Updated: June 13, 2011



These Study Guides on War and Art were originally prepared for a course entitled "Responses to War: An Intellectual and Cultural History" given in the Department of History at The University of Adelaide between 1989 and 1999.

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"Guernica" (1937)


Picasso's Guernica, ed. Ellen C. Oppler (New York: W.W. Norton, Norton Critical Studies in Art History, 1988).

Rudolf Arnheim, The Genesis of a Painting: Picasso's Guernica (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973).

Anthony Blunt, Picasso's 'Guernica': The Whidden Lectures for 1966 (Oxford University Press, 1969).

Eberhard Fisch, Guernica by Picasso: A Study of the Picture and its Context, trans. James Hotchkiss (London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 2nd enlarged edition, 1988).

Herschel B. Chipp, Picasso's Guernica: History, Transformations, Meanings (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988). Contains an extensive bibliography.

Roland Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work (London: Granada, 1985). Chapter 10 "Guernica," pp. 295-324.

Patrick O'Brian, Pablo Ruiz Picasso: A Biography (London: William Collins, 1976).

Frank D. Russell, Picasso's Guernica: The Labyrinth of Narrative and Vision (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980).

Picasso in Perspective, ed. Gert Schiff (New Jersey: Spectrum, 1976).

Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective, ed. W. Rubin (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1980).

E.F. Granell, Picasso's Guernica: The End of a Spanish Era (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1981).

Ludwig Ullman, Das Bild des Krieges in der Kunst Picassos (Osnabrück: Universität Osnabrück, 1983).

A. Stassinopoulos Huffington, Picasso: Creator and Destroyer (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988).

D. Zimmer, "Letter from Guernica: The Bridge across the Mundace," Encounter, January 1978, pp. 58-60.

Herschel B. Chipp, "The First Step Towards Guernica," Arts Magazine, October 1988, vol. 64, pp. 62-7.

Sidra Stich, "Picasso's Art and Politics in 1936," Arts Magazine, October 1983, vol. 58, pp. 113-18.


Historical Background: The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)

1931 Spanish monarchy replaced by reform-minded republic (separation of church and state, state-funded education, break up of large agricultural estates). Govt lost elections of 1933 to conservatives who began undoing reforms. 1936 elections won by "popular front" of left-wing parties who continued reform agenda. Resisted with violence by Falangists (fascist) - political assassinations, armed revolt by army officers in Spanish Morocco.

Conservative generals led by Sanjurjo and Franco in Spanish Morocco revolted against socialist and anti-clerical Popular Front Government in Madrid in July 1936. Franco declared Chief of State in October 1936. Cities of Cadiz, Seville and Zaragoza republican. Spain split between socialist forces (supported by Russia and International Brigade including Orwell) and fascists under Franco (supported by 50,000 Italians and German air power). German airforce practiced technique of dive-bombing which they used effictively in WW2. End 1936 Nationalists (Franco) held half of Spain; industrial regions and Basques and Catalonia (promised autonomy) supported Republic.

Nationalists advanced on Madrid in October 1936. Republican govt fled to Valencia. Madrid defended by local population with aid of XI International Brigade. Franco bombarded city with artillery and air raids, lengthy siege for 2 years. August 1938 Nationlaists controlled most of Spain and Franco attempted to take Madrid again. Fall of republican government after withdrawal of Russian support in early 1939. Surrender of Madrid to Franco in March 1939. 750,000 deaths.

Spanish CW brought 2 fascist powers (Italy and Germany) closer together; split anti-fascist states (France refused to help Republicans, USSR did); showed weakness of France and Britain; gave Mussolini and Hitler impression that their aims could be achieved by military means; useful war experience for fascist nations (especially Luftwaffe - dive-bombing).

Bombing of Basque city of Guernica.

Herbert R. Southworth, "Guernica" in Historical Dictionary of the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, ed. James W. Cortada (Wesport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press), pp. 251-54.

