PRINT April 1983


PABLO PICASSO WAS INTERVIEWED by two American journalists soon after Guernica was installed. He discussed politics from his vantage point as an artist:

As to the future of Spanish art, this much I can say to my friends in America. The contribution of the people’s struggle will be enormous. No one can deny the vitality and the youth which the struggle will bring to Spanish art. Something new and strong which the consciousness of this magnificent epic will sow in the soul of Spanish artists will undoubtedly appear in their works. The contribution of the purest human values to a renascent art will be one of the greatest conquests of the Spanish people.

In the winter of 1937 Picasso had been commissioned to make a mural for a wall which would be adjacent to the entrance of the Spanish Loyalist Pavilion being built under the direction of Jose Luis Sert and Luis Lacasa for the Paris Exposition of 1937, a world’s fair. The fair was scheduled to open to the public on Saturday, May 1, 1937. Despite construction slowdowns and bad weather, the government of Leon Blum had hoped to open the Exposition on time in order to project an image of efficiency and authority. But when only four pavilions were ready by the scheduled date, the inaugural ceremonies were postponed for more than three weeks. Instead, on May 1, 1937, Paris was caught up in a city-wide strike commemorating May Day and the 20th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

The Spanish Loyalist Pavilion was dedicated only on July 12. Included among its many displays were works of art by Julio González, Joan Miró, and Alexander Calder. Each work made reference to a particular region of Spain, and to a different aspect of current history of contemporary life.1 The major works of art executed for the pavilion seem to have shared a common program. Each had the name of a place in its title. All were scaled to be empathic to human size and yet slightly larger than life-size to function as public monuments. Though each artist had in his past dealt with a language of abstraction, here they communicated with representational forms in order to be clearly understood by the public. The uniqueness of this program is apparent upon considering a sculpture Jacques Lipchitz executed for the same World’s Fair. A photograph reproduced in the May 18, 1937, issue of L’Humanité shows the sculptor dwarfed by his 46-foot-high Prometheus Strangling the Vulture. In his autobiography, My Life in Sculpture, Lipchitz explained: “The Phrygian cap that I placed on Prometheus had a particular significance for me as a symbol . . . of human progress that to me involved the democratic ideal. So, in a certain way, this is a political sculpture, propaganda for democracy. “This work, larger than life, dealt with allegory and symbol rather than a specific event or issue.

In displays and sponsored performances (theater, film, dance, concerts, poetry readings), the Spanish Loyalist Pavilion focused its visitors’ attention on the ways and mores of different regions: Castille, Basque, Catalonia, Valencia, Aragon, Asturia, Andalucia. Costumes and crafts were mixed in. That this was a time for the artist to act according to political principles is underscored by listing such films as Luis Buñuel’s Madrid ’36 (which consisted of battle clips); Tristan Tzara’s Madrid: Verdun de la Democratie; Paul Strand’s and Leo Hurwitz’s Heart of Spain (a blood-drive effort); Spain in Flames, with dialogue by John Dos Passos and Archibald MacLeish; and Joris Ivens’ The Spanish Earth, written and narrated by Ernest Hemingway (in this, the digging of ditches alternates with Madrid battle clips).

The civil war was in its eighth month when Picasso finally set to work on this project. He actually began work four days after the destruction by German Junker bombers on April 26, 1937, of the ancient Basque capital of Guernica, a town not among the 12 possible targets shown on strategy maps dealing with the Northern campaign that had been printed in French newspapers earlier that month.

William S. Rubin succinctly summarized, in his landmark book Dada and Surrealist Art (1968), the artistic resources into which Picasso dipped during the five weeks it took him to produce his painting. “The great pedimental composition of Guernica,” he wrote, “synthesizes aspects of Cubism, collage, and Expressionism, while its morphology inflects these with the Surrealist biomorphism of the later twenties. . . . ” It is also apparent, once pointed out by Rubin, that besides marshalling seemingly contradictory styles (which he had helped to initiate), Picasso amalgamated various themes from his past. Rubin noted how “in [Guernica’s] iconography the reverberations of the three ‘myths’ that preoccupied Picasso throughout the period when he was close to Surrealism are resolved into a single harmonious triad.” These three myths Rubin had earlier cited as “those of the Minotaur, the Crucifixion, and the bullfight: these represent respectively the classical Mediterranean heritage, the Christian heritage, and the Spanish national heritage. . . . ” To express in a short time and on a large format his concern over events in his homeland, Picasso not only incorporated aspects of Cubism, collage, and Surrealism, but even used the scale of the sculptures he had modelled at Boisgeloup during the early ’30s (one of which was displayed on the grounds near the exit of the Spanish Loyalist Pavilion). He assimilated subjects from Greek drama and literature, Western religion (and with it Freudian theories of sexuality vis-à-vis Mary Magdalene), newspaper articles, and editorial cartoons during preparatory stages and states of the canvas. Read at a glance, the work hardly betrays its complexity and host of associations. The mural, executed in shades of black, white, and gray, contains a limited cast of characters: four women, one child, a dismembered soldier, a bull, a horse, and a bird.

