Tonight, the 20th of April, marks the very start of my Easter holiday in Spain. I’m taking the momentary blissful (albeit falsely so) feeling to dedicate some time to putting into words some things that have happened here in Spain since 2011 began. The Picasso quote serving as the title for this post certainly didn’t come into existence between January 2011 and now but I did, however, discover it for myself for the first time sometime during those weeks that seemed to fly so quickly by. I must confess, I began writing this post during February as a reflection on the time spent taking in some Madrileña culture with the company of my family during their visit to Spain. Unfortunately, I’m very good at beginning blog posts and then failing to finish them. Although every act of creating a blog post for me is apparently some bit of destruction, I created this post, beginning with the very influential quote from Picasso, with the intention of talking about one very influential piece of art that I encountered in Madrid.
La Guernica is one of Pablo Picasso’s most renowned works of art and I believe it rightly deserves the recognition. I had seen the work many times in art history text books and on the internet but none of those modes of viewing could compare to the impact that this monstrous painting would have in real-life. It’s housed in Madrid’s Reina Sofia museum, which is filled with outstanding examples of 20th-century Spanish art. I wanted to make a post about La Guernica because I found the sheer size of this painting captivating, but the subject of the painting is even more awe-inducing than one might anticipate.
The painting reflects the devastation inflicted upon the Spanish town, Guernica, during the Spanish Civil War. On April 26th, 1937, the German air force together with the cooperation of Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco, bombed the town of Guernica resulting in an estimated 1,650 lives taken (read more about the bombing of Guernica here). The painting has an entire room of the museum dedicated to its display. On the opposing wall there are small frames of how the painting progressed, illustrating how Picasso formed the ideas for the painting and carried out the enormous task of painting this work. I didn’t expect that this painting would have such an effect on me because, although I find Picasso’s work very interesting, I had never really felt a connection with it. I was wrong, I was left standing in the doorway in awe just as all my other fellow museum-goers were doing. If I have un consejo (a piece of advice) for anyone visiting Madrid and faced with the decision about where to go and what to see, I would tell them to visit La Reina Sofia. The Spanish Civil War is a very important part of Spanish history and to see it illustrated in the way that Picasso has done with La Guernica is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. After viewing La Guernica, the photographs in another part of the museum have a bigger, more influential impact than before. Learning about the tragedy that occurred and really thinking about the lives lost in Guernica while your field of vision is entirely encompassed by this imposing work of art created by an authentic Spaniard gives an entirely new understanding and appreciation of the Spanish spirit. You will leave the museum and see the world around you – the people, the architecture, the culture – all in a different way. When Picasso stated that, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction,” I’m not sure if he intended to reference La Guernica, but I feel that it is a perfect quote to accompany such a piece. One thing that I was sure of after leaving La Reina Sofia; the vast act of creation of La Guernica definitely came from a devastating act of destruction.