Pop. 7-10,000. 30 km east of Bilbao in Basque province of Vizcaya. Regarded as spiritual capital of Basque people

On April 26 1937 planes of German Condor Legion (sent by Hitler to aid Franco) under orders of Gen. Franco bombed and destroyed city of Guernica. Used explosives then incendiary bombs. Fleeing population straffed by machine guns. First city ever to be wiped out by aerial bombing. Action by Condor Legion denied until 1970s by Nationalists. City was of little military importance and had no defences. Importance of bridge over river which was not damaged by bombing.

Most important news story of the Spanish CW. Brought to attention of European and American press by 4 correspondents (2 Brits, 1 Australian (Noel Monks who worked for Daily Express) and 1 Belgian) in Bilbao.

Report of The Times correspondent:

Guernica, the most ancient town of the Basques and the centre of their cultural tradition, was completely destroyed yesterday afternoon by insurgent air raiders. The bombardment of the open town far behind the lines occupied precisely three hours and a quarter, during which a powerful fleet of aeroplanes consisting of three German types, Junkers and Heinkel bombers and Heinkel fighters, did not cease unloading on the town bombs... and ... incendiary projectiles. The fighters, meanwhile, plunged low from above the centre of the town to machinegun those of the civil population who had taken refuge in the fields. The whole of Guernica was soon in flames, except the historic Casa de Juntas, with its rich archives of the Basque race, where the ancient Basque Parliament used to sit. The famous oak of Guernica, the dried old stump of 600 years and the new shoots of this century, was also untouched. Here the kings of Spain used to take the oath to respect the democratic rights (fueros) of Vizcaya and in return received a promise of allegiance as suzerains with the democratic title of Senor, not Rey Vizcaya.[1] Blunt, p. 8.


Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)


Spanish painter Pablo Picasso painted mural (1937) of bombing of Basque city of Guernica by German airforce during Spanish Civil War. Depicts victims of war, suffering women, children, and horse. Perhaps greatest painting about war ever made. Focuses on victims. Timeless and universal in its themes.

OH Photograph of PP.

PP one of the most innovatice and origin artist of 20th C perhaps of any century. Master of a range of forms: painting, etching, sketches, sculpture, and mural. Amazing creativity which enables him to master one form or innovation and invent another. Life work is series of cycles of breaking convention, mastering new forms, incorporating innovation and tradition. Rarely stale. Associated with revolutionary movement known as cubism before WW1. Revolutionary way of analysing everyday objects by abandoning traditonal pespective assumed since renaissance.

Classic example of his early work:

PP relatively unpolitical in his work before Guernica. WW1 had little impact. More concerned with internal logic of his artistic innovations. Possible exception is illustrations he did for classic anti-war comedy by Aristophanes - Lysistrata (compare Aubrey Beardsley before WW1).

However bombing of Guernica forced PP to confront political issues. To rebut rumours of his sympathies for Franco PP made a public statement at time working on Guernica mural:

The Spanish struggle is the fight of reaction against the people, against freedom. My whole life as an artist has been nothing more than a continuous struggle against reaction and the death of art. How could anybody think for a moment that I could be in agreement with reaction and death? When the rebellion began, the legally elected and democratic republican government of Spain appointed me director of the Prado Museum, a post which I immediatley accepted. In the panel on which I am working which I shall call Guernica, and in all my recent works of art, I clearly express my abhorrence of the military caste which has sunk Spain in an ocean of pain and death...

Six days after the bombing of Guernica PP began work on mural for the Spanish Pavillion of the International Exhibition in Paris held in summer of 1937.

PP accepted commission from Spanish govt in January 1937 to paint mural (11 feet 6 in high by 25 feet 8 in long) for Spanish pavillion but no topic decided upon. Bombing in April provided him with topic. Painted in near monochrome (shades of grey with some purplish and bluish and brownish tints). Very well documented painting. 45 preliminary studies and 7 photographs of mural at various stages show evolution of painting.

War and Art

Pablo Picasso's mural "Guernica" (1937)


His reaction to the Nazi bombing of the Basque city of Guernica: the mural "Guernica" (1937): "Guernica" mural (72K)

Scene takes place in darkness in open space, possible town square surrounded by burning buildings.