At first, Guernica begs to be compared with contemporary films, which were for the most part still black and white. Yet while Guernica’s size and blunt tonality operate like the screen of a cinema, the mural and its protagonists also comport themselves as if a drama were being performed on a shallow stage, like the one opposite the entrance to the pavilion and perpendicular to the long stretch of wall on which Guernica was initially hung. Then too its subject matter situates it in the arena of reportage, specifically of newspaper photojournalism. It presents itself as if it were like the gigantic black and white photomounts that were hung and changed from time to time on the pavilion’s entrance tower (behind which the painting was viewed inside) and which functioned somewhat like the ticker-tape news updates on the old New York Times Tower in Manhattan’s Times Square.

Picasso shied away from using a colorful palette in his mural because he knew that both ends of his canvas would be next to open-work fences, and that the bustling throngs of an international fair would be constantly parading past his painting. Had the mural been covered with reds, blues, and greens, it might have been harder to see as crowds walked past. Executed in black, white, and gray, the mural stood out from its surroundings. Finally, the somber tones of Guernica provided a chilling reminder that this was a pavilion “in mourning.” So, as with almost every other aspect of the mural, no one element can be singled out as the sole reason for either Guernica’s coloration or scale.

Dualities and oppositions abound in the composition—a sun, a moon, and an electric light bulb, for example; day and night, exterior light and interior illumination, suggesting a span of 24 hours. Simultaneity is the point. At one moment, a viewer seems to be looking into a room; another glance reveals this as an outdoor plaza. The work is filled with a scaffolding of horizontals and verticals. Figures are seen frontally and in profile. Ambiguities are everywhere.

Picasso never made an abstract painting, though his great works can be appreciated on the merits of their formalistic components alone. Over the past decade and a half, both Robert Rosenblum and William S. Rubin have identified previously unrecognized images in Picasso’s oeuvre. Instead of presenting them as mere borrowings, the new information about the artist’s choice of appropriate images and subjects has reinforced even more our appreciation of his genius.

We now know that Picasso relied on news reports and editorial cartoons printed in L’Humanité, the French Communist journal, for visual ideas and ideological content. For too long it has been a commonplace to assert that he was merely reacting feverishly to the saturation bombardment of a small Basque village by a fleet of sophisticated German airplanes. Instead, characters, themes, and even symbols were altered as events were played out and repeated. References to more commonplace parades and art exhibitions in L’Humanité were also incorporated in the painting as he continued to work.

Today, the phrase “Communist newspaper” conjures up a different image than it represented in the spring of 1937. At the time more than a dozen other journals in Paris slanted their news accounts in favor of the Insurgent forces directed by Generals Emilio Mola and Francisco Franco. While L’Humanité, in paroxysms of hyperbole, would identify murdered women and children as pregnant mothers and orphans, it continually identified those responsible for the events: L’Humanité’s tone was exaggerated, but history has proven its coverage of the civil war to be more reliable than that of other French journals.

On Wednesday, April 28, a day before most other Paris newspapers turned their attention to this episode, L’Humanité published accounts of the bombing of Guernica on its market day two days earlier. According to L’Humanité, this was “the most horrible bombardment since the outbreak of the Spanish War.” In an exaggerated style of coverage, it was averred that “a thousand incendiary bombs dropped by the planes of Hitler and Mussolini reduced to ashes the city of Guernica. The number of dead and wounded is incalculable.” Embellishments marked the newspaper’s report. It was said that the attack lasted for eight hours; the majority of victims were women and children; “fugitives with haggard eyes and peasants who became crazy” were encountered. From the start, L’Humanité developed a theme that the editors would use throughout the month of May when they adopted the name Guernica as a rallying cry—by maintaining a position of neutrality, France and England were thought to be as culpable for the horrors inflicted on the town as the aggressors. On April 29, L’Humanité suggested that when Goering and Mussolini had conferred in Rome shortly before, they had jointly planned the attack (in part, to test bombing maneuvers). On its second day of published accounts of the incident, L’Humanité combined two themes—one concerning mothers and children; the other, nonintervention, to which they would return again and again: “Women and children perished in the flames because France and Great Britain let Hitler and Mussolini transport incendiary bombs to Spain.”

