ABOUT THE PROJECT BY PICASSO, DÜRRBACH AND ROCKEFELLER
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.
UNTIL THE DOORS OF HATE FALL
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”
Guernica, Icon of Peace
21.09.2018 until 02.11.2018
tel: +43 – (0)1 536 49 – 814111