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Art and War: How Picasso and Miro railed against the carnage

Tomorrow, (September 10) in 1981, Pablo Picasso’s vast art work Guernica was handed over to the Spanish town after which it was named.

All of Picasso’s works are valuable to some degree or other, from his $106.5m painting Nude, Green Leaves and Bust to signed photographs of his work. It was not the monetary value of the work that mattered to the town however, but rather its historical significance.

Picasso is not usually thought of as a war artist, but Guernica is one of his most striking works, with its nightmarish depiction of twisted people and animals following the town’s bombing by German and Italian planes in 1937, at the request of Spanish Nationalists.

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Picasso’s Guernica

The oil-on-canvas work Picasso created in response is the size of a small bus, at 349cm x 776cm, and is now held in a Madrid museum. It is regarded as one of the most haunting representations of war in existence.

By coincidence, the weekend also sees the closing of a special exhibition of his fellow Spanish artist Joan Miró’s works in London (on September 11), which I went to three months ago.

Far more of Miró’s works relate to his hatred of fascism. Some of his work during its dominance is relatively literal compared to his usual outlandish, surrealist style with many funny spoof sketches of dronish officials going about their business.

One work however, painted in the same year as Picasso’s work and sometimes seen as his equivalent piece to Guernica, is emphatically abstract.

You wouldn’t guess it from the title though, which is Still Life with Old Shoe. Miró didn’t have a lot of time for still life painting – but then this wasn’t much like a Cézanne fruit bowl.

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Still Life with Old Shoe by Miró

The items shown are just an apple, piece of bread, bottle and shoe, but depicted in lurid, nightmarish colours. Miró later explained:

“I later realised that without my knowing it this picture contained tragic elements of the period – the tragedy of a miserable crust of bread and an old shoe, an apple pierced by a cruel fork and a bottle that like a burning house, spread its flames across the entire surface of the canvas.”

The two works each show something about how the celebrated artists shifted from their usual styles in order to capture something of the horror of war.

By Greg

Guernica image: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

Still Life with Old Shoe image from: MoMA

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One response »

  1. I think Guernica is a powerful painting, an incredible artwork where Picasso poured a great deal of torment about war in his home country. To me, it’s one of Picasso’s works when he’s at the top of his game — pairing strong emotion with incredible technique. I had never seen this particular Miro before. Personally, I don’t think it is quite to the level of emotion that Guernica holds.

    Reply

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