Pablo Picasso (Málaga, 1881 – Mougins, France, 1973) was commissioned by the Spanish Embassy in Paris to produce a large-scale painting for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition in 1937. Due to Picasso’s standing at the time as the foremost international artist, his collaboration with the government of the Republic was also strategic. Guernica materialised into an unprecedented pictorial endeavour in the artist’s career, with the iconic power of the work immediately recognised as an instrument of political propaganda within the context of the Civil War.
Educated in Fine Arts according to academy frameworks, Picasso lived in Barcelona at the turn of the century, coming face to face with a plastic and artistic modernity primarily founded in Bohemia, Symbolism and French Post-Impressionism; he became part of this modernity as both a painter and illustrator. Picasso settled in Paris in 1904 and immediately became a point of reference for critics and historians, dealers, collectors, poets, artists, musicians and film-makers who recognised in his work the expression of a new language through its break from traditional systems of representation. His life, homes, studios and workshops, along with his artistic trajectory, laid down markers whilst providing the backbone to modern art history, with traces of his oeuvre living on in numerous contemporary artists.
Across his long-running career, Picasso worked with a wide array of materials, mediums and supports, and from a plastic perspective, his work revolved around the idea of evincing and subverting the principle of simulation inherent in art in such a way that there is scarcely distance in concept and treatment between his paintings, sculptures, prints and collages.
Within the parameters of figuration, Picasso predominantly explored three thematic strands in his work: portraits, still lifes and interiors with people, whereby the subject matter of the painter and model and their variants take up a central space. Furthermore, themes drawn from classical mythology and the modernisation of paradigmatic works from a canonical art history and French Classicism provided him with the challenge of finding a path through and into the aforementioned artistic genealogy.
The language of Guernica heeds to the plastic irruptions and the crisis in the paradigms of representation in wartime, akin to events in the 1910s and Cubism. In 1937 Picasso submitted a major pictorial machine, turning the academic history painting into a potent and violent image of the present. Thus, from a political standpoint, Picasso brought to light his commitment to the Republic and even more so to the Spanish people, whom he financially supported in the years that followed via different associations. Guernica is the clearest manifestation of the political angle of his work and the start of a phase bearing a clear and pronounced connection to the political climate, particularly through his affiliation with the French Communist Party in October 1944. As of that juncture, the frontier between the public and private appeared to dissolve as he made the staging of his oeuvre the work itself, something he shared with the youngest coetaneous artists.