L’Humanité’s editorial position was unique. At this time, pro-Franco press reports predominated. It was maintained, more often than not, that the “Reds”—Franco insisted upon the use by journalists of this term rather than the designation “Loyalists”—had burned the town as they fled before the Insurgent advance. Even today there are conservative scholars who argue that Guernica was not attacked by German Junkers. For American newspapers, there was never any question but that the Franco/Nazi/Fascist forces were to blame. Art historians based in the United States havenever realized how much Picasso, in his mural, sided with and developed his themes according to the party line of L’Humanité.

Picasso dated and numbered sequentially the preparatory studies that would culminate in Guernica. Rudolf Arnheim, in his 1962 book Picasso’s Guernica: The Genesis of a Painting, used the artist’s recorded chronology to analyze the formal developments of the mural. (Nine years ago, I asked Arnheim if there was material in his monograph that he would rework, given the opportunity. He replied that he would only rearrange the title to read, The Genesis of a Painting: Picasso’s Guernica.) Picasso’s dated material can also be treated like pages of a diary. It is possible to match the dates of the sketches and oil studies with events reported throughout May and early June in L’Humanité in order to see how the artist responded throughout the five weeks he worked on the painting to items recorded in that newspaper.

On the first weekend of May, a few days after Picasso read about the bombing of the Basque town, he made ten studies for Guernica. Five are compositional in character; the other five are concerned with how to render a horse. The first two (which in his book Arnheim numbered 1 and 2) are small, 10 5/8-inch-by-8 1/4-inch sketches on blue paper. (Reproduced in black and white, the colored ground, in a hue that underscores an emotional mood, gets overlooked.) In these two outdoor scenes, a figure leans out of a second-story window, thrusting an object forward with an extended arm. A horse, a bull, and some sort of winged creature are depicted, too.

On April 29, L’Humanité had noted in a bold lettered headline that “only five houses remain in Guernica.” The day before, it had been claimed that “only one house is intact: the old Parliament building.” The journal also mentioned that after the market day bombardment, isolated farms in the countryside had “during the night . . . burned like little candles among the hills.” When Picasso had developed clearer, more recognizable images rather than hasty scrawls, it became possible to look back and identify the figure in the window in the isolated building as thrusting forward a flaming candle. By depicting a single structure, the artist ambiguously erected a building that was either all that remained of the town or was one of the isolated farms. The animals as well made reference both to a city square on market day and/or countryside imagery.

In the next compositional studies (numbered by Arnheim 6, pencil and gesso on wood, and 10, pencil and gouache on gesso on wood) forms are clarified. The house is is more firmly designed; the woman with the candle is made more discernible. Also, the horse and the bull are given distinctive personalities. A dead Greek warrior (identified by headdress and spear) accompanies the animals in one study; an additional fallen figure appears in the other.

Picasso was investigating both form (as in how something is depicted) and emotion (as in how something is expressed). In one work, the horse’s head cranes skyward; in the other, it swoops down. In one, the bull stands still and erect; in the other, it romps. In one, the warrior lies on his back with his helmeted head on the right; in the other, his body is sprawled with his head toward the left. Picasso constantly used body parts interchangeably. For example, the eyes of the bull in one (Arnheim 6) were moved to the face of the woman in the window in the other (Arnheim 10).

In these initial studies, the artist was also trying out allegorical images. A Pegasus-like creature astride the May 1 bull in Arnheim 2 emerges from a slit in the stomach of the horse in Arnheim 6 (later on May 1), who had fallen across the body of the Greek warrior. Picasso was no stranger to classical drama, to its robed characters and strictures concerning time and setting. In 1934, he had made six etchings and 33 drawings to illustrate Aristophane’s Lysistrata, a tale of men and women in wartime, and a work particularly topical during the Spanish conflict. In 1933, he made a drawing of his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter as Minerva, in which composition and various other components, ranging from costume to character, are similar to those in his initial sketches for Guernica. Indeed, an antique Greek flavor permeates the early stages of the mural. Anthony Blunt, in Picasso’s Guernica (1969), a small monograph based on a lecture on the painting, draws a comparison between Picasso’s female characters and those of a Greek chorus.