Figures within the triangle: the central pyramid

Tip of triangle "eye" of electric light globe (image of sun/eye) and woman with the lamp (light holding darkness/bull at bay) - the woman with the lamp

To right burning building with falling woman (perhaps also burning, in stance of suffering Mary Magdelene) - the falling woman

To left wailing woman with dead baby (originally on ladder, like bringing Christ down from the cross) behind which stand bull (threatening or protecting woman and child?) - Far left - bull, woman and dead child

Other figures are bird (rising or falling, originally small winged horse/soul) and flower (symbol of regeneration and hope, like 600 year old tree left standing) - Detail of the Flower

Dora Maar's photographs of the mural in progress

state I - 11 May 1937

Sketches for the mural

head of a horse - 2 May 1937

Slides of "Guernica"

  • 901. Mural
  • 902. Fragment - Woman's head in burning house and running woman
  • 903. Fragment - Falling wooman (far right)
  • 904. Fragment - close up of woman and dead child
  • 905. Fragment - Bull and woman and dead child
  • 906. Fragment - lamp, horse, flower (centre)

Slides of "Preparatory Studies"

  • 907. Head of a Horse I
  • 908. Head of a bull with human face
  • 909. Mother with dead child II
  • 910. Studies of a weeping head II
  • 911. Head of weeping woman and handkerchief III
  • 912. Dream and Lie of Franco I

a weeping woman - 3 June 1937

1. The Meaning of the Bull and the Horse


  • Overhead of bull fights (horses being gored) from 1923 and 1934.
  • Study for head of injured horse - head of a horse - 2 May 1937 and another gored horse 1917. Blood from one wound, entrails hanging out.
  • Overhead of Minotauromachy (1935) and palm of fallen warrior.

Bull and horse: conflict between two animals concerned PP for years. Pictures of bullfights where bull gores horse. (Blunt p. 15). Horse represents suffering humanity. Wound of horse like spear thrust into side of Christ. Open mouth a cry of agony. Similar pictures of Christ in agony.

Pictures of Minotaur in which bull can be either violent force or calming force. Is bull brutality and darkness (fascism)? Or protector of grieving woman? Strength of Spanish people? Picture of Minotauromachy (1935 etching). Innocent girl fending off sword-wielding bull. Becomes woman in mural with lamp fending off threatening bull?

head of a horse - 2 May 1937

2. The Composition Study of 1 May 1937


Composition study "7 May 1937" (124K)

PP's ideas come together in composition study of May 1, 1937 (1). Classical figure of soldier fallen. Women in house with lamp warding off bull. Gored horse screaming with soul (winged horse) leaving body.

Composition study "7 May 1937" (124K)
1. Arnheim p. 41

3. The Meaning of the Women and Children


Falling and burning? women - tear shaped eyes and nostrils. Study of weeping women and dead child. (1)

mother with dead child - 10 May 1937
1. Arnheim, p. 95.

4. The Meaning of the Flower


Flower beside collapsed knee of horse grows a flower. Symbol of hope and regeneration after destruction. Description of witness to bombing a few hours after event:

Men and women were still digging out the bodies. Around the main square every other building had been bombed, but the façade was still standing. The convent was destroyed.. Strangely, the tree of Guernica, which is a little way behind the church, was still standing...

Combination of innovative symbols and conservative Christian symbols.

Detail of the Flower

Other Works about the Spanish Civil War


Other Works done during or about the Spanish Civil War: Cartoon strip - "The Dream and Lie of Franco" (8 February 1937)

"The Dream and Lie of Franco" - Part 1 - reversed


Other Works Dealing with Theme of War and Peace


Works done during or about WW2

The Charnel House 1944-45


Works about the Korean War

War 1951


Other works:

Lysistrata (32K) (1934)


Peace Posters:

Peace Poster 1949


Other titles (no pictures):

  • "Man carrying a sheep" (August 1942) - dream of peace, simple bearded shepherds
  • Chapel at Vallauris
  • "Night Fishing at Antibes" (1951)
  • "Homage to the Spaniards who Died for France" (1946)
  • "The Fall of Icarus" (1958) - conference hall of UNESCO building in Paris