Guernica of Pablo Picasso

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Guernica is an oil portray by a Spanish artist known as Pablo Picasso. It is a very well-known monument among many countries throughout the world (Byrne, 11). A variety of factors influenced the artist to work on the piece of art. It is essential to analyze the reasons behind its paintings, what influenced Picasso to paint it, who the goal audience was, the meaning of the snap shots and the colors used in the Guernica, among others. The paper, therefore, severely analyzes different aspects about the Guernica to supply answers to those questions in detail. It analyzes its historic analysis, formal analysis, iconographical analysis and contextual analysis.
Art is a mode of communication. A curving or a monument has a message that it communicates to the people. In that sense, Pablo Picasso’s aim of painting the Guernica was to express the tragedies of war in Spain and the suffering it inflicted in people’s lives especially the innocent people (Potter, 761). Therefore, he incorporated different aspects of painting in his artwork to achieve his intended mission. He wanted to challenge those who perceived war to be something heroic or something to be proud of that it was indeed a barbaric act that should receive condemnation in the society. The basic idea of coming up with the painting came from the war that broke out in Spain in the year 1936. The Guernica is composed of events that happened during the war (Fleming, 180-181). It is indeed the happenings of the war that prompted Pablo Picasso to do the painting. He aimed at reaching a large number of people and communicate to them about the brutal activities of the war. Not only to the people of Spain but to reach all the countries that had been affected by war and serve as a warning to those who were fueling activities that could lead to war in their countries.

Historical analysis of the Guernica

Civil war broke up in Spain in the year 1936 which was Pablo’s home country. The war was between the fascist forces and the democratic republican government. Pablo had moved to Paris during the time of war, but he still loved his country. News spread all over through newspapers and the media as general about what was happening in Spain during the war (Harris, 220). Pablo was moved by the brutality and the killings that were going on in Spain and he decided to do a painting about the happenings. He dropped the work that he had begun i.e. the Mural for Paris exhibition, and he started working on the Guernica on 1/5/1937.

The painting was basically on events that took place on 27/4/1937 when there was bombing of a village in the northern part of Spain known as Guernica by the Fascist army forces for a period of two hours. That is why he decided to name his art Guernica. It was Pablo’s memorial of the brutal activities and deaths in Spain. It took him one month to complete the work. After its completion, the Guernica was sent to Spain where it attracted a lot of people and therefore became everyone’s center of attraction. It circulated in other countries for close to 19 years. People from other nations admired the Guernica especially those that had experienced war before. It was later kept in a museum in New York until Spain attained public liberties in 1981. Pablo did not want the painting to return to Spain until they achieved freedom because it reminded people of the war and pain they went through which was a traumatizing memory. The painting is now permanently in the Spain’s national museum of art history which is located in Madrid.

Formal analysis of Guernica

The composition of the Guernica is very complicated. When one puts a glance on it, so many things come to the mind. It has animals facing different directions; human beings scattered everywhere and seem to be in pain. It has many things that are incorporated in it to bring out the intended message. Many art historians have tried to interpret the Guernica, and their findings contradict with one another. For example, there is a bull and a horse in the painting. Many art historians have come up with different interpretations of the bull and the horse in the painting. Patricia Failing who was an art historian said that according to Spanish culture, a bull and a horse are important and very much adored creatures (Harris, 220). Therefore Pablo could have used them for different roles from time to time. Other critics of the same said that the bull most likely represented the violent attacks of the fascist forces. According to the artist of the Guernica Pablo Picasso, it signified the murder and brutal activities that happened during the war. He further said that the horse was a representative of the people of Guernica in Spain. It is important that the bull is the only creature on that painting which looks unharmed and calmed.

On the far left of the painting is the lady whose head is bent back. The woman looks very disturbed and in a lot of pain. She is holding her dead child and crying for help. It is one of the most emotional depictions of the piece of art. The body of the dead child communicates how people were killed in Guernica while the woman shows how others sustained injuries and the pain of losing their loved ones during the war. Under the woman is a dead person with the hands chopped off. It shows how the fascists mishandled the people of Guernica. Right at the center of the painting is a scared and alarmed horse opening its mouth wide and screaming out of pain. It has a spear piercing on its body. The spear shows the fighting weapons that the enemies used. As indicated above, Picasso said that he used the horse to represent the people of Guernica. Therefore the pierced horse showed the brutality that the people went through.

On the right part of the painting are three women who are screaming asking for help. One seems to be stuck in a burning building, another one is trying to escape through a window of a burning house, and the other one is trying to reach for the light. It shows the fear and confusion that was in the village during the attack. Everyone was trying to save their life from the enemy. It also shows how houses got burned leaving those who survived without accommodation.

Pablo has used more women than men in the painting. There are four women a child and one man. It highlights that women were most affected during the war (Harris, 221). When clashes or war arises, women and children are usually the most affected people. Men have some energy to protect themselves, but women end up being victims of rape and other inhuman activities. It highlights the role of women during times of war. Therefore, that’s why there are more women in pain than men in the painting.