In the studies of May 1 and 2, Picasso was also developing the look of the horse. A drawing on another blue sheet (Arnheim number 3) is filled with Surrealist-like notations. To counterbalance these fantastic creatures, yet another (Arnheim 5) has a horse modelled more naturalistically. And this one, with a lifelike quadruped who is obviously braying, suggests a detail in one of the few eyewitness accounts of the bombing, published in the April 30 issue of Le Petit Parisien, in which it was recorded that after the attack “the noise was deafening.” “When the explosions ceased,” it was mentioned, “one heard cries which made horses lift their heads.”

Another drawing with a horse (Arnheim 4) resembles a child’s scribbles. (Picasso once told Penrose that as a child he had drawn like Raphael, and that it had taken him years to learn to draw like a child.) An important small stick figure in the lower right of this sketch was omitted from several publications in which the image was reproduced. The stick figure gives scale to the horse, which seems to be on wheels. As one gazes at the stick figure and the horse on wheels, one comes to realize why Picasso was dealing with odd bellies and slits in the stomachs of the earlier horses. For at this moment Picasso was probably drawing a Trojan Horse. In a deceitful manner not unlike that of the Greeks, the Franco forces were disclaiming responsibility for the bombardment and the majority of the French press was buying it. Looking at Arnheim 4, one is struck by the parallels between these two examples of treachery in war.

That Picasso would use such a symbolic language is not as farfetched an idea as it might initially appear to be. L’Humanité daily published a political cartoon on its front page; once a week, a strip of such images crossed the bottom of that page. The panels of the Dream and Lie of Franco, which Picasso etched on January 8 and 9, 1937, and which were eventually sold at the Spanish Loyalist Pavilion, borrowed motifs and meanings from the work of René Dubosc, a staff cartoonist at L’Humanité. Frequently, famous fables were featured. To editorialize about the non-interventionist stance maintained by France and England the tale of the Three Blind Mice was a natural subject, as was the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Horses often appeared in these political minidramas. A page-wide strip with horses appeared late in April. On April 25, Hitler and Mussolini were the protagonists in several frames which featured horses. In one strip with a zoo (September 27, 1936), and in another labeled “Nazionale Circus” (March 13, 1937), there are elements similar in both form and spirit to those used in the initial preparatory sketches for Guernica.

In some cases, once Picasso had worked out a particular theme he would drop it along the way. Several themes that he developed seem not to have been incorporated into the finished canvas. Rather, they simply mark the character of particular groups of drawings that may have developed into other ideas. Once the artist had toyed with the idea of a Trojan Horse to his satiation it faded out of the picture in its specifics.

Just how fruitless it is to try to pinpoint the identity of many of the images is apparent when consulting what knowledgeable commentators have to say about the woman in the window. According to Juan Larrea in his book Guernica: Pablo Picasso (1947), she is Dora Maar; Françoise Gilot has said she was Marie-Thérèse Walter. For Antonina Vallentin, in Picasso (1963), there can be no doubts but that it is Picasso himself in a pose he assumed when seeing who was at his door below. Jean-Paul Crespelle in his Picasso and His Women (1969) even suggests that the image is a composite, asserting that the artist would depict Marie-Thérèse Walter in outfits from Dora Maar’s wardrobe. It is more than tempting to suggest a comparison between the woman in the window and the Statue of Liberty, a small model of which stood on a bridge near the Paris Exposition grounds and whose image appeared from time to time in L’Humanité’s political cartoons. Francois Rude’s La Marseillaise, 1835–36, from the bold relief on the Arc de Triomphe, also offers herself up as a source.

After the first weekend of work a week passed before Picasso worked on more studies for the mural. Once again, he turned his attention to Guernica on a weekend. Now, he made ten preparatory works: two on May 8; three on May 9; five on May 10. On May 11 he outlined some images on the canvas for the first time in his new studio in the rue des Grandes-Augustins which had been leased specifically for this commission. After he began to execute his designs on canvas, Picasso seems from then on to have worked continually on the mural.

During this second weekend of work Picasso introduced new characters: a grieving mother with her dead child (Arnheim 12 and 13). During the preceding week articles had constantly appeared dealing with the evacuation of Basque women and children through the port of Bilbao following the bombardment of Guernica. L’Humanité editor Paul Valliant-Couturier, who would later be immortalized by a Le Corbusier monument whose imagery depends on Guernica, traveled to the north of Spain in order to report on the Basque campaign and rescue operations. “Sauvons-les!” (save them!) the editors pleaded as they set up a fund to collect money for the rescue operations. Later that summer, coins tossed into and collected from Alexander Calder’s Almadén Mercury Fountain in the Spanish Loyalist Pavilion were donated to this cause. Picasso contributed 400,000 francs from his own pocket.

