a tri­ang­le lea­ding upwards, towards the light: some hope after so much pain?

Important sym­bo­lic con­tents tell us why Guer­ni­ca is today an extra­or­di­na­ry icon of peace. The beau­ty of the­se images, even if they express vio­lence and des­pair, lies in the emo­ti­ons con­vey­ed and com­mu­ni­ca­ted. This is the extra­or­di­na­ry strength and effec­ti­ve­ness of the value of peace to “make the doors of hate fall”, as Neru­da wri­tes, the beau­ty that gains an aes­the­tic and ethi­cal dimension.

We will use the words of the artist hims­elf, used in a public state­ment while working on the pain­ting: “The war in Spain is the reac­tion against peop­le and free­dom. All of my life as an artist has been not­hing more than a con­stant fight against the reac­tion and death of art. How could one think, even for a moment, that I can agree with reac­tion and death? When the revolt began, the Repu­bli­can Government of Spain – legal­ly and demo­cra­ti­cal­ly elec­ted – appoin­ted me as the direc­tor of the Museo del Pra­do, and I immedia­te­ly accep­ted. The panel I am working on, which will be named Guer­ni­ca, as well as all of my recent art­works, clear­ly express my hor­ror for the mili­ta­ry cas­te that led Spain into an oce­an of pain and death…”

Hence the moder­ni­ty and uni­ver­sa­li­ty of his mes­sa­ge: the vio­lence of that bru­tal act invol­ves the who­le Wes­tern cul­tu­re and makes us ask our­sel­ves: whe­re is Guer­ni­ca today, while we face con­ti­nuous mas­sa­c­res? Whe­re are the voices of artists and intel­lec­tu­als spea­king against the bar­ba­ri­ty of war?

“The world is a dan­ge­rous place not becau­se of tho­se who do evil, but becau­se of tho­se who look on and do not­hing about it” 

Albert Ein­stein

Guer­ni­ca, Icon of Peace
21.09.2018 until 02.11.2018

Hof­burg Inns­bruck
Renn­weg 1
A‑6020 Innsbruck
tel: +43 – (0)1 536 49 – 814111

Ope­ning hours:
Mon­day – Sunday 09:00 – 17:00


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Serena Baccaglini studied and graduated in art history and critic of art in Padova University, Italy and art and literature in UCSD, University of California San Diego. Since 1995 she is founder and responsible of Event Division in MRA (Marketing, Research, advertising) organizing art events for companies, developing art and economy, main field of research and study. She conceived, curated and coordinated many art exhibitions in the world (Czech Republic, Poland, Brazil, Italy, France, Germany, Qatar) about Picasso, the great Spanish masters Goya, Picasso, Dali with the study and presentation of Guernica Cartoon and Demoiselles d’Avignon for the first time, collaborating with international cultural institutions as Picasso Foundation (partner in 2011-12), Dali, Modigliani and main museums. Baccaglini is responsible of international relations for TINA B. the International Contemporary Art Festival and she curated its first edition in Biennale, Venice. She collaborates as journalist with many art magazines as OK Arte Milan, Area Arte Veneto, Messaggero Group.

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