Jan Gordon on "Guernica" 1938

In the Observer of 9th October 1938 (page 16), Jan Gordon writes:

"Almost too poignant at the moment, Picasso's decoration on the bombing of Guernica, painted for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris Exhibition, has just been put on show, together with over sixty drawings, at the New Burlington Galleries."

Picasso had expressed "the disintegration of a world, prey to the horrors of war."

"Picasso calls up the resources of abstraction, expressionism, and surrealism. Abstraction supplies the urgent angular pattern against which the expressionist figures ply their part, surrealism poses suggestions of myth."

"The first, striking feature of this large work is the black, white, and tones of grey that have only been used, a flight of genius in a question of taste."

"A hideous sense of shock, of horror, and of despair is conveyed by this painting. Only when one considers the canvas as a whole does the bull seem a mysterious intruder, not only in an emotional sense but as something necessary to the composition. Yet there is no doubt that to Picasso the bull was an important symbol."

"Comparing the large work with the drawings, I began to wonder whether Picasso had not once again invented something new in pictorial Art, analogous to a book with elaborate footnotes. The large canvas gives an urgent summary of the terrific drama, the drawings elaborate the different performers in a way that the larger painting almost ignores."

"Compared to the bitter poignancy of these studies the individual expressions in the larger work seem fumbling and rather careless. Has Picasso been damned by the hurry of the age? The large work was begun in May, 1937, it had to be finished by the end of June. Two months was surely not enough in which to create a work that could fuse coherently both the drama of the composition and the insight of the drawings. So in consequence we have, as it were, the story and the footnotes, and to me the footnotes touch the higher points."

The following associations come to my mind when I see the painting:
- A day in May 1994 with the town of Guernica looking peaceful in the sunshine; a partial solar eclipse; a slow worm on the path as we walked, with friends Charlie, Nuntxi and Santi, down to the coast to examine the geology, deposits of an ancient submarine fan.
- an old copy of "Half of Spain Died" found in a second hand bookshop on Florida, Buenos Aires (1988).
- Los Toros de Guisando with Cristina (1990) and coming across them again in "Don Quixote".
- A Picasso Black and White exhibition in Houston (2014).


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