The forms of the new figures of the mother and child were adopted from those previously developed for the horse; in particular Picasso reused features from the head: hair, eyes, nose, lips. (In a statement of a few years earlier, he had provided clues to this procedure: “Colors, like features, follow the change of the emotions. You’ve seen the sketch I did for a picture with all the colors indicated on it. What is left of them? Certainly the white I thought of and the green I thought of are all there in the picture, but not in the places I intended nor in the same quantities.”) Picasso depicted the woman dressed in a gathered blouse, full skirt, and Spanish mantilla, working in a manner comparable to the way René Dubosc would fix a national identity by using a stereotyped costume. Picasso set the ravaged, bloodied body of the child between the bloated breasts of the grieving mother. While the inclusion of these new characters was probably inspired by newspaper accounts, their forms had been anticipated in studies he had made of Mary Magdalene for his 1930 Crucifixion. At this moment, religious as well as sexual themes were introduced. In his scholarly paper “Picasso and the Anatomy of Eroticism” Robert Rosenblum has discussed the “Freudian metaphor of psychosexual castration fear” in some of Picasso’s work. Arnheim, analyzing the Guernica mother and child studies, suggested that “the child’s head, in shape and location, is [a] reminder of the mother’s genitals, from which it emerged.” As early as 1939, Robert M. Coates, in The New Yorker magazine, recognized connections between the Crucifixion and Guernica. Rubin, more than a decade ago, also perceptively analyzed the relationship between the two paintings and both Arnheim and Blunt have expressed further thoughts on this subject.

On May 9, two days before beginning work on the actual canvas, Picasso executed what was the most complicated and terrifying composition up to that point (Arnheim 15). In it the sky has been darkened, and flames burst from the roof of a building located in the right rear of the image. The ground is littered with heads and arms. Across the body of a sprawling horse, beneath which lie corpses, a mother and child crawl awkwardly. A few arms with clenched fists are raised in the Loyalist salute. Behind the wheel of a cart, a bull with popped eyes and expressionless mouth stands mysteriously, looking as if it has wandered into the scene from another world. It is this creature’s puzzlement, its quizzical gaze, with which viewers have most readily identified. But what has actually happened here?

One article, the eyewitness account of the bombardment published in L’Humanité on May 5, provides some clues; Alberto de Onaindia, a priest, described the sight as “absolutely Dantesque.” Picasso’s scene includes details taken directly from the priest’s tale: a bull and a horse, animals that were on sale that “clear-skied and fiery-sunned” market day, as de Onaindia described it. There are women who “fell like flies.” When the planes had gone, the priest found a dead woman stretched out on the ground; beside her lay a six-year-old child who died in de Onaindia’s arms. The wheel in the sketch may be the remnant of a cart that had been abandoned as its owner “ran for shelter.” The town was in flames. After midnight, “the same frightful, indescribable furnace was still before us. Without their masters, lambs, horses, and oxen thronged the road, trampling the corpses underfoot.

In two of his five sketches from Monday, May 10 (Arnheim 20 and 21), the artist used applied color for the first time. In the images with a horse and a bull in them, he now dealt specifically with clarifying texture and expression. In another sketch from that day (Arnheim 22), he treated the bull as if it were a human in an animal’s body. A woman on a ladder, first introduced on May 9 (Arnheim 16), appeared again on May 10 (Arnheim 21). Picasso had used a similar image, but with a male figure, in his Minotauromachy print of 1935, a work in which he had devised a cast and setting comparable to the one shaping up for Guernica. Picasso appears to have reflected back upon that previous scene by projecting the mother and child into an already tested format.

Having built up this momentum by executing ten studies in three days, Picasso began to sketch the scene on a canvas that, according to an interview on deposit with the Archives of American Art, had been stretched by the American painter John Ferren. In the first state of the painting, the cast of characters was enlarged once more. To accompany the woman of the window, the grieving mother and child, the contorted horse, and the placid bull, new recruits were added to the outdoor stage: an enflamed female, a running woman, a dead fighter with an arm stretched upwards, and a slumbering woman resting beside a topsy-turvy bird. The sleeping woman, identified by her boutonniered bonnet and the bird with her, was “Marianne,” a figure that appeared frequently in political cartoons published in L’Humanité. She represented France; her feathered friend, peace. On occasion, in the pages of the Communist journal, the two nestled together in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. The sketch studies for Guernica (Arnheim 1–21) are comparable to the treatment for a movie script; this first state resembles a first draft.

