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Guernica misunderstood: It was not about the war, but all about the artist, says expert
ONE OF Spain's most iconic Civil War protest paintings may not be about the Civil War at all, according to an art history expert: Pablo Picasso's Guernica may have been universally misunderstood for the last 81 years, says Professor José María Juarranz de la Fuente.
His recently-published book, Guernica. The unknown masterpiece, details his 14 years of research into the huge black-and-white cubist work which has its own room at Madrid's Reina Sofía art museum where visitors can view preliminary sketches, first drafts and a video of its creation in the context of the war of 1936 to 1939.
Always believed to have been a symbol of the barbaric actions of Franco's Fascist supporters and an abstract depiction of the devastating bombing of the Basque town of Gernika – spelt as 'Guernica' in Castilian Spanish – on April 26, 1937, the painting may actually just be all about the artist, Professor Juarranz de la Fuente explains.
“Believing that Picasso's most famous work is not all about Picasso himself means not being familiar with the artist and his personality,” the expert argues.
His book is divided into the sections 'Analysis', 'Synthesis' and 'Apotheosis', and in the 'Analysis' section, Professor Juarranz de la Fuente says Guernica depicts Picasso's 'obsessions' and not his political convictions.
“Picasso never showed any particular interest in political issues during that time of his life,” the author reveals.
He says the artist named the painting Guernica because it was topical at the time and would increase its visibility in Europe, bumping it up into a higher category in the art world and increasing the painter's own fame.
In fact, having studied the timeline of events in the 1930s, Professor Juarranz de la Fuente says Picasso started work on the piece and had its themes already in mind long before the attack on the Basque town became headline news.
Indeed, Picasso's works have featured all the women in his life – including wives and lovers – and it would seem logical that his most ambitious creation would do likewise, the Professor reasons.
The 'Synthesis' section of his book attempts to 'read' the painting in multi-dimensional terms, with an exhaustive examination of the figures therein.
The bull which features is a figurative self-portrait, whilst the fainting woman and child depicts his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter during labour and her baby daughter Maya, whilst the horse represents his ex-wife, Russian dancer Olga Koklova; the horse's pointed tongue alludes to the devastating rows the couple had before their separation, according to Professor Juarranz de la Fuente's theories.
And the image of a woman at a window holding a lamp outside is probably Picasso's mother, showing her at the moment of the huge earthquake in Málaga when the artist was three years old.
Finally, the 'Apotheosis' section of the book attempts to complement the previous chapters by helping to understand the painting better, which the author says necessitates studying the 62 sketches that accompany Guernica alongside the work itself since they are 'inseparable' when trying to interpret it.
The book's original title in Spanish is Guernica. La Obra Maestra Desconocida.
Photograph by the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid
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