Color has the power to communicate. Different colors communicate differently. The Guernica was painted in black and white on a gray palette (Byrne, 12). The bull stands tall painted in white amidst of that chaos, and it looks calm. It represents the enemies. They dominated the people of Guernica and didn’t suffer from the war. The use of black and white color in the painting also implied Pablo’s source of information. While in Paris, news reached him through the newspaper having the photographs of the war activities in black and white. He then picked the idea of developing the art in black and white to maintain the original message. Moreover, the contrasting images of black and white bring the sense of drama and how intense the scene was.

The size of a monument or a piece of art is an important aspect to look at when analyzing the art. The Guernica is approximately eleven feet vertically and twenty-five feet horizontally. It is a very huge size of a painting. The Guernica’s big size brings out its emotional power. The size makes the painting catchy to the eyes, therefore, attracting people to spend time on it. It is not something that many would analyze its deep meanings.

Having a look at the balance of the monument, the donkey is placed at the center. The center part of a drawing or a painting is the most important part of that painting. As previously highlighted, a donkey is an important character in Spanish culture according to art historian Patricia Failing. Therefore, it is the most important part of this art, and it represents the people of Spain. The painting’s primary focus was on the people of Spain and the pain they went through.

On the same point of balance, the bull is painted as a huge character occupying almost the whole of the left side of the monument. Beneath is the image of the woman holding her lifeless child which is tiny as compared to the image of the bull. It shows that the fascist army took advantage of their powers to humiliate the weak in the society.

Iconographical analysis

The images in the Guernica have brought up so many debates over time with different people trying to explain what the images symbolize or their meanings (Darr, 339). The meanings of the images differ from how different people interpret them. The image of the bull once again, it was not just an important character in Spanish culture but also represented the strong virtues and unshaken values of Spain. That is why it is painted in white standing strong and resolute during the war. From a different angle of analysis, the strong bull represented the fascist powers. Therefore, the meaning of the bull in the painting depends on the viewer’s point of view and how he or she decides to interpret it (Darr, 339). The bull can either be the democratic republican government or the fascist forces depending on one’s angle of analysis.

The horse at the center of the painting is not only a horse but symbolizes the people of Spain. It is screaming in pain opening its mouth wide open to express the suffering and pain that people of Spain went through. The spear on its left side of the donkey symbolizes the brutal activities and the weapons that the fascist army used.

The lifeless body of the child who lays on its mother’s hands implies how innocent people were killed by the fascist army. It also shows how people lost their loved ones in the war and how painful it was. The art as a whole portrays war as something ugly and destructive. It is against the perception by many that war is something rather heroic than harmful.

Contextual analysis

Pablo Picasso’s homeland was Spain. He came from a town called Guernica which is located in the northern part of Spain. Picasso’s cultural background and the political condition in his homeland influenced the painting of Guernica (Byrne, 12). First of all, the war between the democratic republican government and the fascist is what triggered Picasso to come up with the Guernica. Since the political situation in his homeland was war, then he could not find something showing maybe peace or love yet there was neither peace nor love in his country. He used the painting to express himself to show how bitter and frustrated he was with the condition.

When Picasso was a small child, his father used to take him to watch bull fighting. It could have been one of the reasons that Picasso used a bull in his painting. He used to see how bulls fought each other and the stronger bull always emerged the winner after injuring or in some cases killing its opponent. In this case, we can relate the bull fighting the horse. In one way or the other, the bull in Guernica represented the fascist army that murdered the people of Spain and left others with injuries (the horse).

According to Spanish culture, the horse was an important creature in the society (Blanco, 100). It had a great influence on Picasso’s art as he chose the horse to represent the people of Spain. Since the horse was something that the Spanish people adored, then it was the best choice for him to use to represent them.

The title of Picasso’s painting is a replica of his village. The fascist army bombed his village (Guernica) and it influenced the choice of the title of the painting. Though Picasso painted the art while in Paris, calling it Guernica showed the love he had for his home country and that he was also affected by the massacre (Byrne, 12). The work represented Spain, but it was particularly about the happenings in Guernica. He used Guernica town as a representative of the whole of Spain.


Guernica is a timeless piece of art or monument. It is as important today as it was in 1937. It is because civil wars and human brutality still occur in the contemporary society in many parts of the world. The Guernica has several meanings making its use diverse. It can be interpreted differently according to different situations. It remains to be the most powerful tool in fighting a civil war since the twentieth century. It still has relevance in the contemporary world and may influence upcoming artists.

Works cited

Álvarez-Blanco, Palmar. "Postmodernity in Spanish Fiction and Culture." 99-101, 2012.

Byrne, Louis. "Picasso, Guernica, History." The Art Book 14(3), 11-13, 2007.

Darr, William. "Images of Eros and Thanatos in Picasso's GUERNICA." Art Journal 25(4), 338-346, 1966.

Fleming, Colin. "Picasso's War: The Destruction of Guernica and the Masterpiece That Changed the World (review)." The Missouri Review 27(1), 180-181, 2004.

Harris, Jonathan. “T. J. Clark, Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica.” Critical Inquiry, 42(1), 220-221, 2015.

Potter, P. "Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). Guernica, 9(6), June 2003.


August 09, 2021




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