In one of his most famous statements, Picasso suggested that “it would be very interesting to preserve photographically, not the stages, but the metamorphoses of a picture. Possibly one might then discover the path followed by the brain in materializing a dream. But there is one very odd thing—to notice that basically a picture doesn’t change, that the first ‘vision’ remains almost intact, in spite of appearance.” Dora Maar made such a record of the different states of Guernica. She photographed the mural seven times before it was completed. By collating her filmic record—the first image of which was dated May 11—with the chronology indicated on the studies and with selected events reported in L’Humanité, the artist’s weekly progress on the mural can be charted.

In State One as recorded in Maar’s first photograph, the mother and child can now be seen as formally and thematically related to Picasso’s 1932 Rescue drawings. The original pose of the mother in these earlier works has now been reassigned to the running woman, and the woman who had appeared on a ladder is now depicted as a woman whose body is aflame (later adjustments will suggest she is falling). Both of these newly cast female characters have been moved to the section of the composition that had earlier contained the mother and child.

The next dated drawings were made on May 13. One depicts the face of a woman (Arnheim 23), another shows a woman fleeing with a child (Arnheim 25), and yet another (Arnheim 24) is of a hand wrapped around a broken sword. The woman’s face, on a vertical sheet, is a variation of heads that the artist had worked on before. She is more detailed than many of her predecessors, and she reads more three-dimensionally as well.

In State Two Picasso dealt with forms closest to the bottom of the canvas. He transformed the figure of Marianne. Not only was her face reworked, but her identity was taken away by the removal of the flower from her bonnet. The warrior’s earlier gesture now had its meaning altered by the addition of wheat to the clenched hand. The theme of the May 1 strike in Paris had been “Liberty, Peace, Bread.” A shining sun that now encircled the farm produce suggested that a tall crop would be ready at harvest time. Characterization and setting absorbed the artist during his preparation of the third state, in which he reworked the figures on and near the ground, and treated elements near the center as well. The soldier’s body was reoriented; his head was redrawn and his upraised arm deleted. The horse was restructured; the breasts of the women were developed; the side of the house was enlarged and its flames were doused. The bright, circular sun was reduced, while a half-moon was added in the sky on the left.

Another week passed before Picasso made any additional paper sketches, suggesting the number of days he spent on States Two and Three. On May 20, he prepared six drawings (one of which is the only undated study connected with the mural). All consist of pencil and the gray tint that he was simultaneously applying to the canvas. Two of the drawings (Arnheim 26 and 27) deal with the head of the bull. Two others (Arnheim 28 and 29) treat the head of the horse. In a fifth (Arnheim 11), the craning neck and head of a horse appear beside the body of a bull. In the sixth (Arnheim 30), the head of a woman appears. In this suite, Picasso is capturing specific facial expressions and individuating features, including texture.

I include the previously undated study (Arnheim 11) here with the works of May 20, for it is this horse, with its small ears, beady eyes, and pronounced nostrils, as well as the manner in which the neck is craned, which most clearly anticipates the final rendering of the horse on the mural. The manner in which the neck is craned in particular prefigures the way in which the quadruped’s neck and head would be lifted in the next state of the mural. In addition, in State Four Picasso would finally medievalize the design of the bull. The sketch in question resembles, if anything, a Romanesque plaque. One other aspect of it argues that it should be placed with the May 20 studies. The 4 3/4-inch-by-8 7/8-inch pencil sketch on tan paper has always been reproduced in black and white, and thus the dab of gray at the top of the sheet has been missed. All of the May 20 backgrounds contain this gray which, furthermore, was not used in any other initial preparatory studies.

Picasso focused on the bull and the horse in State Four. As he lifted the head of the horse, he transformed what had been a daggered tongue into the point of a spear piercing the animal’s body. In a similar metamorphosis, the half-moon became the bull’s waving tail. The building was firmed up still further. The woman of the May 20 studies was apparently the burning woman, her head now set in place. During State Three, Picasso had developed the breasts of all the women; in State Four, he painted in their hands, down to their fingernails.

In contrast to May Day, with its city-wide strike and postponed fair opening, Monday, May 24, was a day of jubilation. In addition to the inaugural ceremonies for the exposition, a gala procession in honor of the hundredth anniversary of the Arc de Triomphe was observed. The front and back pages of many of the Paris newspapers were filled with photographs of parading troops dressed in various uniforms that had been worn by French armies between 1793 and 1937. Ten thousand pigeons, messengers of peace, were released into the city sky.

After incorporating elements from the May 20 drawings into State Four, Picasso made three more sketches on May 24. Two are independent of Guernica but related to it; these and similar sketches would culminate in a suite of weeping-women drawings, prints, and oils executed after the mural had been completed. In the third sketch made on this day (Arnheim 33), Picasso transferred to a small sheet of white paper the head of the fighter, a figure who would be painted over in State Five. In light of the concurrent showing of troops’ colors in the parade held on this same day, perhaps Picasso wanted time to reassess stance and costume (he sets aside, after all, only the head).

Another event mentioned in L’Humanité seems to have caught Picasso’s attention. Frequently, when writers discuss the formal relationship between the warrior and the horse, they cite a comparison between Guernica and Caravaggio’s Conversion of St. Paul (Joseph Masheck once went so far as to fantasize Picasso’sself-identification with the saint/soldier, citing the sharing of first names as proof). From May 10–29, a Theodore Gericault exhibition, publicized in L’Humanité, was held at Galeries Bernheim-jeune. Cavalier arabe, illustrated in the Communist journal, represented a soldier lying on his back on the ground, with a horse above him and a saber at his side. This painting may have influenced Picasso, or it may have reminded him of the Caravaggio.

On May 27 Picasso introduced into preparatory studies a contemporary male figure for the first time. He appears in the form previously assumed by the falling woman, who in turn would eventually be clothed in garb similar to this man’s striped outfit. Indeed, when Picasso lated posed in front of his finished mural for David Seymour, he stood next to this character. If the artist identified with any of his forms, it was this one more than any other. After he interviewed Picasso soon after the liberation of Paris in 1945, Jerome Seckler related, “I asked why he painted himself as a sailor. ‘Because,’ he answered, ‘I always wear a sailor shirt. See?’ He opened up his shirt and pulled at his underwear—it was white with blue stripes!” Women concern the artist in the three studies of Friday, May 28 (Arnheim 36, 37, and 38). Color is again introduced. Of particular note is the real hair collaged onto the head of one woman (Arnheim 37). The imagery of breasts and bombs was conjoined once more, and space and distance were investigated further in these works.

Picasso was engaged with the right side of the mural during the next stage of the work, State Five. He dealt with the chorus of three women, particularly the one on fire. Also, like a true Cubist master, he tried, in this state, to develop a spatial ambiguity: he wanted to suggest that the house was actually farther back in its setting when the falling woman dropped out of the side window. This is one of several passages in the mural which does not successfully communicate the artist’s intentions. So in State Six large, collaged elements were used to cover the bodies of several women. Picasso was now well enough along with the painting to open his studio to visitors. His contemporaries colored their own on-the-spot interpretations variously. For example, Roland Penrose addressed his remarks to Picasso’s interest in the relationship between art and life:

Once when the picture was nearly finished I called with Henry Moore. The discussion between us turned on the old problem of how to link reality with the fiction of painting. Picasso silently disappeared and returned with a long piece of toilet paper, which he pinned to the hand of the woman on the right of the composition, who runs into the scene terrified and yet curious to know what is happening. “There,” said Picasso, “that leaves no doubt about the commonest and most primitive effect of fear.”

Recalling this episode, Henry Moore repeated the incident with a different conclusion about the artist’s feelings:

But I remember [Picasso] lightening the whole mood of the thing, as he loved to do. Guernica was still a long way from being finished. It was like a cartoon just laid in black and grey, and he could have coloured it as he coloured the sketches. Anyway, you know the woman who comes running out of the little cabin on the right with one hand held in front of her? Well, Picasso told us that there was something missing there, and he went and fetched a roll of paper and stuck it in the woman’s hand, as much as to say that she’d been caught in the bathroom when the bombs came. That was just like him, of course—to be tremendously moved about Spain and yet turn it aside with a joke.

Salvador Dali provides an additional recollection of a conversation he had with Picasso before the completion of Guernica. Dali’s studio visit also seems to have coincided with work about to be undertaken for a following state, when Picasso would render the texture of the horse’s hide:

I went to see Picasso one day while he was painting Guernica. He was working on the horse. He said, “You ought to paint that horse for me. I want it to be so realistic—just like in Caravaggio—that you can smell the sweat.”

So much for general speculations in the literature about the horse’s side resembling newspaper type.

On Thursday, June 3 Picasso was thinking about finishing the empty frames of his two etchings entitled Dream and Lie of Franco, 1937. Perhaps he was again taking stock of political cartoons from L’Humanité which he appears to have clipped and saved for future reference. (That such a collection existed seems to me indisputable. One of the oddest images in the print—the polymorph astride a pig—was prefigured by an image of a politician riding a pig in a cartoon printed the day news of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War was first reported, nearly six months before.) On this day, Picasso also returned to his treatment of the warrior in Guernica—a character hardly dealt with in preliminary sketches—sketching his head by a horse’s hoof. Usually, commentators on Guernica identify the soldier as a stricken Spanish Loyalist.

On June 4, Mola, the 55-year-old general who was believed to have directed the attack on Guernica, was reported to have died the day before in a sabotaged airplane. (Hitler is said to have remarked that “the real tragedy of Spain was the death of Mola; there was the real brain, the real leader.”) Only Mola’s head and arms were reported by L’Humanité as having been recovered from the wreckage. That day Picasso drew the final version of the warrior’s head (Arnheim 44), as well as his hand (Arnheim 45). More than anything else, this seems to illustrate how willing Picasso had been to modify symbols as he had worked on his mural throughout the previous five weeks. As finally executed, the soldier has only a head and arms. Scholars have long associated this casualty with an image from the page of the Saint-Sever manuscript owned by the Bibliothéque nationale, and from which motifs were borrowed for the Crucifixion.

In the last state the texture of the horse was finally rendered. The artist also set the bird on the table. This too seems adrift in meaning. But a political cartoon helps identify it. At the end of April, 1937, when Goering and Mussolini had met (and were said to have hatched the plot to bomb Guernica), René Dubosc had depicted them “Au Nouveau Forum Romain” with “L’autel du sacrifice” (the sacrificial altar). Atop an altar whose side is decorated with an ox, a sheep, and a pig, is a bird with a broken neck. This, in addition to the previous month’s cartoon of a parading crow with a Greek helmet emerging from an egglike head, entitled “L’indésirable oeuf de Paques” (The undesirable Easter egg), seem to locate Picasso’s thinking about the association of soldier, bird, and table in these finishing moments (and bring us full circle to the references to the antique world in his sketches of May 1 and 2). At this point, too, he tied his drama to the classical unities by depicting a full 24-hour day. “You always ought to keep an eye on real life,” Picasso once stated. “The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web. That is why we must not discriminate between things. Where things are concerned there are no class distinctions. We must pick out what is good for us where we can find it. . . . ” Guernica is a testament to this attitude.

Picasso, when pressed by Jerome Seckler during their interview in the winter of 1944/45, could truthfully respond, “No, the bull is not fascism, but it is brutality and darkness.” He thus appears to have disputed Larrea, (an archivist, archeologist, and head of the Loyalist Spain Information Office in Paris during the civil war) who sought to establish the bull as Loyalist Spain and the horse as Nationalist Spain. As events reported in L’Humanité during the spring of 1937 reveal, it is not farfetched to project the horse as a Nazi/Fascist vehicle and the bull as alluding to the noninterventionist stance of France and England. But, in the end, we must accept what Picasso wrote to Alfred H. Barr, Jr., on May 29, 1947, almost ten years to the day after he completed the mural. Answering a questionnaire, he asserted:

But this bull is a bull and this horse is a horse. There’s a sort of bird, too, a chicken or a pigeon, I don’t remember now exactly what it is, on a table. And this chicken is a chicken. Sure, they’re symbols. But it isn’t up to the painter to create the symbols; otherwise, it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words instead of painting them. The public who look at the picture see in the horse and the bull symbols which they interpret as they understand them. There are some animals. These are animals, massacred animals. That’s all, so far as I’m concerned. It’s up to the public to see what it wants to see.

Picasso knew what mattered to him, knew what to remember. He put it this way: “ . . . Artists who live and work with spiritual values can not and should not remain indifferent to a conflict in which the highest values of humanity and civilization are at stake.” Playwright Arthur Miller once called the Spanish Civil War the watershed of our age. Guernica is its symbol.

Phyllis Tuchman is currently editing Sculptors’ Writings, 1945–70 for the “Documents of Modern Art” series, G.K. Hall Inc. Much of the research for this article was originally done in 1973.



1. For example, Julio Gonzalez departed from his hard-won abstract/figurative style to represent a “realistic” modern-day Madonna and Child in Montserrat, named for the sacred Catalan shrine. Miró’s Catalan Reaper, a large mural on masonite panels that was subsequently lost, shared a theme with contemporary posters: that getting in the harvest was as important as defeating the enemy in battle. And Alexander Calder, in his first public commission, designed the Almadén Mercury Fountain, which included the name of the strategically important mining town on a bobbing mobile element activated by flowing mercury—60 per cent of the world’s supply of which was mined near Almadén.